European Historic Towns Atlas programme

The European Historic Towns Atlas programme

The Historic Towns Atlas (HTA) programme was started in 1955 by the Commission Internationale pour l’Histoire des Villes (International Commission for the History of Towns (ICHT)) of the Comité Internationale des Sciences Historiques.

Amongst the ICHT’s aims is to encourage and co-ordinate the production of atlases of towns plans, to common scales, accompanied by commentaries and subsidiary maps.  The purpose of these atlases is to aid the comparative study of the history of towns in Europe.  Although many secondary works on the history of individual settlements have been written, making comparison between towns has often been made harder by the lack of town plans of a comparable scale.  The HTA programme has aimed to produce consistency between countries to allow for just such comparison.

Although member countries have approached the production of atlases in different ways, they have much content and approach in common.  In particular, the atlases all include:

  • A ‘main map’, newly prepared from contemporary sources (often a cadastral survey or one prepared by a state mapping agency) and drawn to modern cartographic standards of accuracy and clarity, which recreates the town as it appeared in the mid or early 19th century at a scale of 1:2500
  • A regional map at 1:25 000, which is often a reproduction of an early-19th-century map
  • A modern town plan, often based on state or national mapping agency work.

In addition, all towns include a series of maps which show the phases of the growth of the town.

The history of the urban forms of towns has provided the chance to include special maps depicting specific features of the urban environment such as fortifications, Jewish ghettoes, parish and other administrative boundaries, and sometimes even maps of the distributions of trades and occupations. 

The approaches taken by different countries have resulted in atlases which look very different in their presentation and approach, but nevertheless provide a means of comparison of the histories of diverse towns.

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Further information about the European historic towns atlas project can be found at the University of Muenster 's website (the Institute for Comparative Town History)

A map of the European towns covered in the series can be found by clicking on the map icon. (Map prepared by Sarah Gearty; courtesy of the Royal Irish Academy (c) RIA 2016.)

A bibliographic list of all European atlases published to date can be found via the Royal Irish Academy .The list is available as a PDF.

An article reviewing the state of publication of the HTA programme (Retrieving the pre-industrial built environments of Europe: the Historic Towns Atlas programme and comparative morphology study) by Michael P. Conzen was published in Urban Morphology (2008) 12 (2), pp 143–56 and provides further details on the genesis and progress of the project.