Modern city planning stems from the needs of society and its development. In this development, the main participants are different planning policies and public (space users). Nowadays spatial planning is considering the problem of gigantic city growth. There have been billions of people who are living in cities and these numbers are growing enormously. In some towns, the boundaries between cities have almost disappeared (American East coast). In the modern city, the needs of the various users of the city are met and intertwined, which is why Mumford (Mumford, The City in History, 1961) rightly calls the city the most complex invention of humanity. Because of these factors, planners from all over the world are making themes point out that space is a consumable resource.


Winner | RTF Essay Writing Competition April 2020

Category: Medieval Cities VS Modern Cities
Participant: Mira Medovic
Profession: Landscape Architect
Country: Croatia


Medieval city planning and today modern city planning is completely different in many ways. For the first main factor of differences it was in the much smaller number (at 1000 A.C. Europe has 42 million of people), and the smaller needs of the citizens. The early planned medieval cities reflect a reflection of Christian doctrine and feudal order. Cities usually are planned around some central focus which usually was a monastery or castle. Medieval cities for a couple of centuries were ruled by one noble dynasty. For that time they can make cities grow and to be planned by their ideas of architectural, functional, social, esthetical town visions. From 11. to 14. For Centuries the planning of medieval cities was based on market and crafts. Because of this, there were trade unions between cities (Hanseatic League – league of market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe, at some point there were around 160 towns in this league). The main determination of the medieval city was defensive wall structure usually around the whole town (Mystras – Greece, Dubrovnik – Croatia, Obidos – Portugal, Taroudant – Morocco, Avila – Spain, Carcassonne –France,  Pingyao – China). Those cities were small structures with irregular, small, and narrow streets, some main public points like squares, plaza, piazza, and bigger but with sense articulated main political and city hall buildings.

This medieval time was marked by a dangerous and then-unknown disease – the plague. The cities were fighting against these diseases in many ways but for us the most important is QUARANTINE. The quarantine is the period of 40 days which medieval travelers needed to spend in isolated and controlled places before they can get in the towns. Those buildings were built only for that purpose out of the town and out of the city walls. The first quarantine was imported by Dubrovnik Statute in 1209, and between 1590 and 1642 they built the architectural object (Lazarettos) out of the city walls for these purposes. The same objects later we can find in many other medieval cities for example: Lazzaretto Vechio – Venezia (15th century), Lazzaretto di Bergamo – Bergamo (16th century), Manoel Island Lazzaretto – Malta (17th century), Lazzaretto del Varignano – La Spezia, Italy (18th  century), Spinalonga Island – Crete (20th  century). All of those buildings usually are planned as a fortress.

If we consider today’s expanded city boundaries and migrations on a daily basis for citizens we can say that today it is much harder to control the city areas. The medieval cities today are the city centers of modern cities. Many of those centers today have only tourist purposes and in the travel seasons, you can see the pictures from all over the world with overcrowded old city centers. Domestic people and town citizens are moved out of the medieval centers because the life in those so frequency tourist zones is impossible. In new modern towns around those medieval centers there are wider streets and roads, new higher buildings, shopping zones, garages, parking places, but on a much smaller scale we can find park areas, playgrounds, green infrastructure. In the big cities those parks are bigger but if we compare it with the number of town citizens it is small.

Nowadays our towns are considering the incredible scenario of COVID-19 virus quarantine, which is many ways different than it was in medieval time. For the first it is the city boundaries. Like it is said before in modern city planning there are no boundaries because it is the opposite of the global principles of freedom. Because of these positive factors in city planning nowadays to the governments, it will be harder to control areas and to divide cities with some new imaginative and administrative boundaries. In quarantines today we are closed to our homes. Instead, medieval people in high disease time freely lived in these towns. The city governments closed towns inside the city walls so no one without being quarantined outside the city can go in. That is how they protect their citizens from the disease.

Today in modern cities quarantines are located in the cities (hospitals, arenas, schools, university campuses….). In medieval cities, those places are outside of the towns. At the same time, the air in the modern cities is polluted while in the medieval cities the hygienic habits of people were worse but there was no air pollution. With the new scientific reports it is said that for COVID 19 transmission is easier in places where the air pollution is higher. The fresh air in modern cities is provided by the green infrastructure which in contemporary planning is increasingly forgotten. With the quarantine places located outside of the cities it will be much easier to control the disease and the transmission of the virus.

Today problem with the midlevel city centers in modern towns is in tourism. Those city centers are small like we said, the streets are narrow. The new actions of European Union in relaxation of COVID19 measures are very dangerous for exactly those medieval centers. If they allow traveling while the virus is still between us and if tourism too quickly comes in daylight again there can be very risky problems with those medieval city centers. If those places will be overcrowded in times of COVID19 they can be timed bombs for people. Because of the small structure of the city centers the ability to circulate fresh air is impaired. Also the narrow streets of the centers are always in shadow and usually out of direct sunlight. All of those characteristics are positive for the transmission of the virus. Above all of that if we add a thousand of the tourists in those conditions it can be a disaster if there will be even only one person with the disease. Above this the restaurants in those centers are usually with small interior and big outside terrace. The costumers were usually sitting very close to each other because the terrace can accept more guests. But with new measures the allowed distance between people is a minimum of 2 meters. The inevitable question arises as to whether the restaurant hospitality will be able to survive in these centers of medieval cities at all.

So to conclude, we can say that medieval planning has a very good defensive strategy and organization of the city. To be honest, much better than we have today. But today cities are still having the medieval city centers and there are no more quarantine places outside the city walls like it was in middle-age. Today, the government and administration of such cities will have to face the promotion, management, and permitting of tourism in such places, which until yesterday were tourist destinations.

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