Superphysics Superphysics
Part 5

City-planning and the Neglecting of It

by Ibn Khaldun Icon
7 minutes  • 1465 words
Table of contents

Towns are dwelling places that nations use when they have reached the desired goal of luxury and of the things that go with it. Then, they prefer tranquility and quiet and turn to using houses to dwell in.

Town are built for dwelling and shelter.

Therefore, it is necessary in this connection to see to it that harmful things are kept away from the towns by protecting them against inroads by them, and that useful features are introduced and all the conveniences are made available in them.

In connection with the protection of towns against harmful things, one should see to it that all the houses of the town are situated inside a protective wall.

The town should be situated in an inaccessible place, either upon a rugged hill or surrounded by the sea or by a river, so that it can be reached only by crossing some sort of bridge. 24

In that way, it will be difficult for an enemy to take the town, and its inaccessibility and fortress (character) will be increased many times.

The air in the town has to be good in order to be safe from illness. When the air is stagnant, bad, or close to corrupt waters or putrid pools or swamps, it is speedily affected by putrescence as the result of being near these things. These affect living beings speedily with illness.

The towns that have no attention to good air have much illness. In the Maghrib, the Gabes in the Jarid in Ifriqiyah, is famous for that. Very few of its inhabitants or those who come there (from elsewhere) are spared some (form of) the putrid fever.

This condition is new there. Al-Bakri says that it began when a copper vessel, sealed with lead, was found during an excavation there. When the seal was broken a puff of smoke came out and disappeared in the air.

Feverous diseases began to occur in that place from that time on. Al-Bakri implied that the vessel contained some magic spell against pestilence, and that when it was gone its magic efficacy also disappeared.

Therefore, putrescence and pestilence reappeared. The story is an example of the feeble beliefs of the common people. Al-Bakri was neither learned nor enlightened enough to reject such a story and see through its nonsensical character.

He reported it as he had heard it. The truth lies in the fact that it mostly is the stagnancy of putrid air that causes the putrefaction of bodies and the occurrence of feverous diseases.

When the wind gets into (the putrid air), and disperses it left and right, the effect of putrescence is lessened, and the occurrence of illness among living beings decreases correspondingly. When a place has many inhabitants and its people move around a great deal, the air necessarily is made to circulate, and there originates a wind that gets into stagnant air 26 This, (in turn,) helps the air to keep moving and circulating.

Where there are few inhabitants, the air is not helped to move and circulate, so it remains stagnant. Its putrescence increases and its harmfulness grows. When Ifriqiyah enjoyed a flourishing civilization and a large population, Gabes had many inhabitants whose constant activity helped to keep the air circulating and to keep the harm resulting from (stagnant air) at a minimum by dispersing it.

There was not much putrescence or illness there at that time. But when the number of inhabitants (in Gabes) became fewer, the air there, which was putrefied through the corruption of the water (of the town), became stagnant, and putrescence and the occurrence of disease increased.

This is the only correct explanation (of the prevalence of feverous diseases in Gabes). We have seen the contrary occur in places founded without regard for the quality of the air. At first they had few inhabitants, and, consequently, the occurrence of disease was high.

Then, when the population increased, the situation changed. An example is the royal residence in Fez at this time, which is called the New Town. 27

Many such examples exist in the world. The corruption of the air has disappeared in Gabes. The putrescence no longer exists there. The ruler of Tunis besieged Gabes and cut down the palm grove that surrounded the town.

Part of the town was thus opened up, and the surrounding air could circulate and the winds could get into it. Thus, the putrescence disappeared from the air.

Town Utilities: Water and Pastures

The city should be on a river, or springs with plenty of fresh water should be facing it. The existence of water near the place simplifies the water problem for the inhabitants, which is urgent. The existence of (water) will be a general convenience to them.

Towns should also have the utility of good pastures for livestock. Each householder needs domestic animals for breeding, for milk, and for riding. (These animals) require pasturage. If (the pastures) are nearby and good, that will be more convenient for them, because it is troublesome for them to have the pastures far away.

Furthermore, one has to see to it that there are fields suitable for cultivation. Grain is the (basic) food. When the fields are near, the (needed grain) can be obtained more easily and quickly.

Then, there also is (the problem of) a woods to supply firewood and building material. Firewood is a matter of general concern, as it is used for making fires to generate heat. Timber, too, is needed, for roofing and for the many other necessities for which timber is employed.

One should also see to it that the town is situated close to the sea, to facilitate the importation of foreign goods from remote countries. However, this is not on the same level with the afore-mentioned (requirements). All the (requirements) mentioned differ in importance according to the different needs and the necessity that exists for them on the part of the inhabitants.

The founder (of a town) sometimes fails to make a good natural selection, or he sees only to what seems most important to him or his people, and does not think of the needs of others. The Arabs did that at the beginning of Islam when they founded towns in the ‘Iraq, the Hijaz,30 and Ifriqiyah. They saw only to what seemed important to them, namely, pastures for (their) camels and the trees and brackish water suitable to (camels).

They did not see to it that there was water (forhuman consumption), fields for cultivation, firewood, or pastures for domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, and so on.

31 Among the cities founded by the Arabs were al-Qayrawan, al-Kufah, al-Basrah, Sijilmasah, and the like. These cities were, therefore, very ready to fall into ruins, in as much as in connection with them no attention had been paid to the natural (requirements of towns).

In connection with coastal towns situated on the sea, one must see to it that they are situated on a mountain or amidst a people sufficiently numerous to come to the support of the town when an enemy attacks it.

This is because a town near the sea but does not have within its area tribes who share its group feeling, or is not situated in rugged mountain territory, is in danger of being attacked at night by surprise. Its enemies can easily attack it with a fleet and do harm to it.

They can be sure that the city has no one to call to its support and that the urban population, accustomed to tranquility, has become dependent (on others for its protection) and does not know how to fight. Among (cities) of this type, for instance, are Alexandria in the East, and Tripoli, Bone, and Sale in the West.

Tribes and groups living nearby, where a call for help or the sounds of fighting can reach them, and roads (too) rugged to be used by those who want to reach (the town) built upon a hilltop in mountainous country, constitute the principal defenses (of towns) against (their enemies).

The enemies will give up attacking the town. Its rugged situation stops them, and they fear that the town’s call for help will be answered. This applies to Ceuta, Bougie, and even to Collo (al-Qull), 32 despite its small size.

This should be understood. It may be illustrated by the fact that Alexandria was designated a “border city” by the ‘Abbasids although the ‘Abbasid propaganda extended beyond Alexandria to Barca (Barqah) and Ifriqiyah. (The term “border city” for Alexandria) expressed (‘Abbasid) fears that attacks (against Alexandria) could be made from the sea. (Such fears were justified in the case of Alexandria) because of its exposed situation.

Its exposed situation was probably why Alexandria and Tripoli were frequently attacked by the enemy in Islamic times.

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