Solar-designed cities of Ancient Greece
Most people have heard of Socrates, the classical Greek writer and philosopher (469 – 399 BC), but few are aware that he was also responsible for the first solar-designed city in Greece.
Socrates realised that if houses were constructed with the sun in mind, they would be much warmer in winter and much cooler home in summer. He was so determined to put the idea into practice that he set up a class to teach his students the finer points of creating a passive solar house.
Socrates began the course by asking, “When someone wishes to build the proper house, must he make it as pleasant to live in and as useful as it can be? And is it not pleasant to have the house cool in summer and warm in winter?” the sage continued. “Now in houses with a southern orientation, the sun’s rays penetrate into the porticoes [covered porches], but in summer the path of the sun is right over our heads and above the roof, so we have shade…” Therefore, Socrates concluded, it is in such a house “that the owner can find a pleasant retreat in all seasons…which makes the house at once the most useful and most beautiful.”
News of Socrates idea began to spread throughout the Greek world. First was the remodelling of two houses in Athens where workmen changed the arrangement of rooms so that the most important ones would face onto a south-facing courtyard. Then came the restructuring of homes in rural Athens, and finally, urban planners began to take heed and an entire solar city was constructed - the city of Olynthus in northern Greece, where every house faced south.
After Olynthus, other cities followed, and eventually Socrates architectural design was being implemented as far away as central Bulgaria. Solar cities became the norm and the ‘modern choice’ and those who did not have the intelligence to construct their homes in such a way were considered primitives. As the great playwright Aeschylus wrote: “though they had eyes to see, they saw to no avail; they had ears, but understood not. But like shapes in dreams, throughout their time, without purpose wrought all things in confusion. They lacked knowledge of houses turned to face the sun, dwelling like swarming ants in sunless cavities.”