Monday, June 22

Mosques and Urban Development

Religious places are interesting urban and human development artefacts. By and large, religious places are one of the biggest things one can see in human history. One only needs to see the seven ancient wonders of the world to see what I mean:

  1. Great Pyramid of Giza
  2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  3. Statue of Zeus at Olympia
  4. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  5. Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
  6. Colossus of Rhodes
  7. Lighthouse of Alexandria

With the exclusion of the last one and perhaps one can argue the 6th one, rest are religious buildings. How about the medieval wonders?

  1. Stonehenge
  2. Colosseum
  3. Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa
  4. Great Wall of China
  5. Porcelain Tower of Nanjing
  6. Hagia Sophia
  7. Leaning Tower of Pisa
  8. Taj Mahal
  9. Cairo Citadel
  10. Ely Cathedral
  11. Cluny Abbey

Again, mostly religious in nature. Walk around in any city in any country and you will find religious buildings as one of the key urban infrastructure artefacts. Religious buildings also play a huge part in the social dynamics of cities. The second point is that from this year onwards, there are more people in urban areas rather than in rural areas. So its important to know how religious buildings interact with urban development. You need to know this for a variety of reasons, for town planning, for security, for urban warfare, for traffic, to determine the value of your home, etc. etc. So how do you do it? Well, these chaps seem to have done a good job in doing this. I quote:

Explaining historical urban development using the locations of mosques: A GIS/spatial statistics-based approach, Irem Ayhana and K. Mert Cubukcu, City and Regional Planning, Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey


Religious buildings, including temples, churches, synagogues and mosques have always been one of the integral components of the urban layout. This paper aims to answer the question whether the historical spatial development of a large-size city can be approximated using historical geographical and categorical data pertaining to its places of worship. We use data for 525 mosques built in Izmir, Turkey, over the years 1550–2008 and maps of built-up areas for the same period. Based on the results of GIS/spatial statistics-based analyses using the three basic measures of spatial statistics (mean center, weighted mean center and standard deviational ellipse), we conclude that the spatial distribution of mosques is a close proxy of urban development. Thus, location data for places of worship, often available and accessible, can be used to derive historical urban development over a given period.

Here’s the relevant image of the city.


this is how the mosques were constructed by time period:

And immediately you can see the differences between the construction period and how the city grew. In terms of going into statistical measures, this image now shows how the mean centres of the city changed by time:

As you can imagine, various things like land values to traffic patterns will change dramatically based upon this kind of data. Very interesting stuff.

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