cities without streets

In Çatal Höyük, there used to be no streets or pathways. Instead, façade walls touched each other without any gap in-between. With a single opening on the roof, each dwelling’s chimney functioned as lighting window as well as entrance door.

Discovered in Turkish Anatolia close to the Syrian border ca. 6,000 BC, it is one of the best-preserved Neolithic settlements. Contiguous constructions made people use rooftops as a very lively public space. The city was an endless building. Dwellers should climb up a timber ladder to get onto the roofs topography; walk along and above their neighbours’ homes, until they found the hole from where to climb down through another ladder into their own.

Every mud brick dwelling provided a piece of public space for people to meet or simply pass by, safe from wild animals. Çatal Höyük was also a sort of fortress or vantage point to watch the surrounding territory. These man-made vertical caves provided optimal environmental conditions throughout the year. Ecology already started with the up to 18 layers of recycled rubble from previously collapsed buildings that configured the foundations of every new house. In addition, there was an open site for collective waste dumping.

Ian Hodder is in charge of the discoveries since the 1990s, approaching them with his pioneering post-processual archaeological method. For him, archaeology is related to the archaelogist’s subjective interpretation and phenomenological approach. “Postprocessualists suggest that we can never confront theory and data; instead, we see data through a cloud of theory.” JOHNSON,M: Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. Ariel 1999

One of the main evidence sources to think of cultural life in Çatal Höyük are female figurines in male and female graves underneath every home. During early hunter/gatherer periods of the settlement, this society was balanced in terms of gender and wealth. Nonetheless, an increase in the amount of burial goddesses’ representations leads to think of a shift from an egalitarian community to a matriarchal society.

There was no public building with a higher hierarchy in the whole settlement, but basic homogenous domesticity. The real public institution in Çatal Höyük was the system of interconnected rooftops working as a mobility network and meeting space. The origins of urbanism relied basically on roofs with holes. In a wall painting discovered in one of the dwellings, there is a fantastic scene of an erupting volcano. Below, we can see one of the earliest floorplans of a town. The painter depicted dwellings as cavities. He represented houses however as completely independent units with a clear gap between walls. This version does not match with the existing building remains, but probably with the painter’s perception of the process of building the city.

[sources> CatalHoyuk research project / SEMP / Sandra Shaw / alternative archaeology

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