There is something beautiful and labyrinthine about medieval cities, be they Gothic and Christian or Muslim Medinas. These two examples should not be mistaken for one another, as they both represent unique ways in which culture and religion embed themselves into building patterns and neighborhood forms, I once compared the city of my father’s childhood Al Ghassoul with Mont Saint Michel, but that was hyperbole at best.
What they both have in common is a network of streets and alleyways and tunnels which resemble a puzzle more than they resemble a grid. Both involve paths bringing people to the central religious landmark. Along the way buildings sit so close to one another that no one could stand and view an individual structure on its own. These building disappears and the street becomes visible as a valley between houses. It is a ‘claustrophobic’ urbanism which is impossible to understand as a series of buildings. On of my favorite examples is of the Casbah in Algiers: