“Utopias are often simply premature truths.” Lamartine
In urban planning the utopian ideal is more than an instinctive desire for a better world: it is also starting place of progress. Even the wildest urban projects spur to more efficient ways of living in one way or another.
The following is a summary of cities whose bricks and mortar are the stuff of dreams, ideas and achievements…
Babel & Babylon: The Gateway of Gods
Tower of Babel is the embodiment of past dreams and contemporary desires. According to the biblical account, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar, where they resolved to build a city with a tower “with its top in the heavens…lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the Earth.”
The Tower of Babel (Mallet)
Aztec cities: Tenochtitlan
After its dawn in Mesopotamia, the science of urban planning was taken well beyond European borders. Modern-day Mexico was home to some real metropolises. Tenochtitlan was a city state located on an island in Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. Founded in 1325, it became the capital of the abounding Aztec Empire in the 15th century.
“When we saw so many cities and villages built in the water and other great towns on dry land we were amazed and said that it was like the enchantments (…) on account of the great towers and cues and buildings rising from the water, and all built of masonry. And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream? (…) I do not know how to describe it, seeing things as we did that had never been heard of or seen before, not even dreamed about.”
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain
Plans for the Ideal City: Leonardo da Vinci
Some ideas were very close to realities seen in today’s cities, proving that today’s “impossible dream” can provide tomorrow’s solutions, with a little help from advances in technology.
Drawings of the Ideal City by Leonardo da Vinci
The Renaissance concept of the ideal city is expressed by Leonardo in his rigorously geometric urban planning. His ideal city is characterised by the perfect integration of a network of canals, which are used both for commercial purposes as well as a sewage system.
“And understand that he who would go through the whole place by the high level streets can use them for this purpose, and he who would go by the low level can do the same. By the high streets no vehicles and similar objects should circulate, but they are exclusively for the use of gentlemen. The carts and burdens for the use of convenience of the inhabitants have to go by the low ones.”
From the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
ZION – the historic land of Jerusalem; an idealised, harmonious community.
ZION (Sion) – originally a stronghold captured by David (the King of the Israelites), above it was build a temple and later the name extended to the whole hill, finally it became a synonym for the city of Jerusalem. The inhabitants of Jerusalem are personified as the daughter of Zion.
The legacy of a continuous occupation dating back to the Stone Age and Medieval upheaval, European city streets were often narrow, dark and winding. As elsewhere in the world, people nurtured the dream of a city protected by ramparts.
Many believed the New Jerusalem—so eagerly anticipated by Christians and seen as a post-Apocalyptic utopia—was the representation of paradise. When I visited Jerusalem this summer, I could certainly feel the uniqueness and individuality of this place. I think, that the true mistery of this supernatural place lies in its walls. The minute, I’ve touched it with my hand I experienced un undicribable feeling in my entire body.
“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;
And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel…And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.“
Extract from the Apocalypse of John.