1Cities and towns are places where people live together in specific forms of social organisation, which find their tangible expression in the physical structures of the urban environment. The first urban settlements emerged in the early civilisations and developed distinct features at the time of the ancient Greek and Roman empires. Medieval towns were modelled not only on the structural and design patterns handed down from antiquity, they were also characterised by a large number of what may be termed autochthonous developments. These include primarily the urban constitutional development with its focus on citizen participation, as well as a number of topographical features, such as town walls, open squares and others.
2With industrialisation as a major contributing force, towns and cities attracted more and more inhabitants over the last two centuries, a process which accelerated especially in the 20th century. While some 70% of the world’s population still lived in rural areas around 1950, more than half had become city dwellers by 2006 – a fact which in itself lends importance to urban settlements. But there are a number of other factors to consider as well. Characteristically, towns and cities:
have been centres of industry and commerce, especially from the medieval developments onwards;
they characteristically perform a wide variety of central functions;
they are eminent political entities: while cities and towns should not be mistaken for ur-images of democracy, they did develop participatory governance models at an early stage; and finally,
urban environments constitute the backdrop to a peculiar quality of life, a deeply engrained urban mentality, a specific way of thinking and feeling.
3It is therefore only logical that cities and towns have long been prominent subjects of historical and documental descriptions and other texts, including works of literary fiction. Likewise, efforts have been made since antiquity to capture their physical appearance in graphic representations. In particular, an enormous wealth of visual records of cities and towns – views as well as maps – has accumulated since the time when late medieval settlements evolved into early modern ones. The American geographer Michael P. Conzen from Chicago, states in a recently (2008) published, extremely interesting paper on the production of historical towns’ atlases in Europe:
«Urban form has fascinated scholars and citizens since the dawn of cities. The pictorial record of that interest is astonishingly rich and varied. After the Renaissance, urban cartography emerged to capture the dimensions and spatial compositions of urban environments with increasing scientific accuracy and social purpose.»
4Johannes Fritz, a school teacher from Strasbourg, published the first comparative study based on German city and town maps in 1894, which stimulated geographical and later also historical research in the early 20th century. The first regular atlas which was produced in an effort to make historical maps useable as an important source for urban history research was the Niedersächsischer Städteatlas (Atlas of Lower Saxon Cities and Towns), published in 1922 by archaeologist Paul Jonas Meier (1857-1946), who was director of the Herzogliches Museum Braunschweig, now the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum. Clearly recognising the historical value of early map series, which were produced as a result of land surveys – i.e., not for scholarly research, but for economic and administrative purposes – but which were drawn to identical, standardised scales, Meier in more than one sense laid the foundation for the development treated here: the emergence, after the end of World War Two, of a project to create a «European Atlas of Historic Towns».
5The immediate post-war era, though also a time of hardship, was characterised by the dynamics and optimism inherent in the project of rebuilding Europe, with its concomitant will to work together in the academic field, to engage in research cooperation and scientific exchanges. This laid the ground for fresh efforts in comparative urban history studies. As the European nations sought to create a new, peaceful order and to establish political, economic and academic cooperation across national borders, a fresh start became possible in many areas. In the sphere of international relations, examples include the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 and the «European Coal and Steel Community», founded in Paris in 1951. The Comité Internationale des Sciences Historiques/CISH (see: www.cish.org) had already been in existence since 1926, but by 1955, the time had come for an initiative to establish an independent international forum for urban history studies. At the 10th International Congress of the Historical Sciences in Rome, Edith Ennen (1907-1999), Hermann Aubin (1885-1969) and Hektor Ammann (1894-1967) proposed the foundation of a «Commission internationale pour l’histoire des Villes» (see: www.historiaurbium.org). The Congress approved the proposal, and the International Commission for the History of Towns (ICHT) came into being. Its mission, published one year later, was defined as follows:
«La Commission internationale pour l’Histoire des villes a pour objet d’établir des contacts et de faciliter la coordination des recherches entre les spécialistes de toutes le branches de l’histoire des villes.»
6After some discussion, the Commission members agreed on three major publication projects: national bibliographies on urban history, early documents that are relevant to urban history, and national atlases of historic towns. These publications were intended to serve as a new, hitherto unavailable basis for comparative urban history studies in the European context. While the ICHT has undergone some change over its five decades of existence, it still exercises a distinct function through its patronage of projects, which are carried out at the national level within the framework of clearly defined guidelines. In 1955, however, this undertaking was a genuine pilot project; providing as it did a platform for international science transfer and academic exchange, it made urban history a real focus.
