EAUH Conference 2018


Session M05. Transforming Cities, Negotiating Spaces and Powers: Markets and Civic Buildings in Europe, the Middle-East and North-Africa (XIIIth c. / XIXth c. )

Coordinators: Colin Arnaud (, Alessandra Ferrighi (, Nora Lafi (

The renovation of central market places was in cities a moment of redefinition of not only the spatial organization, but also of the relationship between rulers, notables, guilds, power brokers and the general population. The transformation of the seat of the municipal authorities also represented a moment of redefinition of the socio-institutional topography of the city. This aim of this session is to use such moments (which were also always moments of intense archival production) in order to understand the logics of resilience (spatial, morphological, institutional, social), dynamics of change and vectors of disruption/negotiation/mediation that were acting. The session also aims at examining the evolution of centralities. Markets featured a kind of horizontal centrality, thanks to their capacity of gathering the whole town on the same level. Markets were also central places as for civic mobilizations. Municipal buildings were generally close to such places, and the urban élite that ruled them had close links with the markets. Sometimes municipal buildings were also places of commerce, or the buildings of the guild of merchants. Contrary to other places of power, access was thus more open.
During the Early Modern and Modern Period however the trend was to separate more clearly the sphere of the political power from the rest of the urban activities. During the 19th century, instead of including commercial spaces for a large population, the new municipal buildings were built as separate monuments. Also the central places were gradually objects of monumentalizations: they were freed from their chaotic daily markets. This reinforced a new vertical centrality.
This narrative from a horizontal to a vertical centrality between the late middle Ages and the Modern Period can be revisited through comparison in various cultural contexts. The narrative – also a narrative of modernity – can be re-elaborated in surprising ways, because political and commercial institutions sometimes featured original spatial organizations: in some cities, the seat of old regime municipal institutions was in the palace of the notable that headed them and was thus mobile, depending of the person in charge. In other cities, markets were the core of the power of the guild of merchants, which also acted as an institution of urban governance, in other cities, town hall were also commercial buildings. Processes of inclusion and exclusion and the kind of relationship between places of commerce and places of urban power could be different according to the place.
Papers examining such relations between spatial reconfigurations and socio-institutional configurations are of particular interest for this session, that wishes to avoid a priori cultural dichotomies between Europe and the Arabo-Ottoman world, preferring discussion centered on precise case studies. Comparative contributions are welcome, as well as monographic case studies on European and Arab-Ottoman cities.
Keywords: markets; town halls; civic buildings; city centre; urban centrality; Middle East