Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Houses in Outremer

Houses in Outremer were very different from houses in Europe. In Outremer, houses had to deal with greater heat, dust, and lack of water. To do this, they turned inward. Most houses in Outremer were built around a courtyard, open to the sky. In places where water was plentiful, fountains danced and sparkled in the centers, cooling and moistening the air. The ground was flagged in stone or tiled. There were shrubs, flowers, and greenery.

In desert areas, the courtyards and roofs drained into huge cisterns beneath the courtyard when it rained, where the water stayed clean and cold until the long dry summers. In the cities, where there was no room for such courtyards, the roofs were gardens, and the people lived mostly on their roofs, especially in the cool evenings.

The exteriors were plain and unornamented, windowless on the ground floor, and usually so on the next as well, though sometimes there were slit windows for catching breezes. the walls were thick and featureless, keeping the air inside cool, and whitewashed rather than painted. Showing wealth where the tax collectors could see it was never a smart thing to do.

Around the perimeters of these square or rectangular courtyards were arcades, usually of two or more stories. These were breezeways, constructed to funnel and channel cooling breezes. The working rooms - the kitchen, pantries, stable, and such - were found off the ground floor. The family lived in the next floor up. Roofs were sloping and tiled where there was significant rain, and flat where it was dry.

In some places, the houses were built below ground, with long, slanting ramps leading down into the earth. The courtyards were still open to the sky, but the roofs were at or below ground level. Rooms were carved out of the rock on all sides, and many such houses had underground passages leading to neighboring houses, which were often owned by relatives.

In limestone areas, natural caves were sometimes used as houses, with connecting corridors enlarged and smoothed for casual passage. In these areas, sometimes even livestock was kept in caves.In any case, villages were almost always built on hills, rock or tels - the mounded rubble of ancient cities - leaving the arable land open and available for farming. Building on farmable land, even terraced hillsides, was a criminal waste.


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