Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life in medieval towns

   Medieval towns and cities were small by modern standards. According to some estimates, Paris in the 1300's had a population of about 60,000. Ghent and Bruges, with about 50,000 inhabitants each, were considered huge. London, with about 55.000, was far above average. The usual city had from 5,000 to 10,000 people.
   Physically, the medieval city was compact. It was often built on top of a hill or at the bend of a river so that it could easily be defended. Because city land was scarce and valuable, houses were
built five or six stories high. To increase the space inside a building, each story projected out a little farther than the one below. Thus, at the top the houses almost met in the middle of the street. Each city had some outstandingly fine buildings such as a cathedral, a town hall, and the guild halls.
   The streets of medieval cities were dark and filthy. The only way of disposing of sewage was in open gutters that were cleared only when it rained. Epidemics were frequent. There was no street lighting. Honest people who went out at night were accompanied by servants who protected them from robbers, for there were no police. Despite the uncomfortable conditions, medieval town life was not completely disagree-able. The medieval city was a busy place, alive with people—peddlers, lawyers, merchants, strolling actors, musicians, and jugglers.