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Posted on April 19th, 2014, by

1) Joel Kotkin writes about cities as sacred spaces. Describe a city you know about that you would consider a sacred city. Why is it sacred? To what religious group? Is a sacred city different than other cities?


Nowadays, a sacred city may be understood as one of the major cities representing historical significance for a particular religion or large religious school. A sacred city is differing from other cities due to the presence of sacred places, and thus typically becomes a place of pilgrimage and bears the primary cult importance, i.e. shares one of the following features: a) contains the quarters of a patriarch or head of a religion (Constantinople, Moscow, the Vatican), b) is recognized by pilgrims to come from distant countries and regions (Mecca, Jerusalem); c) is officially declared a holy city by the authorities or the higher clergy (Bukhara); d) was specially built as a religious center (Kathmandu); e) is a capital of a theocratic state in which the spiritual and political powers were connected (Babylon, Ashur, Uruk, Luxor).

In particular, Jerusalem is the shrine of the three religions, as it has a very special status for the adherents of the Abrahamic religions as a site containing sacred relics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem is the place where God’s presence is manifested most fully in our world. Sacred to Jews is the Temple Mount, where the first stone for founding the world is placed, and the Western (Wailing) Wall. To Muslims, sacred is the religious architectural complex of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, and to Christians of all confessions – Church of the Holy Sepulchre and many other churches built at places where Jesus stepped. According to the Bible, Jerusalem experienced many events of crucial religious importance, such as the Crucifix of Christ on Mount Calvary and The Resurrection of Christ.

2) Since we have been looking at medieval cities this past week, please consider the following questions. In what ways do you think immediate crises (i.e. plagues, raids, etc.) informed the creation of medieval cities? What role did commerce play in the overall structure of the city?


Medieval cities typically arose in places where such two important conditions as safety and convenience matched (Kotkin 14). Thus, the creation of a city was largely dependent on the access to the sea or river, presence natural resources, and landscape able to defend against the attacks of enemies.

Comfortable were the places, abounding in merchants and pilgrims, and thus, medieval cities were constructed at the intersection of land, river or sea trade routes. A medieval town interested people as a convenient and suitable place to buy and sell handicrafts at the market, and therefore the central place of the city was always a market area hosting auctions and fairs. In addition, a medieval city attracted newcomers by the fact that it was possible to hide there in case of feudal conflicts, wars, raids and natural disasters. Security was provided by the location of a city by the walls of a castle or monastery, on a hill or in a bend of a river. All this facilitated protection from enemy raids. In addition, medieval towns were surrounded by a fortress wall.

On the other hand, fortification had a significant disadvantage: it limited urban settlement, dooming its residents to eternal overcrowding. As a result, the characteristic features of a medieval city were extremely narrow and dirty streets. Dirt in combination with overcrowding led to frequent epidemics of plague and cholera, sometimes destroying half of the population. The risk of contamination was fully realized only in the 15th century, which led to the development of wastewater purification and canalization in cities. Another scourge of a medieval town was the constant threat of fires, as many houses were built of wood, so that in case of fire, entire neighborhoods burnt out. However, it was the desire to avoid fires that, in a sense, played its role in the spread of stone buildings in cities.

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