hidden europe 47

The makings of a city

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The front cover of Skylines – a new book from Aurum Press (cover courtesy of Aurum Press).


'Skylines' is a book to make you think. This new title by travel writers Yolanda Zappaterra and Jan Fuscoe is a celebration of the iconic buildings which shape the skylines of some of the world's most interesting cities. We take a look at the European skylines which fearture in this new book published by Aurum Press.

There are cities which are assembled from glass and steel, and others which are manufactured from poured concrete. There are cities like Paris and Athens which evolve slowly over centuries, and others like Brasilia and Chandigarh which spring up from nowhere. Urbanism is expressed in myriad forms: it is hard to discern much in common between the ceremonial cities of the classical Maya and the industrial cities of the Rhine-Ruhr region.

There are cities which overflow with what French sociologist Émile Durkheim might call solidarité organique while other observers (like the Marxist geographer David Harvey) might interpret those same urban spaces as sites of oppression and exploitation. There are conformist cities and there are rebel cities, colonial cities and postcolonial cities; there are cities where the roads are packed with people and there are cities where few dare to tread the streets.

But all cities have one thing in common: they all have skylines. Even Italo Calvino’s invisible cities have skylines in the imagination. A new book from Aurum Press, entitled Skylines, bravely ventures into an area of urban theory and praxis which has attracted much academic debate — but it does so with an extraordinarily light touch, and is all the better for that. You don’t need to be an urban geographer to appreciate the beauty of Skylines, which offers, as its subtitle perfectly reveals, ‘a journey through 50 skylines of the world’s greatest cities’.

The fifty cities celebrated in the book range from those with brash skylines like postmodern Dubai (notably devoid of minarets) to cities like Varanasi in India or Lhasa in Tibet with sacred skylines. Seventeen of the cities in Skylines are in Europe.

Related article

Streetwise in the middle of Europe

So where does hidden europe actually come from? From a garret in Reykjaví­k perhaps? Or a basement in Kiev? No, hidden europe is produced in the very middle of Europe just a stone's throw from the erstwhile border between West Berlin and the former German Democratic Republic (the DDR). We are more or less at the junction of two of Europe's truly great highways, the E30 and the E55. Well, not actually right at the junction but merely a few kilometres away.

Related article

People's palaces

Many central and eastern European capitals boast 'palaces' that were constructed in the socialist period. While Berlin's Palace of the Republic is being demolished, other capitals are finding more creative ways of rehabilitating their 'people's palaces'