Many Roman writers who described ancient cities mention that two types of urban structures, temples and domus, wealthy urban villas, could often be seen from afar and commanded a view over a great distance. Some authors, such as Vitruvius, suggested that patrons and architects found this to be desirable and purposely positioned some urban temples and domus in order to afford them a long-distance view over the city and high visibility within the city. While modern archaeologists acknowledge many factors in the siting and orientation of urban architecture, many have argued that specific excavated urban temples and domus were situated so as to dominate a cityscape in antiquity. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be certain about the role of visibility in the placement and orientation of an ancient structure simply because so little of most ancient Roman cities has been excavated.
Until about a decade ago, the prospect of estimating the height of every building at a site, plotting this information on a paper plan, and then overlaying this plan on a topographic plan of the site so as to determine viewshed was so daunting that it was never attempted. Now, however, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have made it possible to overlay and combine plans in just this way in order to determine the viewshed of any particular point within a landscape. Classical archaeologists have just begun to realise the potential of this type of analysis and have only employed it in a very tentative way to study visibility within Greek cities. The following study brings GIS viewshed analysis to bear specifically on the question of whether or not Roman patrons and builders at the site of Empúries, Spain, sited their buildings to afford maximum visibility within the urban environment and to allow for expansive views of the city and beyond.
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Last updated: Thu Jun 12 2003