Duck Duck Book

46 – barmi
06.11.2007, 8:02 am
Filed under: history & geography, social sciences

Barmi : a Mediterranean city through the ages / Xavier Hernàndez, Pilar Comes ; illustrated by Jordi Ballonga ; translated by Kathleen Leverich.
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
[MCL call number: j 307.709 H557b; one copy, no holds]

Open this picture book and you’ll see a two-page spread showing a tiny walled settlement in a wooded area near a river.  Turn the pages, and you’ll see the settlement grow from wee village to an significant Roman city, then fall into ruin, and then grow again as it becomes an ecclesiastical center, university town, and hub of commerce.  Keep turning the pages and you’ll see star-shaped fortifications grow during the 1600s, factories spread during the 1700s and 1800s, and modern suburbs, roads, and high-rises appear in the 1900s.

Each of these fabulous two-page views of the whole city at different points in history is followed by a terse narrative history of Barmi and its residents, and a few pages illustrating details — plants grown in the region, engineering methods for building bridges and civic buildings, the arrangement of domestic quarters, siege defenses, the operation of a paper mill, 20th century suburban slums, underground infrastructure.

Barmi isn’t a real city; it is an example imagined to represent the typical city in its region.  Their histories, geographical features, and civic infrastructure are collapsed into one tool for explicating the whole scope of how cities evolved on the northwestern edge of the Mediterranean over 2,400 years.  The focus is on the city fabric, and its physical context — political history, social changes, and religious trends are all present, but the place itself is the real story.

[thanks, Jamie]

 * * *

Barmi is part of a series, which includes at least three other books: Lebek : A City of Northern Europe Through the Ages (by Xavier Hernàndez,  Houghton Mifflin, 1991, also in Hungarian and Italian), San Rafael : A Central American City Through the Ages (by Xavier Hernàndez, Houghton Mifflin, 1992), and Umm El Madayan : An Islamic City Through the Ages (by Abderrahman Ayoub, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994, also in Italian and Japanese).  Barmi was also published in Spanish and French.  The illustrations in the series are precise and intensely detailed, and the books’ ability to instruct with pictures reminds me of nothing so much as David Macaulay’s famous practical explanations of architecture, construction methods, and the uses of buildings in his books Cathedral : The Story of its Construction (Houghton Mifflin, 1973), City : A Story of Roman Planning and Construction (Houghton Mifflin, 1974), Pyramid (Houghton Mifflin, 1975), Castle (Hougton Mifflin, 1977), etc.


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