Investigating the socio-spatial logic of historic urban areas through space syntax

A comparative analysis of the Roman towns Cosa, Nora, Timgad and Thuburbo Majus

Keywords: Roman urbanism, Space syntax, Configuration, Spatial structure, Social logic of space, Movement


Starting from the Late Republican and First Imperial ages, the Roman Mediterranean has seen the development and transformation of urbanised areas due to the newly gained stability conferred by the so-called Pax Augusta. This phenomenon has significant consequences in transforming pre-existing urban structures and establishing a large number of newly founded urban areas. This study aims to address a gap in the existing literature by developing a method to analyse the configuration of historical urban sites to understand the social and cultural antecedents of the transformation and development of urban areas in the Roman era. The study builds on Space Syntax theories and techniques to develop an analytical protocol that combines syntactical analysis and statistical analysis to measure and compare spatial, visual and social relationships in four urban Roman sites in the Mediterranean. The selected areas of study are the urban sites of Nora and Cosa in Italy, of Timgad in Algeria and of Thuburbo Maius in Tunisia. The study areas include planned urban sites constituted by a grid structure (Cosa and Timgad) and cities with continuity of life (Nora and Thuburbo Maius) formed by an organic inspired spatial layout. The study significantly contributes to archaeology and urban studies by proposing a combination of methods that associates distinct analytical techniques to investigate the large-scale configurational properties of historical urban environments whose spatial structure and, therefore, social logic have been only partially explored.


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Author Biographies

Chiara Garau, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Architecture (DICAAR), University of Cagliari, Italy

Chiara Garau is an associate professor in Urban and Regional Planning at the DICAAR of the University of Cagliari, Italy. She was a scientific and technical adviser to Observatory Smart Cities of Rome (2013-2014) and she held several postdoctoral fellowships, before being a researcher and then a professor at the University of Cagliari. She was the principal investigator of several international projects, among which Governing the smart city: a governance-centred approach to smart urbanism “GHOST” 2015-2019 by the MIUR (Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research) and financed with the SIR (Scientific Independence of young Researchers) programme. Her main research interests are focused on issues of the Scientific Disciplinary Sector of Urban and Regional Planning, particularly on smart cities; participatory processes; cultural heritage; urban governance and urban policies. A referee of several international scientific journals, she is author of over one hundred and ten publications, including monographs, conference proceedings, articles in books, national and international journals.

Alfonso Annunziata, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Architecture (DICAAR), University of Cagliari, Italy

Alfonso Annunziata is a post-doc fellow at the Department of Civil and environmental engineering and architecture of the University of Cagliari His research focuses on the topics of landscape infrastructure, landscape urbanism, configurational analysis and spatial analysis. In particular, three aspects are investigated in Annunziata’s research: i) the configurational, material, functional and social features of the urban realm impacting residents’ quality of life; ii) the development of metrics to assess the quality of public spaces in terms of their usability; iii) the analysis of social, economic and spatial trends related to the decline of inland rural areas.

Claudia Yamu, Department of Built Environment, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

Claudia (van der Laag) Yamu is a full professor at Oslo Metropolitan University. She is an architect and urban planner. She is an expert on transport land use planning including people's behaviour in cities combining space syntax with a wide-range of analytical techniques including method and tool development at the forefront of virtual modelling. As a former project consultant, she excels in combining the theoretical innovations with practice-oriented solutions and has been involved in numerous international projects. Yamu was awarded the prestigious Michael Breheny Prize in 2015 for her work on multiscale, multifractal urban planning models. She is an editorial board member for Springer’s The Urban Book Series and has been a reviewer for national research funding agencies in Europe and the Middle East. She holds a PhD in Architecture from TU Wien connecting architecture, urban planning and computer science and a PhD in Geography and Regional Planning in complexity-based modelling from Université de Franche-Comté. She dedicates her work to the development of sustainable cities and regions.

Dario D'Orlando, Department of Humanities, Languages and Cultural Heritage, University of Cagliari, Italy

Dario D’Orlando is an independent researcher. He took his PhD degree at University of Cagliari in 2021. His interests include Roman landscape and urbanistic aspects, iconology of the Greek world and reconstruction of cult and rites of Greek religion. He is author of many papers, a book and editor of a monograph about the excavation of an urban context of Cagliari (Italy, Sardinia). He also has been a trainee for the Online Digital Field Survey Archaeology led by KNIR in 2021.

Marco Giuman, Department of Humanities, Languages and Cultural Heritage, University of Cagliari, Italy

Marco Giuman is a full professor at the Department of Humanities, Languages and Cultural Heritage, University of Cagliari. Since 2021 he is Full Professor in Classical Archaeology at the same University. He took his PhD degree at the University of Perugia in 2002. His interests cover different aspects of Greek and Roman antiquities including urbanistc and sacred landscapes, iconology of the classical images and the relationship between image, cult and rite in Ancient Greece. He is author of several papers and books on the ancient world and the reuse of classical culture. He has been a member of different research projects including the PRIN project about “Il barbaro e il sacro. Fonti, spazi, monumenti, oggetti, immagini dei santuari indigeni della periferia greca” (COFIN MIUR 2007).


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How to Cite
GarauC., AnnunziataA., YamuC., D’OrlandoD., & GiumanM. (2023). Investigating the socio-spatial logic of historic urban areas through space syntax. TeMA - Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment, 16(1), 201-219.