Study Aid 3: Medieval Urbanism

Accompanying the development of Romanesque and Gothic architecture was the gradual rebirth of urban culture in Europe. Often built within the remains of ancient Roman cities (e.g. Gloucester, England; Verona, Italy), these growing settlements facilitated the trade of the agricultural products produced by the countryside. Throughout the middle ages (and even later), the vast majority of people continued to live outside cities and towns, working the land. The dominant social order was something we now call feudalism, whereby the peasants were legally tied to the land the worked. Despite the devastation of the Black Plague in the mid 14th century, the European economy continued to stabilize and grow during the Middle Ages creating a number of important trading centers including Bruges, Belgium and Florence and Siena in Italy. In these cities could be found impressive urban amenities including: guildhalls, hospitals, town halls, markets, and churches. Most of these medieval cites were generally incremental and irregular or "organic" in form, reflecting extended periods of development. Refugees began to settle small islands in the shallow Venetian lagoon in the 5th- 6th centuries AD. Over many centuries, surrounding marshland was "reclaimed" by dredging , fill, and pilings, to create Venice, a "floating" city laced by a confusing network of canals. Some organic towns featured linear forms while "nucleated" lay-outs were also common, e.g. Hereford, England; Rothenburg odT, Germany; and San Gimignano, Italy, walls begun in the 10th century AD, house towers date from the 12th-early 14th centuries AD. San Gimignano has a skyline that was once common in central Italy with narrow, individual house towers that provided protection from enemies-both within and without the city.

Sometimes a planned open space intended to unify and beautify a city would be created, e.g. Bruges, Belgium; and the Campo, Siena, Italy, c.1300, dominated by Siena's town hall or Palazzo Publico, c. 1297-1344. The Middle Ages also witnessed the creation of planned, fortified new towns called bastides that built upon the earlier Roman tradition of walled, grid-plan towns, e.g. Aigues Mortes, France, c.1240-1280, founded by King Louis IX (Saint Louis); Monpazier, France, 1284-, founded by the English King Edward I: and Caernarvon, Wales, Great Britian, 1283-, also founded by King Edward I.

San Gimignano

Date: Largely between the 10th and 14th Centuries
Location: Italy
Architect: Unknown




Distant View of the City


View of the City with 12th-13th Century House-Towers


Looking Down on Town


Piazza with Well and 12th - 13th
Century House-Towers

Date: 14th Century
Location: Italy
Architect: Unknown


Alterpiece of Saint Gimignano by Barldo
Depicting St. Gimignano protecting the City in His Lap

The Campo

Date: 1300-
Location: Sienna, Italy
Architect: Unknown


Painting of the Campo and Palazzo Publico


Palazzo Publico


Aerial View


Aerial View


Date: 1284-
Location: France
Architect: Unknown
Patron: King Edward I


Original Plan


Aerial View


City Gate and Street


Buildings Around Central Square


Arcades Around Central Square


Arcades on Central Square


Wooden Market Hall on Central Square