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Roman Architecture: Engineering an Empire

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Author Topic: Roman Architecture: Engineering an Empire  (Read 4468 times)
Krystal Coenen
Superhero Member
Posts: 4754

« Reply #45 on: July 16, 2007, 05:15:56 pm »

Remains of the top floors of an insula near the Capitolium and the Aracoeli in Rome.


In Roman architecture, insulae (singular insula) were large apartment buildings where the lower and middle classes of Romans (the plebs) dwelled. The floor at ground level was used for tavernas, shops and businesses with living space on the higher floors.

The urbanization of the larger Roman cities caused a great demand for housing which was within a comparable vicinity of the city center and real estate was therefore at a premium. As such, private houses were a luxury which only the wealthy could afford. This led to a majority of the inhabitants of the inner city living in apartment and tenement housing called insulae.

These houses were often constructed at minimal expenses for speculative purposes. The insulae were therefore of poor construction and prone to fire and collapse, as described by Juvenal. Because of the inherent unsafety and extra flights of stairs, the uppermost floors were the least desirable, and thus the cheapest to rent. The insulae could be up to six or seven stories high (some were even 8 or 9 stories high- these very tall buildings were being built before the height restrictions). A single insula could accommodate over 40 people in only 400 square meters (4305 sq. feet), however the entire structure usually had about 6 to 7 apartments, each had about 200 square meters (2152 sq. feet).

Because of the dangers of fire, and collapse, the height of the insulae were restricted by Emperor Augustus to 70 Roman feet (20.7 m), and again by Emperor Nero down to 60 Roman feet (17.75m) after the Great Fire of Rome. There may have been up to 50,000 insulae, as compared to only 2000 domus in the late 200 A.D, when the city was in decline, and the population was smaller.

Like upperclass homes, many insulae did have running water or sanitation as described by Strabo.

The name of the "insulae" was derived from the Latin for islands. They were called so because of the way they looked from a bird's eye view. It would appear these buildings were spaced out like islands (hence the name), while being surrounded by road.

The Romans were the first civilisation to utilise flats and apartments.

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