Outstanding cities and towns around the world
Here are selected more than 60 most impressive and interesting cities and towns in the world. These cities are arranged by the part of the world and in an alphabetic order.
- Ambohimanga – Madagascar, Analamanga. Fortified royal settlement and royal burials on a hilltop. Developed since the early 18th century. Fortifications have seven gates. The largest gate was protected with enormous stone disc, which every morning was pulled aside and in the evening – rolled back. Contains Mahandrihono palace made of rosewood – most valuable example of royal wooden architecture in Madagascar.
- Lamu Old Town – Kenya, Coast Province. Oldest town in Kenya, established by Swahili and influenced by Chinese, Arabian, Turkish and Portuguese settlers. Flourished in the 17th – 18th centuries. Contains many excellent examples of Swahili architecture, no cars can enter the old town. Impressive structure is Lamu Fort, built on the seafront.
- Fes el Bali – Morocco, Fès-Boulemane. The medieval, fortified part of Fes city. City was founded in between 789 and 808 AD. Here is located the oldest university in the world (859 AD), and, it is possible that this is the largest car free urban area in the world.
- Ghadames – Libya, Nalut. Beautiful, walled desert town with excellent infrastructure providing a protection from heat. One of ways to avoid the heat are covered walkways between the buildings. City first mentioned in the 1st century BC.
- Medina of Tunis – Tunisia, Tunis. One of the best preserved Arab old cities. Whole medina (270 ha) is covered with dense, seemingly chaotic network of buildings and streets. Closer investigation though shows that the planning of city is not random – it is based on socio-cultural code of complex human relations. Here are located some 700 monuments of architecture and history.
- M’Zab towns – Ghardaia, Bouboura, El-Ateuf, Beni Isguene, Melika – Algeria, Ghardaïa Province. Unique monument of Berber urban planning and architecture – five closely located walled towns. Each of the towns is built in concentric rings around the mosque. The adobe structures often have unique architecture.
- Old Cairo – Egypt, Cairo. One of the oldest and most important Islamic metropolises with numerous valuable buildings – mosques, madrasas, hammams. Established in the 10th century AD and flourished in the 14th century, when it was one of the most magnificent cities of the world. More than 600 very valuable historical structures.
- Djenné – Mali, Djenné. Important trade city in the 15th – 17th centuries. The old city of Djenné is built entirely from adobe – mud-bricks – and represents a distinct tradition in urban planning. Especially impressive is the large Great Mosque, built in 1907.
- Oualata – Mauritania, Hodh Ech Chargui. Small, old desert town, since the 14th century – a part of Mali Empire. The adobe houses in the village are highly decorative, with ornamented paintings.
- Itchan Kala, Old City of Khiva – Uzbekistan, Khorezm. Walled inner city of Khiva, consisting exclusively of several hundred valuable buildings. Built mainly in the 10th and the 17th – 19th centuries.
- Old City of Bukhara – Uzbekistan, Bukhara. One of major centres of Persian and Islamic civilizations. Possibly the best preserved medieval city in Central Asia, with numerous beautiful buildings. Some of the most beautiful are Po-i-Kalan complex, Lab-i Hauz districts, Bukhara Fortress and many others.
- Samarkand – Uzbekistan, Samarqand. Former capital of Timur, important city on Silk Road. Established around 700 BC by Sogdians, flourished in the 6th – 13th century AD. Rebuilt by Timur in the 14th century, when the city was made into important centre of art. Most valuable structures are Registan – a complex of three buildings, Observatory of Ulugh Beg and others.
- Fenghuang Ancient City – China, Hunan. Established in the 7th century AD, this beautiful city contains numerous historical buildings and other monuments of history.
- Old Town of Lijiang – China, Yunnan. Unique, beautiful historical city of Nakhi people, developed at the junction of ancient tea roads. Developed since the 12th century, has characteristic, beautiful roofscape.
- Pingyao walled city – China, Shanxi. Well preserved and impressive ancient walled city with more than 4,000 valuable buildings. City walls built sometimes around 1370 AD, 12 m high and 6 km long.
- Lo Manthang – Nepal, Mustang. Walled medieval city high in Himalaya (3,840 m). Founded in 1380, many original structures survive up to this day.
- Varanasi – India, Uttar Pradesh. Ancient holy city of Buddhists, Hindu and Jains, with approximate 3000 years age. One of the oldest inhabited cities of the world. Contains huge amount of valuable monuments of architecture and history, location of living unique traditions.
- Historical center of Huế – Vietnam, Thua Thien-Huế. A planned city, capital of Vietnam in 1802 – 1945. The geography of the city was made with great scale, creating huge rectangular systems of canals and well planned urban districts inside fortification walls. The city has numerous valuable monuments of architecture and art.
- Historical centre of Isfahan – Iran, Isfahan. Some of the most outstanding architecture monuments of Iran are located in Isfahan. Some of the most outstanding ones are located around Naqsh-e Jahan Square – one of the most impressive historical city squares in the world. The city has several mosques of exceptional beauty as well as a group of interesting bridges.
- Historical centre of Shiraz – Iran, Fars. This city has been very important in the past and is housing numerous monuments of world importance. Chahar Bagh (Charbagh) is one of the first known boulevards in the world: enormous, 6 km long rectangular park – street developed in the time of Abbas I in the early 17th century. It served as a model of modern boulevards in the world, notably Champs-Élysées boulevard in Paris and Gardens of Paradise at the Taj Mahal. Karim Khan’s royal complex (Zandyeh Ensemble) is a complex of beautiful structures in the historical center of Shiraz, built mainly during the time of first Zand ruler – Karim Khan in the middle of the 18th century. It includes Vahil Mosque, Vakil Bath, Arg of Karim Khan (fortress) and other buildings.