7Among the national projects that were launched under the auspices of the ICHT, the historic towns’ atlas carries particular weight. Crucial methodological foundations for this undertaking were laid by the Swiss historian Hektor Ammann mentioned above. It has to be noted in this context that Ammann – like a not inconsiderable number of urban historians of his time – saw supraregional, even international comparative research work as a necessity resulting from his affirmation of the notion of a «Deutsche Volks- und Kulturgemeinschaft», i.e. a position that saw the German nation as an ethnic and cultural community which transcended national borders – which tainted his reputation after the traumatic years of Nazi rule. Ammann was thinking of producing towns atlases for about 400 cities and towns – a number which has been already surpassed some time ago.
8At first the term «European Atlas of Historic Towns» defined a lofty aim, today it has become a reality. Even so, considerable time elapsed after 1955 until Margret Lobel (Great Britain) published the first national atlas of historic towns. Entitled Historic Towns. Maps and Plans of Towns and Cities in the British Isles, with Historical Commentaries, from Earliest Times to 1800, her work appeared in 1969.
9In the following some of the central questions that arise in connection with the publication history of the atlas, its benefits and the targeted potential users will be analysed: It was crucial at the outset to agree on a set of methodological principles that would constitute a common standard for all the national undertakings. The ICHT began discussing such guidelines in the early 1960s and eventually adopted a framework programme for the production of the atlases at its General Assembly in Oxford in 1968. The framework programme defined that the portfolio for each city or town should contain:
A new cartographic draft of the original cadastral map;
A reproduction of the original plane table map, representing the surrounding region at the time of the cadastral survey;
Individual additional maps; and
A historical essay.
10Currently there are 17 European countries that participate in the project, and portfolios have been published to date for more than 450 cities and towns. The progress of the atlas project has been greatly fostered through the establishment of a number of specialised institutions, including, for example, the Institut für vergleichende Städtegeschichte (Institute for comparative urban history; see: http://www.uni-muenster.de/Staedtegeschichte/) in Münster/Westphalia and the Österreichischer Arbeitskreis für Stadtgeschichtsforschung (Austrian Association for urban historical research, see: www.stadtgeschichtsforschung.at) in Linz, both founded in 1969. Work on the Austrian towns’ atlas began after the foundation of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Historical Research in Linz and its branch-office Vienna in 1976/78; it had been determined from the start that the Vienna branch-office would collaborate with the Vienna City Archives.
11Listing the beginnings of the national atlas projects by decades, the first volumes to follow the British atlas publication in 1969 came out in Germany and Finland in the 1970s; next in line were France, the Netherlands and Austria (all of them in 1982), then came Denmark and Sweden (both in 1983), Italy and Ireland (both in 1986) and finally Iceland in 1988. Within the 1980s decade, no fewer than eight new historic towns’ atlases began to appear. Up until the sea change in Europe’s development which brought the end of communist rule and the dissolution of the Iron Curtain in 1989, not a single town’s atlas project had been pursued in Eastern Europe – a state of affairs which changed swiftly thereafter. Another Western European country – Belgium – kicked off the 1990s, but the next two countries to follow were both former Warsaw Pact member states: Poland in 1993 and the Czech Republic in 1995. In 1997, Switzerland published its first town’s atlas volume, and three years later, in 2000, Romania joined the ranks of atlas publishers. Next, Croatia began publishing an atlas which, although prepared along similar lines, did not follow the ICHT guidelines in all particulars. In Germany, where regional atlas projects (Rhine region and Westphalia) had for some time been pursued alongside the national project, the state of Hessen started its own atlas project in 2005. Much progress has meanwhile been made in preparatory work for a Hungarian towns atlas project, which is being launched by a young, small and dedicated team at the Central European University in Budapest. With the first Hungarian atlas publication, the number of European states involved in the project will soon rise from 17 to 18.
