Over the past hundred years, one overriding trend has changed the way people live. That trend is urbanization. More people than ever before live in cities. A fair number of these cities have populations in excess of 10 million people.
Most large cities face similar problems, associated with having to accommodate large numbers of people in relatively small land areas. However, they also bring people together and encourage great works – and each of the world’s great cities has a completely unique character.
The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is undeniably one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Its location on the Vltava River and its magnificent cathedrals and bridges give the city a magical atmosphere.Prague was founded during the Romanesque era, over a thousand years ago. It underwent a revival in the 14th century, and many of its current attractions date to that time. The city’s medieval centre, with its cathedrals, charming courtyards and cobbled lanes, is amazingly well preserved and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city’s oldest and most famous bridge is the Charles Bridge, pictured here. The Charles Bridge was constructed between 1357 and the start of the 15th century, and added to Prague’s importance by providing an overland trade route between Eastern and Western Europe. It’s protected by three bridge towers and decorated by a continuous series of baroque-style statues.Prague has a population of 1.3 million people but is visited by over 4 million tourists each year.
Today the capital of Turkey, Istanbul has also served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman Empires. It also has the distinction of being the only city in the world that spans two continents. Both physically and culturally, Istanbul serves as a bridge between Europe and Asia. It’s intersected by the Bosphorus River, which divides east from west, and is one of the world’s busiest waterways.
With its rich history, Istanbul boasts several fascinating monuments, museums and mosques. Most famous among these are the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque – or Blue Mosque, and Basilica Cistern, which are located around Sultanahmet Square. The beautiful Hagia Sofia was the world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years. It’s famous especially for its massive Byzantine dome, and now serves as a museum.
Paris is the city of romance. Its elegant buildings and beautiful cathedrals, outstanding art galleries and good food attract as many as 44 million tourists each year. Its very own Disneyland adds a fun, modern dimension to the city’s otherwise more sedate character. The earliest settlers in Paris, at around 4200 BC, were a tribe of Gaulish Celts known as the “Parisii”, and it’s to these people that the city owes its modern name.
Paris is also famously known as La Ville-Lumière, or the City of Light, thanks to its position as a centre of learning during the 18thcentury – and to its early adoption of street lights.The most iconic of all monuments in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, was originally intended as just a temporary construction. It was built by Gustave Eiffel on the city’s Champ de Mars for the 1889 Universal Exposition. However, the tower was never dismantled, and went on to become one of the world’s best-known monuments. Today it’s still the tallest structure in Paris.
RIO DE JANEIRO
Beautiful Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil, and home to over 6 million people. It’s also the most visited city in the southern hemisphere, thanks to its spectacular natural setting, world-famous beaches and reputation for Latin-style music and fun.
Rio is located on Guanabara Bay, on the Atlantic Coast. Its best-known landmark is the giant statue of Christ, known as Christ the Redeemer, that tops the 710-metre Corcovado mountain. This statue has officially been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The dramatic peak of Sugarloaf Mountain, which rises 396 metres above the harbour, is another of Rio’s signature features. It takes its name from the tall cone shape in which refined loaf sugar was traditionally sold, up to the 19th century.
Each year Rio is host to Brazil’s largest holiday and celebration – Carnival! In 2011, a staggering 2 million people attended the parades and festivities associated with this city-wide party. In 2016, Rio will become the first South American country to host the Olympics.
The city-state of Singapore consists of 63 islands just off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, in Southeast Asia. It occupies only 704 square kilometres – making it about 15,000 times smaller than the United States – and has a population of just over 5 million people. But what Singapore lacks in size, it makes up for through its powerful economy. Singapore’s port is one of the world’s busiest, and the country currently boasts the third highest per capita income in the world.
There’s more to Singapore than its glittering high rises, however. The country’s population is a diverse mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians, and graceful colonial European and Chinese buildings still survive amidst the more modern shopping malls and business complexes. Although Singapore is the second-most densely populated country in the world, over half of its total area is green, with upwards of 50 parks and a total of four nature reserves.
