Live like an Imperial Roman

When did humans build the first apartments?  

Most of us think of the apartment as a product of the industrial revolution. But, surprisingly, the first apartments were built way back by the Roman Empire.  

Known as Insulae – they were taller than you might expect, reaching four to eight levels in height, and were constructed from mudbricks, timber, and concrete. 

Surprising facts that you might not know

  1. Concrete has been around since 6500 BCE, according to historians
  2. Apartments (insulae) were first built in Rome in approximately 758 BCE
  3. Insulae means “islands” (with roads flowing around them)

Whereas we pay more for top floor views today, the ground floor commanded the highest rent back in Roman times. This is because the largest apartments were on the lower levels of the building. In addition, a tapered building design for structural stability meant that accommodation got smaller and more cramped with each new level. Then there were the stairs to tackle up to the top floor tenements. 

The modern concept of mixed-use development has also been around since the Roman days. Many landlords placed street-level shops and providores in their buildings. These businesses would serve the residents above and passing foot traffic.

Apartments have been embraced as the go-to solution to city living throughout the centuries (everything from the chic Parisian apartment and New York loft to high-rise social housing).

The thoroughly modern apartment has been a work in progress for centuries.