Modern architecture has been evolving for a very long period with many successful as well as failed experiments and innovations. This can be dated to around 10,000 B.C. during the prehistoric civilizations. They have not only helped develop humankind but also led to urban developments, socio-economic hierarchy, the formation of governments, and many other characteristics that have refined diverse cultural traits. Civilization has been spread by colonization, invasion, religious conversion, the extension of bureaucratic control and trade, and also by the technical, material, and social dominance. In this article, we are going to discuss some important civilizations that had a great impact on the understanding of architecture and city planning.

The ‘Cradle of Civilization’ is the location where civilization is understood to have emerged. This cradle houses the four river valley civilizations – the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia and Egypt), Ancient India (Indus Valley) and Ancient China (Yellow River)

1. Mesopotamian Civilization

Period – 3500 – 550 BC
Location – Iraq, Syria, and Turkey

Situated on the banks of rivers Tigris and Euphrates, Mesopotamia was the oldest civilizations to have ever occurred. It is well known for its construction of mud-brick buildings and the ziggurats, which held a powerful position in each city. Mesopotamian cities like Ur, Uruk, Kish, Lagesh, etc. were excellent examples of a typical city that divided space into residential, mixed-use, commercial, and civic spaces. Ziggurats were huge pyramidal temple towers dedicated to the Gods of the city.

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2. Egyptian Civilization

Period – 3000 – 550 BC
Location – Egypt

Egyptians were extreme followers of God and believed in the concepts of supernatural powers, astronomy, and life after death. Hence, their architectural practices were also connected to their ideologies. The pyramids were located according to the position of the stars in the constellation next to the Nile River Basin. They built their pyramids, tombs, temples, and palaces out of stone, the most durable yet heaviest of all building materials, which is why some of its construction techniques are still a mystery. Egyptian buildings were decorated with colorful paintings, carved stone sculptures, hieroglyphs, and huge three-dimensional statues of their pharaohs and gods.

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3. Indus Valley Civilization

Period – 2500 – 1500 BC
Location – Northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India

One of the largest civilizations covering an area of 1.25 million km, this civilization was developed on the fertile alluvial banks of the Indus River. Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Dholavira, Ganeriwala, and Rakhigarhi were the five remarkable cities that are great examples of urban planning during that era. The city grid planning, well-laid drainage systems, indoor toilets, public baths, granaries are some of the major factors that proved that people had achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time. Based on artifacts found in excavations, it is evident that the culture was rich in arts and crafts as well.

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4. Chinese Yellow River Civilization

Period – 2000 – 500 BC
Location – China

The Yellow River Civilization began in the river basin of Huang He (Yellow) River. Walled compounds, raised pavilions, wooden columns, and paneling, glazed roof tiles, landscaped gardens, and a careful application of town planning and use of space are all notable features of the architecture of ancient China.

Apart from these four riverine expansions, there were some other civilizations or empires that might not have been the oldest ones but had a major influence on the development of their respective areas. They had their unique styles of architectural design and planning strategies, be it city planning, landscaping, residential and commercial area, or even the tiniest details of columns, sculptures, etc.     

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5. Greek Civilization

Period – 2700 BC–479 BC
Location – Greece 

The Greek civilization is divided into different time frames, and the most popular of them are Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Period of Architecture. Ancient Greek architecture is distinguished by its defining characteristics of structural planning and decoration. They had also mastered structures like temples, theatres, gymnasiums, and sanctuaries along with ornamentation and sculptures. Their buildings showed simple rectangular planning with columns of the three classical orders – Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

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6. Mayan Civilization

Period – 2600 BC–900 AD
Location – Yucatan Peninsula, South-eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras

The major highlight of this era was the complex understanding of astronomy, along with their multi-level platforms, elevated pavilions, massive step-pyramids, monumental stairways, corbelled roofing, and exteriors decorated with sculptures of Maya glyphs, geometric shapes, etc. Mayan sites show evidence of a radial pattern of city planning with monuments in the center along with wide plazas surrounding them.   

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7. Aztec Civilization

Period – 1345 AD–1521 AD
Location – Mexico

​The Aztec architecture followed designing principles that were similar to other Mesoamerican civilizations, including, the use of a grid system in city planning and the construction of large temples in the shape of a pyramid in the central part of the city. In contrast to its large stone temples, Aztec homes were primarily built from wood logs that were interlinked or mud bricks along with ornate artwork related to Aztec religion and customs.

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8. Inca Civilization

Period – 1438 AD–1532 AD
Location – Ecuador, Peru, and Chile

The Inca Empire was one of the most important civilizations in South America in the pre-Columbian Era. A core characteristic of the architectural style was to use the topography and existing materials of the land as part of the design. Inca buildings were made out of stone blocks set in mortar, or adobe walls laid over stone foundations. The most common designing process in Inca architecture was the rectangular building without any internal walls and roofed with wooden beams and thatch.

Many other civilizations took place which are not old enough, and its hints can be seen even today in modern architecture. Roman, Persian, Islamic, Byzantine are some other civilizations that took inspirations from these ancient civilizations and with their creativity and innovation, planned better cities and structures in terms of design, materials, and ornamentation. These civilizations helped in understanding the glorious past and architectural background of various eras and their socio-economic and cultural practices.    

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Richa Shah is a young architect who loves to explore various stories in architecture. She is very much engrossed in researching about different topics and thinks that architecture can be evolved through writing and communicating. She is a trained classical dancer, an experimental cook, and is obsessed with history, ruins, and civilizations and wishes to explore the countless tales that lie buried beneath them.