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by Archaeology Newsroom

Town-planning in the Classical age

Success in the Persian Wars inspired the Greeks with self-confidence, which the polis (cities) reflected both in their architecture and in their politics. Miletos, rebuilt according to a new plan, and the plan for Piraeus, are based on a scientific approach which takes into account functional, aesthetic and social factors. A network of parallel streets of differing width, spacious public squares and temples on the highest locations became standard elements of city planning. Hippodamos from Miletos not only drew up plans for the first European metropolis in Pireus, but also designed a standardized house which was repeatedly constructed in most cities with astonishing success. In contrast, the reconstruction of Athens followed the old street plan.

In Olynthos in Macedonia, in 432 BC the houses were remarkably comfortable and there was no lack of public installations, but as the population grew the city became crowded and housing was constructed even outside the city walls. The city port of Rhodes was planned along ambitious lines towards the end of the 5th century. Good use was made of earlier planning experience. Five harbours show the demands made by commerce, splendid houses bear witness to the expectations of wealth on the part of the citizens, and for the first time huge spaces are left empty to accomodate future growth. In Kassope in Epiros, built around 360BC as a residential area, conditions are very different, though here too we find all the elements of a Classic polis such as the agora which is the citizens’ meeting place, the marketplace, private houses, a stoa (arcade) with statues in honour of notable citizens serving as a record of the city’s history, the Prytaneion serving as office space and reception area for the Prytaneis, the Bouleuterion in which the Bouleutes discuss and vote on important issues, the theatre in which the Demos assembly makes the final decision. In Epiros there is also to be found a well preserved village from the same period. Both here in Orraon and in Attika we note that life in the country was not fundamentally different from life in the cities. New houses in villages and small towns conform to the same standards as those in cities, as is also shown by the characteristic andrones (men’s quarters). Participation in symposia marked cultural activities in the countryside as well, but the gymnasion and the theatre were institutions of the polis. The high point of classical urban planning is Priene. This is a unique case of the city being built as an enormous work of art. Pytheos, the architect, not only constructed a system of right-angle, parallel streets and squares, but following Pythagorean philosophy he integrated the corners of all buildings into this artful geometric network. The plan includes private houses conforming to standards of the time and culminates in the famous temple of Athena on a raised terrace high above the agora.