chapter  4
19 Pages

Mapping urban communities. A comparative topography of neighbourhoods in Bologna and Strasbourg in the late Middle Ages


Neighbourhood communities are often presented by historians as the basic institution of towns in the medieval and early modern periods. Wray has shown that the inhabitants of Bologna visited their ill neighbours and assisted them during the years of the Black Death, even though they were aware of the risks of contagion. 1 Sutter has studied patterns of activity and relationships within the neighbourhoods of Zurich at the end of the Middle Ages, identifying solidarities but also confl icts between neighbours. 2 Other micro-historical analyses of districts or streets have generated equally important insights into medieval neighbourhood solidarities, but so far, few of them have offered a refi ned analysis of differences between neighbourhoods within the same city. 3

Yet there were many different types of neighbourhood communities in medieval towns. Of course, the distinct character of some districts, such as tanners’ quarters or suburbs, has already been recognised. 4 Furthermore, the authors of historical topographies of individual towns often emphasise the particular characters of the different districts. 5 Those differences surely played a role in the way of life of neighbours and in the making of solidarities between them. 6 For this reason it is necessary to ask on the one hand which types of neighbourhoods – here intended to mean a network of neighbours in a social sense, and not a spatial one – were found in which quarters, and on the other hand if this spatial distribution of the different types of neighbourhoods differed from town to town.