12A closer look at the individual undertakings reveals that different approaches have been taken to attain the common goal, i.e. the production of atlases that can serve as a basis for comparative urban history studies. Efforts to present not only topographical, but also thematic content have yielded a wide variety of results. One case in point is the Rheinischer Städteatlas («Towns Atlas of the Rhine region»). In this series, an impressively large number of regional town portfolios have been prepared, featuring very detailed essays and a rich selection of visual material, including thematic maps, many views and aerial photographs far in excess of the requirements of the core programme. Comparing the national atlas projects, it can be stated that a more comprehensive approach has also been taken with the Irish, Italian, Polish and Czech towns atlases, while the German, Westphalian, Hessian and Austrian atlas makers have by and large been content to stick to the basic programme. A note is in order, however, regarding the so-called «Growth Stages Map», which illustrates the topographical evolution of a town from the very beginnings to the time of the original cadastral survey. This addition to the core programme was championed strongly by the German historian and long-term director of the Münster Institute for comparative urban history Heinz Stoob. Over time, the «Growth Stages Map» was developed into a highly differentiated tool, not least to improve the usability of the atlas. The projects which were launched in the 1990s, such as the Polish or the Czech towns’ atlas, opted for a successful middle-of-the-road approach by including thematic maps, explanatory notes and reproductions of extant original maps to some extent.
13More than a quarter century after the ICHT members had agreed on a methodological basis for the national atlas projects, the sheer number of participating countries (1980: 3 countries – 1995: 13 countries) testified to the progress of the project. All participants took the Oxford programme as their fundamental guideline, although in some cases with modifications and alterations. In 1993, the ICHT established an Atlas Working Group to coordinate the atlas works and promote the published atlases as a working tool. Together with Anngret Simms of the Irish Atlas of Historic Towns, the author of these lines has been honoured to lead the Atlas Working Group for more than 15 years. In this capacity, two objectives in cooperation with other atlas series editors have been pursued:
Preparation of bibliographies which list the towns atlases in Europe; originally published in print, the bibliographies have been available on the website of the Vienna City Archives since 1996/97 and are regularly updated to include the latest volumes (see: http://www.wien.gv.at/kultur/archiv/kooperationen/lbi/staedteatlas/bibliographie/index.html).
Proposing and organising workshops and conferences in close cooperation with local atlas editors; these events took place in Münster, 1995; in Bologna, 1997; in Bordeaux, 1999; in Dublin, 2006; and again in Münster in 2007.
14The meetings of the Atlas Working Group have provided a platform for discussions about the content, methodology and marketing of the towns’ atlases. In May 1995, agreement was reached in Münster on a reformulation of the basic atlas programme. The revised guidelines adopted at the time take into account the changes and the expansion of the project over more than 25 years. In reverence to the venue of the meeting, they have been named the Treaty of Münster. This Treaty of Münster contains three main sets of provisions, couched in general language:
Map programme: as a matter of principle, maps have to continue to be produced to the originally approved scales (1:2,500 for the cadastral map, 1:25,000 for the regional map from the time of the cadastral survey, 1:50,000 for the modern city map) to ensure comparability. If feasible, the portfolio should also include an interpretative map at a scale of 1:5,000 or 1:2,500 which is based on, but separate from the pre-industrial-era cadastral map and which depicts the topographical development of the town. This last point reflects the fact the Stoob’s concept of a «Growth Stages Map» has gained acceptance.
The historical essay continues to be an indispensible element of each portfolio, although variable as to length and thematic breadth.
Additional elements, such as reproductions of other historical town maps and/or views, may be included, subject to availability.
15With the Treaty of Münster, a common roof that overarches all projects without unduly restricting variety had been built. Notwithstanding this success, it would be wrong to assume that each and every problem has been solved, and that it would suffice to hand over a set of guidelines or instructions to a new project group wishing to publish a historic towns atlas in another European country (or even overseas) to see the number of atlases rise automatically, as it were. Quite apart from the significant financial requirements of such an undertaking, and the difficulty involved in maintaining a core team for a sufficiently long time in these times of project-oriented and project-financed research, there are a number of other persistent problems for which widely different solutions have been attempted, not all of them satisfactory:
16One of these as yet largely unresolved issues is the presentation of urban development from the time of the original cadastral survey – which in most cases coincides with the beginning of industrialisation – up to the present. Another one is the inclusion of very large cities, where sheer format is a problem, though by no means the only one. Format is indeed the crux in two different ways: The presentation of cities and towns which cover a great expanse of land – some of which have done so since their medieval beginnings – is constrained by the scale of the original cadastral map, a fact which is largely due to the need to choose reasonable paper formats. Neither the use of an outsize paper format (Cologne) nor dividing up the original cadastral map, which is so important for research, among several sheets (Bologna) are fully satisfactory solutions. On the other hand, towns atlases have a reputation for being difficult to handle and are certainly among the print products which are none too «well loved» by librarians.
