Urban Design in Pompeii

First comprehensive study on the atmosphere of an ancient city has been published.


Inviting, cosy, relaxed, but also forbidding, cramped, oppressive – cities can convey very different atmospheres. From the municipalities' point of view, atmosphere is an important location factor, for example, to attract tourists. Urban planning and city marketing therefore try to create certain atmospheres, preferably positive ones.

This is already a very old phenomenon. However, how were urban design strategies implemented in earlier eras to create certain atmospheric effects? Prof. Dr. Annette Haug and her team from the Institute of Classical Archaeology at Kiel University, funded by the European Research Council, investigated this question using the example of Pompeii. The results of this work are now presented in their book Öffentliche Räume in Pompeji (Engl. ed.: Public Spaces in Pompeii), which is now freely available online. Both the research and the publication were additionally supported by the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS at CAU. 

“The concept of atmosphere is able to represent urban experience holistically. Among others, it goes back to the Kiel philosopher Hermann Schmitz," the author explains the basic idea. However, she says, atmospheres in this philosophical understanding were very open and highly changeable depending on factors and perspectives. “For practical application in the study of an ancient city, we therefore focused on the question of how certain forms of design were used to create certain atmospheres,” says Prof. Dr. Haug.

The book focuses on the last decades of the city before its destruction by Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE Because of the special situation in Pompeii, the condition of the city for this period are more tangible here than in almost any other ancient city. 

The book presents streets, the forum with its adjacent buildings, sanctuaries, theatres, the amphitheatre, the thermal baths, food stores, snack bars, bars and restaurants as well as the brothel with regard to their design strategies, their range of activities, and their atmospheric effects. 

In just under 500 pages, it thus presents the first comprehensive study of the atmosphere of an ancient city. “The project shows that the concept has great potential to better convey the experience of a pre-modern city. I hope that the book will stimulate further studies in this direction,” concludes the author. 

Annette Haug _The Study
The study investigates how certain forms of design were used to create certain atmospheres in Pompeji. Photo: Annette Haug.

Background information: 
The book Public Spaces in Pompeii: The Design of Urban Atmospheres by Annette Haug in collaboration with Adrian Hielscher and Simon Barker has been published by De Gruyter as an open access publication: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110988383
The creation and printing of the publication was funded by the ERC Consolidator Grant DECOR (No. 681269), the Cluster of Excellence "ROOTS - Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies" (EXC 2150), and the Collaborative Research Group "Religion and Urbanity. Reciprocal Formations" (FOR 2779).


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