City Center

Dernière mise à jour le 6 septembre 2019

“A church, a square, a town hall: this is how we recognize a city center. This is where public events, exchange, and politics (in the Greek sense of polis) occur. Over time, the role and importance of city centers have changed.”

Change Over Time


“Because defense was the major priority, ancient cities were often located on elevations. The city center was a group of homes protected by a wall, the purpose of which was primarily defensive, though it also created a concentration that was ideal for religion, as the number and size of temples that archaeologists have discovered attests. The city of Babel, with its large religious tower, is a good example. Living in fear of an attack that would reduce them to slavery, the inhabitants closed the city gates at night when the situation was dangerous. Outside and beyond the wall lay fields and pasture that were not protected from attack.”

“Urban inhabitants often lived off of farming and raising animals. They thus worked outside the cities, even as they lived inside, rather than close to their fields. Cities like Tyr and Sidon served as merchandise depots, centers of commercial activity, and distribution centers. During the period of Roman domination, some city centers arose as a result of significant military presence, such as in Wiesbaden in Germany or Vienna in Austria. Military encampments were usually followed by the building of cathedrals and other religious building, followed by buildings designed for education.”

The Middle Ages

“The city’s military purpose declined with the rise of the fortified castle, but they continued to enclose themselves in walls surrounded by moats. Territories were divided into numerous kingdoms. The first fortified castles made out of stone appeared in the late tenth century. Due to widespread insecurity, many medieval cities surrounded themselves with ramparts (as in Paris, Rouen and Carcassonne). Later, cities once again became sites of power, as capital cities began to develop. Cities witnessed the rise of a new social class: the bourgeoisie. Excluded from power, the bourgeoisie sought a greater political role. In 1214, it obtained the right to create a council before taking power in 1262. Growing commercial activity led to the creation of the Hanseatic League, a professional association of merchants that ultimately became a political union.”

“Social conditions varied. Serfs were dependant on lords. Among the higher ranks of society, relations between free men were characterized by bonds of vassalage: the vassal owes assistance and counsel to the man to whom he has sworn fidelity. Such bonds implied a number of duties, including military service. The bonds of dependency created a rigid social hierarchy. Feudalism’s intellectual center was located primarily in abbeys and monasteries, where architectural arts developed.”

The Early Modern Period

“The French Revolution abolished feudal and seigniorial rights. Industrialization and the concentration of workers in urban areas created lasting mass poverty, as workers could not change their condition. Farmers and industry regularly overproduced. Unemployment rose, accelerating the rural exodus to large cities where the unemployed hoped to find work.”

The Modern Period

“Economic changes led urban social classes to want to participate in power. Meanwhile, an industrial proletariat that was also urban (a new reality) was also developing. Technical progress nourished and intensified conflict between these classes. Consequently, cities lost their protective character. Military force developed in such a way as to make physical protection unnecessary. Instead, politics came to be seen as the best way to protect oneself. Political debates no longer occurred in the street. In France, the rural exodus ended in roughly 1975. Since then, the migratory balance between cities and the countryside has stabilized, even reversing itself, beginning around 1990, in major urban areas. There is now talk of “rurbanization”: city dwellers move to the country while maintaining an urban lifestyle and employment in the cities. This has led to a ‘sprawl’ in the countryside of buildings that are widely spread out or at best divided into lots. It has altered landscapes and created conflicts between agricultural and ‘rurban’ activities.”

Source: Techno-science site

File translated by Michael C. Behrent – Assistant Professor – Department of History – Appalachian State University – Boone, NC  28608