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Near Eastern town planning

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Each house was provided with its own source of light, and since the only carriers used were men and donkeys, the streets themselves were sometimes as little as two metres wide. The passages between the houses, overhung as they were on both sides by corbelled projects, became little more than cracks. We see that old Baghdad, like most of the ancient towns of the Middle East, has an entirely unified surface-structure, everywhere two storeys high. This unified system, punctured only by the courtyard openings and deprived of any visibly defined street-system, is not unlike a tissue, and its only dominant features are the complexes of mosques and caravanserais. Krunic 1962, p 38

A brief description of town planning is useful in order to understand ancient housing.

Three immediate categories come to mind: urban cities, apparent by their size and density though their other criteria seem to be of great scholarly debate; smaller settlements and villages; hamlets; and nomadic encampments. The latter is much the same as it was, as the same criteria today as six thousand years ago shape their implementation; due to this and their fundamentally different nature, they hereon will be left to another discussion at another time. Hamlets are typified archaeologically at Sakheri, Raidau Sharqi and Qualinj Agha. They are much like modern Iraqi villages, with widely scattered compounds loosely grouped together; beyond that, any other so-called town planning can be considered entirely haphazard. Smaller settlements and villages are typified by the Uruk era north Syrian sites of Jebel Aruda and Habuba Kabira. These resemble less excavated sites from their inhabitants' likely origin on the Sumerian plain.

Jebel Aruda and Habuba Kabira both lie on the banks of the Euphrates, but the former is undefended while the latter has a massive buttressed city wall on three sides with the river for the fourth. The wall encloses ~18 hectares, with access through two well-defended gates. Within the wall is a sherd-paved main road parallel to the long axis of the city, with smaller alleys running off it to access block of buildings. Different quarters of the village may be identified: an acropolis with temples; a harbor area on the old river margin; gardens and orchards; and a domestic quarter, with evidence of cottage industries like pottery. No exclusive administrative quarter was identified at either site, though the temples may have also fulfilled this role. This sort of land usage is found throughout the 3rd millennium, and it is amplified at urban cities. Great perimeter walls defended against attacks, and they are often still apparent to archaeologists as well as the tells within them, each tell corresponding to a quarter and interconnected by roads and canals.