New methodological approaches to the interpretation of historic urban landscapes: the city of Maibud (Iran) as a case study
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Esfanjary Kenari, Eisa
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The intellectual boundaries of heritage have developed considerably during the last half-century. The theme ‘historic urban landscape’ has replaced such older expressions as ‘monuments’, ‘historic area’, and ‘old town’, and the term ‘conservation’ has been reinterpreted as a sustainable basis for development. Despite these more flexible meanings the spatial boundaries of ‘heritage’ often remain tightly restricted to ancient monuments and sites, and nowhere is this more evident than in Iran where the preservation of outstanding monuments is constantly in tension with the spatial demand of the modern cities. Maibud provides the basis from which a new methodological approach to conservation is developed. It is a city that has a history of several millennia yet has a scale that renders it manageable as a case study with archaeological remains that range across several phases of building development. It is, arguably, an archetypal example of middle-sized Iranian cities, and affords the possibility to study the entire urban landscape and its spatial, functional and morphological iterations. Within this overall picture a methodology was developed to explore and analyse various typological elements of the city, the three key components of which are the town plan, the building type, and construction materials. The analysis combines a rigorous survey and observation of the standing structures with scarce archaeological and written sources that shed light on an interpretation of the urban fabric. The methodologies developed as the basis for a study of Maibud provide new perspectives on Islamic urbanism in general, and Islamic urbanism in Iran particularly. An analysis of the town plan illustrated a slow process of change over many centuries that contributed to the permanence of street systems and property boundaries. This durability of the town plan explains how the inherited urban nucleus of late antiquity mutated gradually in the early Islamic period and how there was concentration of development around the early mosque. The building fabric demonstrated that there existed not only commonalities between buildings of the same period, but between buildings of different periods in the same region. A gradual mutation of building form and its synchronic and diachronic progression was noted, through the identification of building typologies as characterised in the urban fabric of Maibud. Consequently, it has been hypothesised that the pre-Islamic matrix of char-suffa, a small courtyard house, gradually developed into medieval and late-medieval houses, and that this incremental development of traditional houses of the region ultimately reached its latest transformation in its modern form. A study of earthen construction and the inherent feature of mud brick has been advanced, featuring its availability, flexibility, homogeneity, sustainability, as well as its vulnerability. A detailed study of these characteristics, coupled with an ability to date the different types and sizes of mud bricks has facilitated an understanding of construction and allows researchers to meet the challenge of dating and interpreting buildings. By concentrating on the ‘laboratory’ city of Maibud and the specificities of its earthen construction, a chronological table of mud brick has been developed. A synthesis has been advanced, based on archaeological, architectural, epigraphic and textual evidence, that the streets of the town plan are the most durable feature of urban landscapes and once laid out, they change very little. Consequently, property boundaries have essentially remained fixed with most dating back to the medieval period. By contrast, buildings and particularly residential buildings were the least durable element of the urban fabric, and changed faster based still on earlier designs. It is imperative that these interrelationships − of town plan, buildings and materials – must be understood in order to formulate an approach for the management and conservation of historic urban landscapes.