ROME / VATICAN CITY
The capital of Italy, Rome, is famous as one of the birthplaces of western civilization. It has been a political, cultural and religious centre for roughly 2,500 years. This is evident in its ancient churches and basilicas, impressive monuments and graceful fountains – and it explains why Rome is known as “The Eternal City.” Today Rome’s historic city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Rome is also the only city that contains a sovereign state entirely within its boundaries. Of course this is the Vatican City – the temporal seat of the Pope, head of the worldwide Catholic Church. Saint Peter’s Square provides a dramatic entry to the City. It’s located directly in front of the Michelangelo-designed dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, and is packed with thousands of people each year when the Pope delivers his Christmas speech. Despite its name, Saint Peter’s Square is actually elliptical. It includes a stone on each side, between the obelisk and the fountains. If you look out from either of these stones, the four columns on the colonnades merge into one.
The cosmopolitan city of Toronto is Canada’s largest city, home to about 2.6 million people. It’s known for its cultural and ethnic diversity – according to a recent survey, over half of the city’s residents were born outside Canada. Toronto has a vibrant theatre and performing arts scene, and includes a large number of parks, museums and art exhibits.
One of Toronto’s main landmarks is the CN Tower. At just over 553 metres, this is the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere. A glass elevator to the top provides stunning views over Lake Ontario and downtown Toronto, from the tower’s location on Yonge Street – which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest street in the world.
The glittering desert city of Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. It’s located to the southeast of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula. Known for its glamorous shopping malls and five-star hotels, as well as for its liberal policies, Dubai has emerged as a centre for both business and tourism in the Middle East.
Dubai includes the highest skyline in the world, with multiple skyscrapers higher than two-thirds of a kilometre. Topping the list at a whopping 829.8 metres is the Burj Khalifa, or Khalifa Tower, which was completed in 2010. Thanks to the Khalifa Tower, the Middle East can once again lay claim to the tallest free-standing structure in the world – a status held by the Great Pyramid of Giza for almost four millennia, before it was topped by England’s Lincoln Cathedral in 1311.
The capital of the United Kingdom and situated on the River Thames, London has a history that stretches back over almost 2,000 years. It was founded by the Romans in 43 AD, and has remained a major settlement since then.
London is a leading financial centre with an ethnically diverse population, and continues to attract more visitors each year than any other city. Among the many attractions for visitors are Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London – which is a World Heritage Site, the Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral and Kew Gardens. A more recent addition to London’s iconic landmarks is the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. The London Eye reaches 135 metres, providing superb views over London, and has a total diameter of 120 metres.
Shanghai, known as “Hu” for short, is located in the Yangtze River Delta in eastern China. It has the largest total population of any city in the world, with more than 23 million residents. Shanghai has earned its place as a showpiece of the booming Chinese economy. Its Lujiazui financial district boasts over 30 skyscrapers. These include the distinctive Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower, at a staggering 468 metres, and the Jim Mao Tower, at 88 storeys. Other popular tourist attractions in Shanghai include The Bund, which is Shanghai’s old business district and just across the river from the Lujiazui skyline, the City God Temple and Yuyuan Garden.
Cosmopolitan Sydney is Australia’s most populous and arguably most famous city. Located on the coast, it’s known especially for its beautiful harbour. Sometimes referred to as the “Coathanger” because of its arched shape, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 to link Sydney’s central business district to the North Shore, on either side of the harbour. It’s the tallest steel arch bridge in the world, and the fifth longest.
The nearby Sydney Opera House is located on a circular quay that juts into the harbour. Its unique, eye-catching design earned Danish architect Jørn Utzon the coveted Pritzker Prize, and has made it one of Australia’s iconic landmarks. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
Bustling Tokyo is the core of a metropolitan area that’s home to about 35 million people, making it one of the most densely populated places on earth. As a city, Tokyo is an intriguing mix of high-tech, innovative buildings and skyscrapers, Buddhist temples, older suburbs and markets, and refreshingly beautiful parks.
