Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, Vol 1, No 1 (2015)

The Pillars of the Earth and the Sky: Capital Cities, Astronomy and Landscape

Juan Antonio Belmonte, A. César González-García


Some cities were built with the idea of establishing cosmic order. The sky used to be a very important component of the landscape that has been lost completely in our modern, overcrowded, and excessively illuminated, cities. However, this was not the case in the past. Astronomy actually played a most relevant role in urban planning, particularly in the organization of sacred spaces which were later surrounded by extensive civil urban areas. Today, archaeoastronomy approaches the minds of our ancestors by studying the skyscape and how it is printed in the terrain by the visualization and the orientation of sacred buildings. The Sun was indeed the most conspicuous component of that skyscape and was the primary focus within a large set of very unique cultures of great historical significance. In particular, in this review paper, we will study and compare the case of four ‘solstitial’ cities: Thebes, Hattusha, Carthago Nova, and Petra, capitals of Egypt in the Middle and New Kingdoms, the Hittite Empire, the Carthaginian dominions in the Iberian Peninsula and the Nabataean Kingdom, respectively. We will briefly analyse solar aspects of the religions of these cultures and will scrutinize their capital cities, showing how their strategic geographical position and orography were of key importance. We will also look at how solar benchmarks, and related hierophanies, played a most relevant role in the orientation and/or location of some of their most significant monuments. We will finally incorporate a frame of analysis for these data in order to come to our conclusion that different Mediterranean societies where solar cults or symbolism are strongly substantiated display common characteristics in the orientation and location of these cities connecting them with solstitial orientations.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsa.v1i1.26952


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