17With traditional print publications, there is no real «egg of Columbus» solution. Attempts to solve the thematic problems have been made by producing special atlases, such as the Historischer Atlas von Wien (Historical Atlas of Vienna), and with respect to formats, some modest steps have been taken towards size reduction. The promise of future success in this area lies much more in harnessing the potential of modern technologies: publication in digital format on CD or DVD as well as via the Worldwide Web (although the latter is fraught with legal difficulties) are the options.
18The claim that the towns’ atlas project is a success story is substantiated by a fact has been mentioned only in general terms before, without going into exact detail: the number of portfolios that have been published for individual cities and towns. In 2005, a report stated that the number of portfolios had risen from 312 to 398 – an increase of some 28% per cent – between 1998 and 2005. In spring 2007, the total number had already reached 436, and now (year-end 2009) no fewer than 469 portfolios have been published. The leader in absolute publication numbers is Germany, where altogether no fewer than 230 portfolios have been produced to date. The runners-up are Austria (59 portfolios), France (49) and Italy (31). However, purely statistical information often tends to obscure more about the actual facts than it reveals, as the size and complexity of each town is in no way reflected in the sheer numbers, and neither is the volume of each portfolio.
19As the author of this contribution has been closely connected with the towns’ atlas project for more than three decades, there is also a lot of personal experience in the course of this endeavour which can be addressed. So a concise workshop report can be given: The Austrian towns atlas series (see: http://www.wien.gv.at/kultur/archiv/kooperationen/lbi/staedteatlas/index.html) are essentially the result of collaboration between three working groups, or teams: the scientific editors, working in connection with the publishers; a group of expert cartographers; and specialists for the history of the selected town. In Vienna, this has been ensured through close cooperation between the Vienna City Archives and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Historical Research, as well as regular contacts with various research institutions, including universities, archives and local history associations. Direct collaboration with cartographers is certainly very useful, and atlas publishers elsewhere in Europe are taking the same approach. Another important area of cooperation is with the government surveying office and similar public authorities, such as, for example, the cooperation between the publishers of the Irish Atlas of Historic Towns with the Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, or, in the case of Austria, with the cadastral map archive of the Federal Office for Calibration and Surveying.
20In fact, cartography has undergone tremendous change in the decades since 1970. Its practice has seen advances which can only be called revolutionary, as the engraving of maps on glass plates gave way to IT-supported, digitised production processes. The latter amount to a technological quantum leap which has enormously accelerated cartographic work processes. Building on decades of experience with the publication of nearly sixty town portfolios, the Austrian towns’ atlas undertaking has established clearly structured work processes which shall be outlined now:
The first step is to select the towns to be included in the next atlas volume. Apart from some fundamental considerations, the selection is based on the goal to present towns in the atlas which are as varied as they are characteristic. In addition, there are of course a number of «certain starters», such as the capital Vienna and the capitals of the federal provinces – which have all been included in the Austrian atlas by now. In selecting towns and planning for their inclusion in the atlas, there is also a number of non-scientific factors to be considered, among them, for example, town anniversaries and financing – i.e., to which extent municipal authorities are prepared to support the undertaking. Attention has to be paid in particular to the human resources situation in research: Will it be possible to count on experienced scholars with a substantial record of recent publications as collaborators? – The editorial team has to consider this question carefully in each case. Several town portfolios have been produced by the core atlas team on its own without local collaboration.
The next major step in the work process is to localise and retrieve scans or copies of the original cadastral survey documents (maps and register lists) dating from the early 19th century («Franziszeischer Kataster»). The most important partners at this stage are the already mentioned cadastral maps archive and the Austrian Provincial Archives.
In the following the team of cartographers prepares the digital map copies for printing. The historical map of the town and its environs from the time of the cadastral survey draws on strategic-military maps from the «Franziszeische Landesaufnahme», the second general survey, which was carried out in the early 19th century. These maps are retrieved from the war archive department of the Austrian State Archives.
