The bacterial chromosomal DNA is folded into a compact structure called nucleoid. The shape and size of this 'body' is determined by a number of factors. Major players are DNA supercoiling, macromolecular crowding and architectural proteins, associated with the nucleoid, which are the topic of this MicroReview. Although many of these proteins were identified more than 25 years ago, the molecular mechanisms involved in the organization and compaction of DNA have only started to become clear in recent years. Many of these new insights can be attributed to the use of recently developed biophysical techniques. © 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.