City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction Critical Essays

David Macaulay


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

By telling the story of an imaginary city rather than chronicling the history of a real one, Macaulay has freed himself from the constraints of historical truth. This freedom has two advantages. First, it enables him to make Verbonia more typical than any particular Roman city and thereby to make his story of the construction more comprehensive. Second, it allows him to ignore the historical details of “who,” “where,” “when,” and “why” and concentrate on what truly interests him, namely, how these cities were built. In telling the story of Verbonia’s construction, Macaulay does not limit himself to the phases of construction but presents each individual step in detail. When he writes, for example, that Verbonia was laid out like a chessboard, he explains the use of a groma, a forerunner of modern surveying instruments, with which the builders made sure that the streets met at right angles and walls were raised perpendicular to the ground. When he relates the building of the permanent bridge, he shows in several cross-sections how the builders were able to anchor the bridge piers underwater. When he describes the vaulting of the city gates, he demonstrates in a series of diagrams how wedge-shaped stones were cut with such precision as to form an arch and how this arch was kept aloft until the keystone could be inserted.

While Macaulay’s thorough research of these construction processes is impressive in its own right, his real...

(The entire section is 563 words.)