8. The urban landscape: a city of light and shadows

The urban area of Sultan Kala is perhaps the most complex area for the Atlas of Islamic Merv project. Within this area, our ideas on the nature of interpretation and the approaches to capturing and documenting this, will be put to the test.

So much of our current understanding of the early Islamic city is based upon urban centres that continue to be occupied to this day. Fez, Cairo, Aleppo and Damascus, for example, provide important insights into the development of the Islamic town (Bianca 2000; Kennedy 1985), but there are problems in understanding the early Islamic town through the mask of their later development. The city of Sultan Kala, in contrast, was largely abandoned after the Mongol sack of AD 1221. So Sultan Kala represents c. 500 years of urban development, at a crucial period in the development of the city in the Islamic world (Wheatley 2001), and it provides a legible city landscape, which by the 13th century enclosed some 600ha within its defensive circuits.

A recent review of the city (Williams forthcoming) gives a broad outline of its development and character, which I do not want to repeat here. Rather, I would like to highlight some specific issues associated with the transcription of aerial photographic data, by exploring a few topics:


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Last updated: Mon Sept 29 2008