The author and the scientific editorial team are responsible for finding an old – if possible, the oldest – view of the town, which is an obligatory element of the portfolio, and a reproduction of the municipal seal for the cover. This collaboration also forms the basis for the drafting of the historical essay and, resulting from this text, the draft of the «Growth Stages Map».
21What are the scientific objectives of the towns’ atlas project, and what are the problems in attaining them? Coming back to the introductory first remarks, it has to be underlined once more how important visual images are in understanding cities and towns as specific human habitats. Equally important is the uniform framework which was adopted, after due consideration, in Oxford in 1968 and in Münster in 1995, and which has created a basis for comparative studies which had not hitherto been available. It must be emphasised at this point that it is this framework of clear guidelines and defined map scales which sets this Atlas-project apart from other, similar endeavours, which also use maps as sources for urban history studies, but without benefit of such a framework. Moreover, as maps function largely independent of language, using them is much less predicated on language proficiency than is the case with texts; maps can been used translingually, as it were. One of the original objectives – the creation of a significant number of towns’ atlases across Europe – has already been reached. Striving for completeness, however – which may be regarded as a lofty aim – will hardly ever be realistic.
22The publication of new portfolios as stimulating examples and communication within the networks of the scientific community both help to promote the launch of new atlas projects in other countries. In this context, the establishment of an Atlas Working Group within the ICHT in 1993 has certainly been fruitful. However, the necessary financial and organisational basis cannot be built at the transnational level – rather, it is the result of incredible commitment and admirable initiative on the part of those who drive the individual atlas projects.
23Attaining the goals of the towns’ atlas project depends, among other things, on reflections about the potential users. Plans for the towns’ atlas project have always been made with a scholarly user in mind, and have aimed to create a basis for scientific work. This attitude is clearly evidenced by the struggle to maintain certain defined principles which has brought forth rather rigorous guidelines based on scientific considerations. Over the years, however, in many instances it has turned out absolutely necessary that the conception of science must not be limited to the field of urban history studies, but should take a much broader outlook. The strongly editorial-documentary character of towns’ atlases predisposes them to be used in archaeology, the preservation of historic monuments, urban planning and teaching. Moreover, and beyond the scientific and professional communities, towns’ atlases are of particular interest to the inhabitants of the town in question, as well as to collectors of historical maps and plans.
24As this question is by no means insignificant for the overall success of the project, further efforts have to be made in this direction – not so much out of business interest, but in the spirit of science’s general duty to serve society at large. And indeed, very positive results have been seen in an evaluation of the work carried out by the Austrian Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Historical Research in 2004. This evaluation, which was conducted in the context of the reorganisation of the Institute’s mother organisation, the Ludwig-Boltzmann-Gesellschaft, brought great recognition for the Institute’s work because the towns’ atlases constitute an extremely valuable contribution to the preservation of our cultural heritage. This is particularly true for the early cadastral maps of cities and towns, which cannot be found in any collection of comparative size outside the European towns’ atlas project. Alas it has to be added that the necessity of a continuous financing of the mentioned Institute has come under substantial dispute in the last years. In 2009 the Ludwig-Boltzmann-Gesellschaft as the responsible organisation for the maintenance of the Institute’s structure has decided to close down the Institute for Urban Historical Research by the end of 2011.
25Further efforts, however, will have to be made to encourage scholars to use the atlases for comparative urban history studies. Most initiatives in this respect have so far been taken by the ICHT and its Atlas Working Group, as well as by the editors of individual towns’ atlas projects. In this context, networking with the faculties of universities and other institutions of higher learning is absolutely indispensible. Quite a number of colleagues are pursuing this road on the basis of their own personal involvement in the afore-mentioned institutions, in a holistic approach, as it were. But more and untiring efforts will be needed, and admittedly, finding solutions to what may appear to be banal or superficial questions must have priority. Especially and foremost the availability of as many towns’ atlases as possible in locations that can be conveniently accessed by students and researchers – if possible, at the respective university and department libraries – has to be guaranteed. This is difficult to realise, though, as both the purchasing price and the format of the atlases constitute rather formidable obstacles.
