“Rome’s Major Urban Structures: Insulae

Rome’s Major Urban Structures: Insulae

Ancient Rome had some of the most monumental architectures known throughout the globe. Of all the structures, the insulae is the most fascinating to me. Ideally, this structure interests me because it is not only a monumental structure but also has a social significance, comparable to the components of today’s modern apartments.  

In ancient Rome, was an insulae is an apartment building, which housed most of its citizens. Most of those who lived in this kind of buildings were people of middle-class status and lower ordinary population. The wealthy and the elites did not live here; they lived in the large single family residential buildings known as Domus. However, the insulae and the Domus were intermingled within the city. Therefore, they were never segregated into different neighborhoods. The insulae had a ground level floor, which was used for shops, businesses, and tabernacle as the upstairs was reserved for living purposes (Becker, 2016).

The insulae has some aspects that are easily comparable to modern apartments. For one, both the insulae and modern apartments have names; in fact, most of them are named referring to the owner of the structure. The difference is, in an insulae, the living quarters are much smaller in the structure’s uppermost floor. The most expensive and largest quarters are typically found on the bottom floors. Both the insulae and modern apartments could be up to eight or ten stories high. For safety concerns, the lower floors are the least desirable in modern apartments while the upper floors are the least desirable in insulae. This factor renders these floors the cheapest to rent (Becker, 2016).   

The insulae solved a major social issue of inadequate housing. Not many people could afford proper housing in Roman times. The insulae concept solved this housing problem by providing economically practical housing in places where the population is dense, and land values are high.

Though the insulae is the most fascinating among all Roman structures, it is not without its drawbacks and dangers. Because fires were a frequent danger in the ancient Rome, the structure was particularly a risky affair. This was particularly for the dwelling on the upper floors. In some cases, the living conditions were not ideal. Overall, the insulae is an ancient Roman architecture and offers a set of important information regarding the domestic buildings in Rome.


Becker, J. A. (2016). “Roman domestic architecture: the insula,” in Smarthistory. Retrieved October 12, 2018, https://smarthistory.org/roman-domestic-architecture-insula/.

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