Tokyo Tower is situated in Shiba Park, which is a public park built around the Zojo-ji Temple. It’s a communications tower and, at 333 metres, the second tallest structure in Japan. Its design was inspired by the Eiffel Tower, and it’s painted white and orange to comply with air safety regulations.
South Africa’s mother city of Cape Town is built on the slopes of Table Mountain, which forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. This area is situated in the Cape Floral Region, which is known for its incredible biodiversity. Just the 22,000 hectares of the national park include more plant species than the whole of New Zealand.
Built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Cape Town Stadium has added a new landmark to the face of Cape Town. The stadium is located just outside the city centre, close to the popular Victoria & Alfred Waterfront shopping and entertainment complex.
Enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and the South China Sea, Hong Kong means “Fragrant Harbour.” Since 1997, it has been designated as a special administrative area in the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong’s deep harbour, which was the source of the area’s special strategic importance both during and after the Opium Wars, separates the main business district on Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon peninsula.Ferries continually ply between the islands, transporting both commuters and tourists.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s most heavily populated areas but the harbour and mountains prevent it from expanding any way but up. Currently Hong Kong includes more than twice as many skyscrapers as New York, despite its much smaller size – and Hong Kong Island is deservedly famous for its innovative modern architecture.
Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, is one of the largest cities in the world, with a metropolitan population of over 21 million people. In 1325, the Aztecs built a city called Tenochtitlan on an island of Lake Texcoco, at around 2,200 metres above sea level. In 1521, this city was largely destroyed, and the new Mexico City was built over it by the Spaniards.
Today Mexico City continues to serve as a political, cultural and financial centre. Mexico City is considered the wealthiest city in Latin America, and is home to the Mexican Stock Exchange. It’s also the city with the highest number of museums in the world. Key among these is the impressive Palacio de Bellas Artes, or Palace of Fine Arts, located alongside the Alameda Central Park. It hosts exhibitions and performances, attracting an average of 10,000 visitors every week, and UNESCO has declared it as an artistic monument.
New York City is the most heavily populated city in the United States, and is the world’s largest financial centre. It’s home to the United Nation’s Headquarters and, appropriately, includes a hugely diverse population – with as many as 800 languages spoken. It also boasts the world’s most extensive subway system, with 468 stations. Musicians even have to audition before being allowed to perform in the subways.
New York City consists of five boroughs, including The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Pictured here, Manhattan is the New York that the rest of the world knows best. It’s home to New York’s famous skyline, to Central Park and the Rockefeller Center, to the Guggenheim Museum and to both Times Square and Greenwich Village. It was also the site of the World Trade Center.
Barcelona is situated on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, between the mouths of the Llobregat and Besos Rivers and extending up to the Serra de Collserola Mountain in the west. It has a population of about two million people. Barcelona dates back to Roman times, when it was named Barcino.
Although it has kept the dignified feel of an old Spanish city, Barcelona has also managed to embrace the new. More than any other Spanish city, it’s known for its impressive modern architecture and art galleries. As well as contemporary designs, it features several examples of Gaudi’s eccentric and inspired architecture, including the stunning La Sagrada Familia cathedral and Guell Park, which overlooks the city. Barcelona is also famous for its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife and outdoor markets and restaurants.
Situated on the Moskva River, Moscow is the capital of Russia and home to a population of about 11.5 million people. Over the course of its 860 years, Moscow has served as the Grand Duchy of Moscow, the capital of the Tsar’s Russia and the capital of the Soviet Union. Its most famous landmark is the Moscow Kremlin, an ancient fortress that’s now home to the Russian president and the executive branch of Russia’s government. To the east, the Kremlin overlooks Saint Basil’s Cathedral, with its fantastical and colourful domes, and the Red Square. It faces the Alexander Garden, which was one of Moscow’s first public parks, to the west and the Moskva River to the south.