Urban growth and transformation across the world are presenting great challenges for the comprehension and management of urban landscape change. Comparative urban morphology makes it possible to identify urban forms common to different geographical regions, while helping to distinguish unique historical characteristics and developments important for towns and cities in the hunt for place identity and prestige. The fringe-belt concept provides a frame of reference for depicting, explaining, and comparing the physical structure and historical development of urban landscapes. The walled cities of Pingyao, China and Como, Italy possess well-preserved historical urban environments that reflect the urban development traditions of their respective cultures. Newly available cartographic evidence and field work reveal critical differences between the embedded fringe belts of the two cities resulting from different historico-geographical dynamics. Pingyao's single composite fringe belt and Como's three distinct belts challenge current understanding of urban structural processes and argue for more focused urban landscape management.