In local government, a city hall, town hall, civic centre, (in the UK
or Australia) a guildhall, a Rathaus (German), or (more rarely) a
municipal building, is the chief administrative building of a city,
town, or other municipality. It usually houses the city or town
council, its associated departments, and their employees. It also
usually functions as the base of the mayor of a city, town, borough,
By convention, until the mid 19th-century, a single large open chamber
(or 'hall') formed an integral part of the building housing the
council. The hall may be used for council meetings and other
significant events. This large chamber, the 'town hall', (and its
later variant 'city hall') has become synonymous with the whole
building, and with the administrative body housed in it. The terms
'council chambers', 'municipal building' or variants may be used
locally in preference to 'town hall' if no such large hall is present
within the building.
The local government may endeavor to use the town hall building to
promote and enhance the quality of life of the community. In many
cases, "town halls" serve not only as buildings for government
functions, but also have facilities for various civic and cultural
activities. These may include art shows, stage performances, exhibits
and festivals. Modern town halls or "civic centres" are often designed
with a great variety and flexibility of purpose in mind.
As symbols of local government, city and town halls have distinctive
architecture, and the buildings may have great historical
significance – for example the Guildhall, London.
buildings may also serve as cultural icons that symbolize their
4 See also
6 External links
The term "town hall" may be a general one, often applied without
regard to whether the building serves or served a town or a city. This
is generally the case in the
United Kingdom (with examples such as
Town Halls in the cities of
Town Hall in the city
of Sydney), New Zealand, Hong Kong, and many other Commonwealth
English-speakers in some regions use the term "city hall" to designate
the council offices of a municipality of city status. This is the case
in North America, where a distinction is made between city halls and
town halls; and is also the case with Brisbane
City Hall in Australia.
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary sums up the generic terms:
town hall: "A large hall used for the transaction of the public
business of a town, the holding of a court of justice, assemblies,
entertainments, etc.; the great hall of the town-house or municipal
building; now very commonly applied to the whole building"
city hall: "chiefly N. Amer., the chief municipal offices of a city;
hence, the municipal officers collectively"
County Council administrations in parts of
England and Wales
England and Wales generally
operate from a base in a building called, by analogy, a "
Shire Hall". Conversely, cities that have subdivisions with their
own councils may have borough halls. In Scotland, local government in
larger cities operates from the "
City Chambers", otherwise the "Town
Elsewhere in English-speaking countries, other names are occasionally
used. In London, the official headquarters of administration of the
City of London retains its Anglo-Saxon name, the Guildhall, signifying
a place where taxes were paid. In a small number of English cities
(including Birmingham, Coventry and Nottingham) the preferred term is
"Council House": this was also the case in
Bristol until 2012, when
the building was renamed "
City Hall". In Birmingham, there is a
distinction between the Council House, the seat of local government,
Town Hall, a concert and meeting venue which pre-dates it. In
City of Sheffield, the distinction is between the
Town Hall, the
seat of local government, and the
City Hall, a concert and ballroom
Large halls called basilicas were used in
Ancient Rome for the
administration of justice, as meeting places, and for trade.
In the Early Medieval period, the hall, a single large open chamber,
was the main, and sometimes only room of the home of a feudal lord.
There the lord lived with his family and retinue, ate, slept and
administered rule and justice. Activities in the hall played an
essential role in the functioning of the feudal manor, the
administrative unit of society. As manorial dwellings developed into
manor houses, castles and palaces, the hall, or "great hall" as it was
often termed, remained an essential unit within the architectural
In the later
Middle Ages or early modern period, many European market
towns erected communal market halls, comprising a covered open space
to function as a sheltered marketplace at street level, and one or
more rooms used for public or civic purposes on the upper floor or
floors. Such buildings were frequently the precursors of dedicated
The modern concept of the town hall developed with the rise of local
or regional government. Cities administered by a group of elected or
chosen representatives, rather than by a lord or princely ruler,
required a place for their council to meet. The Cologne
City Hall of
1135 is a prominent example for self-gained municipal autonomy of
medieval cities. The
Palazzo Pubblico of the
Republic of Siena
Republic of Siena and the
Palazzo Vecchio of the Republic of Florence, both town halls, date
from 1297 and 1299 respectively. In each case the large, fortified
building comprises a large meeting hall and numerous administrative
chambers. Both buildings are topped by very tall towers. Both
buildings have ancient timepieces by which the people of the town can
regulate their lives. Both buildings have facilities for the storage
of documents and references that pertain to the city's administration.
These features: a hall, a tower and a clock, as well as administrative
chambers and an archive or muniment room became the standard features
of town halls across Europe. Brussels
Town Hall of the 15th century,
with its 96-metre (315 ft) tower, is one of the grandest examples
of the medieval era, serving as a model for 19th-century town halls
such as the Rathaus, Vienna.
During the 19th-century town hall buildings often included "reading
rooms" to provide free education to the public, and it eventually
became customary for the town or city council to establish and
maintain a library as part of its service to the community. The grand
chamber or meeting place, the "town hall" itself, became a place for
receptions, banquets, balls and public entertainment.
particularly during the 19th century, were often equipped with large
pipe organs to facilitate public recitals.
In the 20th-century town halls, as venues, have served the public as
places for voting, examinations, vaccinations, relief in times of
disaster and the posting lists of war casualties, as well as for the
more usual civil functions, festivities and entertainments. Local
councils have tended increasingly to remove administrative functions
into modern offices. Where new premises are designed and constructed
to house local governments, the concepts and functions of
administrative council offices and of a civic town hall become
English-speakers (particularly in North America) can use the term
"city hall" by metonymy to mean "municipal government" or government
in general, as in the axiom "You can't fight city hall". "Town
hall" tends to have less formal connotations (cf.
List of city and town halls
Palace of Amsterdam (was a town hall and for a long time the
largest (public) administrative building in Europe.)
^ Michael M. Grynbaum (May 24, 2012). "The Reporters of
Return to Their Old Perch". The New York Times. Retrieved December 6,
^ a b "city hall". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved
2010-05-19. 1 : the chief administrative building of a city
2 a : a municipal government
b : city officialdom or bureaucracy
^ Simpson, John; Weiner, Edmund, eds. (1989), "town hall", Oxford
English Dictionary (2 ed.), Oxford University Press,
ISBN 0-19-861186-2, OCLC 17648714
^ Simpson, John; Weiner, Edmund, eds. (1989), "city", Oxford English
Dictionary (2 ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-861186-2,
^ "www.chambersharrap.co.uk". Chambersharrap.co.uk. Retrieved
Tittler, Robert (1991).
Architecture and power: the town hall and the
English urban community, c. 1500–1640. Oxford University Press.
p. 211. ISBN 978-0-19-820230-1. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
Media related to
Town halls by country at Wikimedia Commons Media
City hall at Wikimedia Commons