Exploring the history of any given place helps you better understand its present and what the future may have in store for it. Amongst the culture and cuisine of certain areas, you can also look at the bricks and mortar that makes a city what it is and these will offer insights and stories into what has come before. Here we look at ten of the most history-laden cities in the worlds and crack a shaft of line onto the murky annals of their past.
1. Cusco, Peru
High in the Andean Mountains, Cusco sits as a monument to the ingenuity of ancient peoples . The former capital of the Incan empire, it is said to be built in the shape of a puma, an animal the Incans revered. In a time of limited technology, it became renowned for its advanced urban planning and financial systems that saw taxation put into place to pay for the city’s upkeep. It became a center for mathematics and astronomy and was linked to Machu Picchu and other important centers of the Incan empire. Outside of the town center, there are many links to this rich history including the walled settlement of Saksaywaman. What is unique about its construction is that the walls are made of perfectly carved rocks that slot together without the use of mortar. How such an ancient civilization managed to achieve such a high-level of construction remains up for debate, especially since it was so good that the walls still stand today, over 1000 years after they were put up.
2. Alexandria, Egypt
Before Alexander the Great ‘founded’ it in 331BC, a port city was built on the Nile Delta that made it a vital trading hub of the ancient world. Building upon this, it soon became a center for knowledge and learning with one of the largest libraries of scrolls in the world at the time that would later be destroyed in a fire that was actually started by Julius Caeser. The philosopher Eratosthenes, best known for discovering the world was round via his measurements, lived here and by the time the Napoleonic wars rolled around, it was central to many of Napoleon’s military victories. Because of its location, it is seen as the cultural crossroads between East and West and this point of historical and philosophical difference has long been barraged by a wealth of varying influences.
3. Athens, Greece
The capital of ancient Greece and a city where large swathes of Western culture was born and formed. Having been inhabited for over 7000 years many great philosophers, literary figures, scholars and playwrights have graced the city and shaped its people and surroundings. With temples and ruins littering every street and walkway on the city, its grand history is still very much on show. Still a bustling metropolis, the city remains a swarm of activity and draw for arts and culture.
4. Varanasi, India
Dating back to the 11th century, this city of temples sits on the river Ganges where holy funeral rites and ceremonies still take place. The spiritual capital of India, the holiest of Hinduisms 7 holy cities, it is famed for its golden temple that pays homage to Shiva. Buddha is also thought to have founded Buddhism here as well as it becoming an important industrial center, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. A city of labyrinths and swirling pathways to get lost in, all filled with color and sound.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
An amazingly well-preserved city of bohemian folklore, arts and storytelling. Home to the world’s oldest, functioning, astronomical clock, the city is one of castles and bars and has seen many great moments of history pass through its limits. The birthplace of Pilsnner, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire before it became a brick in the Soviet-bloc. Famously multicultural with a view to the East and West, it has a large Jewish population that has included the likes of author Franz Kafka whilst other artists and creatives are abounded in its mixed communities and it became the home of Alphonse Mucha.
6. Beijing, China
One of China’s four ancient capitals,Beijing became the home base for the Ming and Qing dynasties when the country was under a feudal rule and became the countries capital after the Communist revolution by Chairman Mao. This eclectic mix of imperial and communist history is brought together in one city made up of many parts including the Forbidden city that is home to grand and luxurious palaces of old as well as the many temples and, of course, part of the Great Wall of China. Now a mix of vivid history and high-tech present, the city embodies the co-existence of ancient and modern.
7. Berlin, Germany
The hip and culturally diverse vibe of Berlin is one born of a history that is felt more so than explicitly stated. A capital that was at the center of the Nazi regimes powers that was then rent apart during the preceding Cold War years its history is bleak but its future bright as it now surges forward into a more united Europe. The Olympic Stadion of those pre-war years stands, albeit with all Nazi iconography removed, and portions of the infamous Berlin wall remain in place. Now the home of counter-culture, it is a vibrant, welcoming city that has had many of its rifts healed by the passing of time as well as culturally significant sporting events, such as the 2006 world cup, aimed at showing unity.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
Formerly known as Constantinople, it was the capital of the Byzantine empire that came about from the fall of Rome and before that was an Ottoman capital. Because of its location between East and West, it has played an important role in many of the great empires of history of which much has been preserved. Due to its various iterations and reincarnations as a city, it is filled with temples and churches of all religions and sects and was an important stop on the Silk Road trade route. As such, arts and trade have shaped the way the city grew and flowered and its rich history remains sewn into its very fabric.
9. Carthage, Tunisia
Founded around 900BC by the Phoenician Queen Dido, Carthage was soon recognized as an important tactical location for marauding armies and so its history of conquest goes through the Romans, the Vandals, Muslim Conquerors, and the Byzantines, all of whom contributed to the development (and at times ransacking) of the city. As such, villas, baths and temples all stand amongst one another as ruins of lost rulers that look out onto the sea.
10. Boston, USA
One of the oldest cities in America, it is home to the oldest college in the country, Harvard, and has the most colleges of any US city. Becoming an important part of the American war of independence, it paved the way to more historical happenings because of that. Cobblestoned streets and New-England architecture characterize its look and feel in this city typically considered the home of the country’s intellectual elites.