Medieval cities often built up around a castle or monastery, or along the contour of a slope or riverbank. As a result, their roadways were steep, meandering, and uneven in width. Because the ground available within the medieval town walls was restricted, the streets were small. Sometimes only one street would be wide enough for two carts to pass each other, with any additional traffic using paths or lanes between the buildings.
The center of many towns was dominated by open spaces called "wastes" or "parks". These wastelands were used for assemblies, fairs, and rituals because they were out of sight of the king or lord who owned the town. In addition, some towns had a central point called a "hilltop", which was usually flat with views of the surrounding area. The city gates were located on all sides of this point, so that travelers entering or leaving the city would have to pass through them.
The population of most towns was limited to about 5,000 people because food was scarce and expensive. People worked long hours for little pay, so there was not much left over for entertainment or festivals. However, some towns such as London and Paris had large populations of 50,000 people or more because they were commercial centers trading with all parts of the world.
Most houses in towns were made of wood, although some towns had stone or brick buildings too.
Medieval cities were often tiny and densely populated. They were narrow and up to four floors tall. The majority of the dwellings were built of wood and tended to tilt with time. Two houses facing each other would occasionally lean so far that they touched across the street! This is why streets in medieval cities were often uneven.
People lived primarily on the first floor of their buildings, which was usually reserved for living rooms or workshops. The upper floors were used for storage. The roofs were made of wood or tiles and provided some protection from the weather. Windows were rare; instead, doors led to the outside. There were no locks, bolts, or bars on these doors - only heavy hinges attached to large posts set into the walls next to where the door met its frame.
The town hall was usually located near the center of the city where people could gather without having to go too far. It usually had a public oven where citizens could buy bread at a low price. The stocks were also located here, where criminals could be publicly humiliated by being made to wear items of clothing as a form of punishment.
Cities in Europe during the Middle Ages were not just centers of commerce but also theaters of war. As such, they needed strong defenses. Towers were commonly used to protect cities against attacks from without or within.
What were the roads like in the Middle Ages? Medieval roadways were as diverse as modern highways. In most locations, the roads were just paths for people to walk on and pack animals to go on, but no carts of any kind were permitted. Carriage drivers had to bring their vehicles before a magistrate to get a license every year. Even then, they were not allowed to use iron parts on the vehicle; only wood or leather could be used.
The majority of roads in Europe were made up of dirt tracks or low-grade stone pavement. Some roads were made of cobblestones, which are large rocks set into the ground with only grass or plants growing between them. These roads were often painted white because of the danger of being hit by a horse-drawn cart or carriage. Other roads were made of broken rock pieces held together with clay or sand. These roads were usually red because of the danger of being run down by a king or lord's army when warring against another country.
There were also some roads that were made of wood, such as tree trunks laid out on the ground with earth pushed underneath them. These roads could be slippery when wet and very dangerous when foggy or snowy outside conditions existed.
In wealthy estates, there might be gravel pathways or even marble or tile streets. But other than that, the roads mostly consisted of dirt or stone.