Historic Towns Atlases: Urban History through Maps

Anngret Simms and Ferdinand Opll


Introduction

It was in the spirit of reconciliation after the Second World War that, in 1955, The International Commission for the History of Towns recommended the publication of a series of European national historic towns atlases in order to facilitate comparative urban studies and encourage a better understanding of common European roots. Forty years later we have come a long way towards a united Europe, but the need to recognize our shared heritage in spite of its historical diversity still exists.

The centrepiece of the Historic Towns Atlases is the town plan seen as a historical document. Although advances in urban archaeology since the 1960s have highlighted the problematic relationship between the oldest extant town plan and the actual origins of a town, the early town plans are still a prerequisite for the better understanding of the evolution of our towns.

These atlases are not only an academic exercise, serving as source material for urban history, however, they can also provide guidelines for planners and last, but not least, the atlases are a goldmine for the local historian.

It was the aim of The International Commission for the History of Towns from the very beginning that the atlases should have a unified concept. The establishment of strict guidelines ensured that the different national atlases all cover important common ground.

The first two presidents of the Commission H. Aubin and H. Ammann, began the groundwork for the project in 1955. A generally acceptable cartographic scheme for historic towns atlases was discussed at the 1967 meeting of the Commission in Switzerland, and this scheme was finally adopted at the 1968 meeting in Oxford under the enthusiastic leadership of M.D. Lobel and Heinz Stoob.

The earliest of the atlases to reach fruition was the British one, with a first volume of Historic Towns in 1969. This was followed in 1973 by the first volume of the Deutscher Städteatlas. Since then a number of Historic Towns Atlas series have been launched in accordance with the Commission's recommendations. Now that Europe is at a turning point, with the former communist countries free to join the project, the Commission, under the presidency of Professor Adriaan Verhulst, has invited a critical review of the atlas work.

The guide-lines of the Commission propose three principal maps for each town:

The merit of the early nineteenth century pla is that it shows the pattern of house-plots before industrialisation which allows on the one hand a retrogressive town plan analysis and on the other hand an analysis of changes associated with the impact of industrialisation. - Many atlases include thematic maps relating to the topographical growth of a town or to its early social topography. Photographic facsimiles of important early maps and views are also included. Some atlases provide a body of classified topographical information drawn largely from original sources.

What has been achieved? A questionnaire conducted in 1993 was answered by colleagues from eighteen different countries. Circa 280 towns have been published so far, more or less along the lines recommended by the Commission.

The details which follow are based on Urban History through Maps, Complete list of Historic Towns Atlases published under the auspices of The International Commission for the History of Towns and the patronage of the Crédit Communal de Belgique. Compiled by Anngret SIMMS & Ferdinand OPLL, Brussels 1995 and updated 1996


LIST OF EUROPEAN ATLASES OF HISTORIC TOWNS

Country
Title of Atlas
Number published
Start
Austria
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Osterreichischer Städteatlas
Historischer Atlas von Wien
28
5 Lieferungen
1982
1981
Belgium
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Atlas Historique des Villes Belges/
Historische Stedenatlas van Belgie
3
1990
Denmark
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Scandinavian Atlas of Historic Towns:
3
1983
Finland
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Scandinavian Atlas of Historic Towns
3
1977
France
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Atlas historique des villes de France
39
1982
Germany
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Deutscher Städteatlas
Rheinischer Städteatlas
Westfälischer Städteatlas
50
63
36
1973
1972
1975
Great Britain
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The British Atlas of Historic Towns
13
1969
Ireland
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Irish Historic Towns Atlas
7
1986
Italy
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Atlante Storico Delle Città Italiane
Italia settentrionale e Sardegna
Italia centrale e meridionale
:

6
14

1986
1986
Netherlands
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Historische Stedenatlas van Nederland:
5
1982
Poland
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Atlas Historyczny Mias Polskich
3
1993
Sweden
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Scandinavian Atlas of Historic Towns
2
1983
Switzerland
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Historischer Städteatlas der Schweiz
3
1996
Czech Republic
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Historicky atlas mest Ceske republicky
2
1995


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