26How can this situation be improved in the future, what is possible, what can be expected? Even though the author is fully aware that predictions are hard to make, some tentative ideas about the future should be tried and outlined:
27Firstly, given the development of town portfolio publications during the last decade, one can rest reasonably assured that the project will expand further and holds promise for the future. A continuation of existing national atlas projects can be expected and future focus points can readily be seen from the trend in the most recent series. Whether any new projects will be launched, however, is much less certain, although a number of new initiatives – in Hungary, for example – give some cause for optimism in this respect. Continued work on and further expansion of the atlas projects is only one way to contribute to future success, however. What appears even more important is to encourage users to work with the atlases, and to try and reach out ever more effectively and efficiently to the highly diverse target groups of potential users with their manifold interests. Although permanent technological advances result in at times massive difficulties with the application of new technologies, it may safely assumed that taking the towns atlas projects into this modern world by ensuring their availability in digital formats, is surely the most proactive approach that holds the highest promise for the future. Ideally, all existing and future towns’ atlas series will be available in CD-ROM- or DVD formats at some point, with interactive access to the rich information they contain and the possibility to compare different town maps at identical scales. Taking this idea further, the ultimate goal could be to make all atlases available via a website that can be accessed by anyone. This would on the one hand ensure the availability of the atlases without any difficulties with large-format map sizes. On the other hand, it would also bring a solution to the problem – intractable in conventional media – of mapping cities of great size, regardless of whether they already covered great expanses of land in antiquity or in the Middle Ages, or turned into metropolises only during the last two centuries.
28Returning from the ideal to reality, we find that no clear-cut way is in sight that would resolve the legal issues involved in a potential presentation on the Internet. The understandable interests of publishers play a role here, as do questions relating to copyright and rights to reproduction, which concern the authors as well as the institutions whose maps and views are included in the atlas. Some years ago, the Hungarian company Arcanum (see: www.arcanum.hu) began producing DVD publications in our field in cooperation with Hungarian archives; since then, it has been very active in the publication of maps and plans in digital format. The main difficulty in making towns atlases available through cooperation with this or similar companies lies in the fact that atlas projects typically cooperate with a much larger group of owners of rights in maps and other visual material. Extensive organisational groundwork is needed even for the retrospective publication in DVD format of existing atlases, and since scientific project groups as a rule have only very limited human resources at their disposal, they can hardly do this preparatory work themselves. At the general assembly of the ICHT in Zagreb in 2006, Arcanum first approached the project leaders of the various towns’ atlas projects in Europe and proposed a joint DVD project. Prior to 2006, only one town portfolio, that of Bologna, had been published in digital format (1999). In 2007, the Irish atlas project team (see: http://www.ria.ie/Our-Work/Research/IHTA.aspx) published a CD containing 16 town portfolios in cooperation with Arcanum.
29Austria followed suit in 2009 with the publication of a CD edition of the town portfolio for Lienz in the region of Eastern Tyrol, followed by a DVD series, which was produced in cooperation with Arcanum and contains all portfolios of the Austrian Historic Towns Atlas which have been published since 1982 – all in all no fewer than 59 cities and towns. This DVD publication ensures not only the digital availability of the atlas; it also provides a more versatile tool with a much broader range of uses than the printed version.
30Similar to a great extent to the Irish Atlas of Historic Towns, the Austrian publication has a number of additional features. The Austrian towns’ atlas DVD contains all parts of the hitherto published printed versions, all illustrations, the new cartographic drafts of the historical maps and reproductions, the extensive historical essays and commentaries. A zoom function can be used to enlarge details of the maps and other visual material, which makes them more readily accessible for detailed analyses than in the printed version. The search function allows quick searches for terms from the historical essays in the individual portfolios. Both these features were already included in the Irish CD. In addition, the Austrian atlas also provides a search function for terms in the map legends of the Growth Stages Maps, which document the topographical development of the town in question. With the help of a crosshair tool, the user can easily locate the topographically exact place where the term appears on the map. This is a decisive advantage over printed atlas portfolios – a function that meets the demands of the modern user. – The DVD is a decisive improvement for the usability of this great atlas project for teaching and research, it is in some respects a pointer towards the future, it opens a window for new scientific endeavours. The project of a European Atlas of Historic Towns, which was first conceived in the 1950s and launched in the following decade, has since then evolved in a very positive way. It has provided for a fresh view of cities and towns, and it is an indispensible contribution to the possibilities of comparative research and to the preservation of our cultural and cartographic heritage.