Joseph Rykwert
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1976, English
Nonfiction, Urban Design
ISBN: 9780691039015

From the Publisher (Faber and Faber, 2010), Roman towns and their history are generally regarded as being the preserve of the archaeologist or the economic historian. In this famous, unusual and radical book which touches on such disparate themes as psychology, and urban architecture, Joseph Rykwert has considered them as works of art. His starting point is the mythical, historical and ritual texts in which their foundation is recounted rather than the excavated remains, such texts having parallels not merely in ancient Greece but also further afield Mesopotamia, India, and China. To achieve his reading of the Roman town, he has invoked the comparative method of the anthropologists, and he examines first of all the “Etruscan rite,” a group of ceremonies by which all, or practically all, Roman towns were founded. The basic institutions of the town, its walls and gates, its central shrines and its forum are all of them part of a pattern to which the rituals and the myths that accompanied them provide clues. Like in other “closed” societies, these rituals and myths served to create a secure home for the citizen of Rome and to make him feel part of his city and place it firmly in a knowable universe. 

On 2 book lists
Phyllis Lambert

When Rykwert published this book in 1976, the city was still largely ignored both conceptually and holistically. Rykwert wrote that the city “had to enshrine the hopes and fears of its citizens,” so that it engaged the active role of the inhabitants and their underlying systems of belief as well as the place. Also see my comments on Palladio by James Ackerman.

Daniel Libeskind

Written by my former teacher, this is one of my absolute favorite books on the city. No nonsense or pseudo-facts. A true classic.

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