Urban planning in the Early Byzantine
In the Early Byzantine period, cities were the
centres of administration,
economy and culture, and provided the monumental mundane surroundings
that were considered an essential part of civilized life.
The physical aspect of the Early Byzantine city was that of
a Roman city. It was often walled and laid out as regularly
as the terrain permitted. Broad streets met at right angles.
The two main avenues, the Roman
cardo and decumanus, were
often bordered with covered colonnades that sheltered shops,
and decorated with
monumental arches at their intersections.
The so-called Byzantine Shops at Sardis illustrate the use
in Early Byzantine urbanism. Similar constructions and the
bustling activity they housed have been captured in the street
life scenes of the Megalopsychia mosaic at Antioch. Religious
and civic centres were grouped around open squares. Baths,
theatres and, in larger cities, hippodromes provided entertainement.
Monumental fountains, statues and paintings adorned the public
buildings and places. Basic needs were served by aqueducts,
cisterns and granaries, while extensive cemeteries, monasteries,
and villas lay outside the city walls. Gradually, magnificent
churches heralded the change from the pagan to the Christian
Roman Empire, and marked the urban landscape. The representation
of Jerusalem on the Madaba map graphically portays the importance
of churches, with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Nea
and several other churches specifically depicted.
The Early Byzantine empire saw itself as an aggregate
of cities, most of which were of ancient origin. Constantinople
grew out of a small Severan town into a huge and splendid
imperial capital; Ephesus, Sardis and Antioch were ancient
and prosperous provincial foundations. Cities built in the
Early Byzantine period where no previous settlement of importance
had existed before represent a much smaller category. Among
these artificial creations, all of which had a short life-span,
Caricin Grad is a fine sixth-century example. Its antique
urban planning was adapted to the demands of its time: it
has no civic buildings of traditional type or places of entertainement,
but is dominated instead by large churches.
Urban life held strong in the Early Byzantine period,
with public works and services maintained and revitalized
through imperial and private patronage. In the sixth century,
however, the ancient urban regularity tends to disappear.
Open spaces are progressively cluttered with shoddy commercial
constructions, as in Caricin Grad. Booths were set up in the
colonnades at Ephesus and Sardis. Buildings were extended
into streets, or adapted to new purposes, or simply left in
ruins. Natural calamities, barbaric invasions, and the fading
of civil institutions accelerated the decline of eastern cities.
Activities became increasingly diversified and markedly rural,
with artisans moving from the periphery to the city centre
and live stock kept inside the houses.