Lecture Notes & Student Works:

History and Built Environment I

Lecture Notes –Ancient Greece-

The political, economic, social and religious functions of the city are reflected in its public buildings and their location within the urban environment.
  1. Agora and forum as political, commercial and intellectual center of the city
  2.  Economic activity
  3. Religious centers: temples, shrines, role of acropolis
  4. Arrangement of Cities


            The orderly arrangements of the elements which made up the ancient city was the task of the town planner. The origin of Greek orthogonal planning tradition was based on the established civilizations of the Near East (e.g. Kahun and El- Amarna in ancient Egypt) and Indus Valley. However in 5th century B.C. that history incorrectly recorded Hippodomus of Miletus as the first man who invented the art of town planning. In any case Hippodamus dominated the history of Classical town planning in antiquity.

            We learn much about Hippodomus from Aristotle’s writings on him. Aristotle presents him as an eccentric man and a social and political theorist who speculated about the nature of the ideal city. Aristotle also states that he invented the division of cities and planned Piraeus – port of Athens-, Rhodes and Thourioi. These three cities display certain common characteristics. They include the division of the land into large areas and the separation of these areas by wide arterial roads. Within each area there was a gridded system of streets.

            Hippodamus’ design differs from the regularly planned colonies of the West in four ways:

1.  Firstly he aimed the total integration of the different parts of the city. According to Aristotle, Hippodamian ideas on both the nature of the ideal city-state and its layout were based on the division the population and its territory.

He divided his ideal town into three classes:            à Craftsmen& tradesmen

à Farmers

à Soldiers


He separated urban land into three types:            à Holy (reserved for gods)

à Common (for state to feed the soldiers)

à Private (for farmers)

2. Secondly, Hippodamus is described as a meteorologos (mimar) and the design at Rhodes seems to have been based on theoretical and mathematical principles. It goes far beyond the simple arrangements of land subdivision.

3. Thirdly, public buildings were grouped in a clear functional relationship to each other and clearly defined and fully integrated into the street system.

4. Fourthly, the layout of Rhodes in particular has a planned monumentality. Its design had strong visual effect by the extensive use of terracing and landscaping. (Owens, 1992, pp. 60-61)

            In addition to these Hippodamus planned his ideal city for 10.000 inhabitants. He also saw gridiron plan as the bearer of democracy.


            Concerned with the nature of the ideal city, philosophers speculated about the form that such a city should take. Often sociological factors combined with their planning concepts. The most influential of these thinkers in the Classical period of Greek Philosophy (420-320 B.C.) were Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. [1]                              


  • Plato advised that temples should be located around the agora and in a circle around the city to act as a protective ring in order to maintain the purity of the city and its center. The houses of public officials and law courts, because they too sacred, were also to be located in association with the temples.
  • On the question of defense Plato argues against the construction of city walls both for reasons of health and on moral grounds, in that the citizens might place too much trust in them. If however, the citizens want urban defenses, he recommends that the city should be so arranged that it presents a unified appearance. He advices that the houses themselves should be so built that they act as the city wall. They should be regularly constructed and they should all face the street.
  • Plato concludes his discussion on his ideal city by arguing encroachments by individuals on public property and general cleanness of the city.


            Aristotle’s account on his ideal city is more comprehensive than Plato’s. His discussion includes advice on the choice of site;

  • The best orientation for the city both for reasons of health and for the political and military well-being of the inhabitants. “For the well-being and health… the homesteads should be airy in summer and sunny in winter. A homestead possessing these qualities would be longer than it is deep; and the main front would face south.” (The Classic City, p.24)
  • Availability of water was one of the essential factors that he felt, should influence choice of site.
  • Regarding the town plan Aristotle admired what he called the new “Hippodamian” method, but felt that the old irregular arrangement was better for defense. He himself preferred a combination of two systems.


·        Socrates like Aristotle emphasized the importance of proper orientation of the dwelling: “When one builds a house must he not see to it that it be as pleasant and convenient as possible? And pleasant is to be cool in summer, but warm in winter. In those houses, then, that look toward the south, the winter sun shines down into the court portico while in summer, passing high above our heads and over our roofs, it throws theme in shadow.” (The Classic City, p.24)

Plato and Aristotle were concerned with the theoretical, sociological and moral concepts of establishing and ideal state. They made comments on the siting and orientation of buildings, defense, the health of citizens and aesthetic qualities of the town and its buildings.

They also speculated on the governing of city-state and size of the ideal city. For example Aristotle associated fortified hill-sites with monarchy and oligarchy. He equated the lowland cities with democracy. [2] Another discussion was on the city size. Plato in his work Republic states that ideal city should be range around 5.000.  On the other hand Aristotle says that “a polis of 10 citizens would be impossible, because it could not be self sufficient, and that a polis of 100.000 would be absurd, because it could not govern itself properly” (Kitto, 1951) 



[1] Socrates

The first great philosopher was Socrates. He challenged the Sophists by saying it is possible to learn absolute virtue and attain truth. He sought universal principles by pursuing the clear, common meaning of terms, and he raised some of the basic questions of knowledge and ethics. He did this by question-and-answer conversations, now called the Socratic method. The teaching of Socrates rested on two basic assumptions: a person is never to do wrong, either directly or indirectly, and no one who knows what is right will act contrary to it.


Plato was Socrates' foremost pupil and recorder of many of his conversations. He developed a many-sided philosophy that includes a theory of knowledge, a theory of human conduct, a theory of the state, and a theory of the universe. He said there is a world of sense experience that is always changing. There is also a world of unchanging ideas, which is the only true reality.


Aristotle was Plato's most famous pupil, though he departed from his master's teaching on many points. He said, in contrast to Plato, that the material world is real and not a creation of eternal forms. He taught that individual things combine form and matter in ways that determine how they grow and change. Aristotle was also the founder of formal logic.


[2] The majority of the towns in the Near East were the product of strong, centralized, and autocratic political systems. But in the Ancient Greece we saw mixing of Tyranny (by as simple Monarch), Oligarchy (by a council of citizens owning so much property), and Democracy (by all the citizens) in various periods. Between all of these forms being responsible to the people’s needs and desires was the common denominator. According to Kitto they were sharply distinguished from Oriental Monarchy.