- Historical centre of Yazd – Iran, Yazd. Enormous, authentic historical city built entirely of adobe. It is characterised by multiple beautiful houses and amazing ancient desert city infrastructure. Infrastructure includes one of the most sophisticated system of qanats – underground water supply system – in the world, as well as system of wind catchers for ventilation of city and numerous underground structures. Ancient centre of Zoroastrianism with a Fire Temple having eternal fire since 470 AD.
- Meybod Old City (Maybod) – Iran, Yazd. Former capital of Iran in Mozaffarid period. Preserved ancient buildings, street network and historical city walls with beautiful architecture. Interesting monument is historical cooling tower.
Other countries of Western Asia
- Amediye (Amedy) – Iraq, Dohuk. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, established in the 9th century BC. City is built on a mountain plateau and is accessible only by a narrow stairway. The city is the home of Magi – priests of Ancient Persia.
- Citadel of Aleppo and Old City – Syria, Aleppo. One of oldest continuously inhabited cities. Settlement existed here already in 6000 BC, development of city started sometimes around 2000 BC. Citadel of Aleppo rises 50 m above the city and contains ruins of magnificent Arab buildings and older structures. Old City has retained its Graeco-Roman planning and contains remnants of the 6th century Christian buildings and other old structures. Urban fabric of Aleppo is distinct, with separate districts.
- Citadel of Arbil – Iraq, Erbil. A citadel – a fortified hilltop town, rising 25 – 32 m above the surrounding Arbil City. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, inhabited since 6000 BC at least. The houses on the citadel though are comparatively new.
- Damascus – Syria, Damascus. Very old city, inhabited since 6300 BC, developed as a city in the 3rd millenium BC. Important centre of steel and lace production in medieval times. City has hundreds of beautiful and historically significant buildings, such as Umayyad Mosque – one of the most significant buildings in Near East.
- Jerusalem Old City – Palestine, West Bank, Jerusalem. One of the most significant cities in world history, meeting place of cultures and world religions. City was inhabited and heavily fortified already in the 11th century BC. Current 4.5 km long walls were built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538. Includes the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Temple Mount, al-Aqsa Mosque and other monuments.
- Old City of Sana’a – Yemen, Sana’a. Impressive display of the unique Yemeni urban planning and architecture. Sana’a is founded before 500 BC and here are buildings which are more than 1,400 years old. The city walls are 9 – 14 m tall, the old city contains more than 100 mosques, 6,500 houses. Most of the houses represent highrise buildings and are ornamented.
- Shibam – Yemen, Hadramaut. Unique, fortified city. Shibam is old city, first mentioned in the 3rd century AD. This densely built city has some 500 tower houses, each rising 5 to 11 stories (more than 30 m) high. Most houses have been built since the 16th century. City is enclosed with wall.
- Aigues-Mortes – France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Fortified medieval town with very impressive, well preserved walls. These 1,650 m long walls were built mostly in the 13th century.
- Avignon walled city – France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Medieval centre of once very important city, surrounded by well preserved city walls. Walls were built in papal times – in 1349 – 1368, are 4,330 m long, 8 m high and have 35 large towers and 50 smaller towers. In this time period Avignon was one of main cities in Europe and underwent fast development.
- Cité de Carcassonne – France, Languedoc-Roussillon. Medieval walled city, surrounded by 3 km long double wall with 53 towers. Walls built by Romans in the 3rd century AD and further fortified by French in Romanesque style.
- Mont Saint-Michel – France, Lower Normandy. Unique monument of urban planning – a fortified monastery with small town surrounding it, all built on a rocky tidal island. The island has been used as a stronghold since at least the 6th century AD. Monastery was established here in the early 8th century. Monastic buildings constructed in heavy Romanesque style, mainly in the 10th – 11th century AD. Abbey was closed in the late 18th century. Island is topped with the massive, Romanesque Mont-Saint-Michel church (the 11th century with several rebuildings later).
- Centre of Florence – Italy, Tuscany. One of the most important centres in history for the development of art with numerous unique and beautiful monuments. The birthplace of Renaissance, contains such monuments of world importance as Florence Cathedral, Campanile and Baptistery, Ponte Vecchio and many others.
- Cinque Terre towns – Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore and Vernazza – Italy, Liguria. These five towns are built on steep, rugged cliffs over the Mediterranean. Towns do not have streets – only pedestrian passages, but are densely covered with colourful buildings.
- Historic centre of Rome – Italy, Lazio. According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC and, possibly, has been the most important city in the history of Western civilization. Rome was centre of Roman Republic and Empire and since the 4th century is capital of the Christian world. The enormous historical city contains immense number of architecture and art values, here have arised numerous global styles in architecture and art. Outstanding structures are San Giovanni in Laterano, Pantheon, Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and numerous others.
- San Gimignano – Italy, Tuscany. Unique walled medieval city. 14 medieval defensive towers still rise above the old city.
- Sassi di Matera – Italy, Basilicata. Group of prehistoric cave dwellings, continuously inhabited for 9,000 years up to this day, now enclosed with Matera city.
- Venice – Italy, Veneto. One of the most unusual and most beautiful cities on Earth, containing an unbelievable amount of art and architecture values. Venice is built on 117 small, closely located islands and has been a capital of powerful state in the 7th – 18th century.
- Ávila – Spain, Castile-Leon. Medieval city with some of the best preserved city walls in world. City walls have nine gates and 82 semicircular towers. Ávila was a fortified settlement already in the 5th century BC. Current medieval city flourished in the 11th – 18th century. Old city has numerous valuable buildings.
- Córdoba – Spain, Andalusia. One of the major centres of the ancient and medieval Europe, intellectual centre of Europe in the 10th – 12th centuries. Second largest historical city in Europe, with huge amount of very valuable buildings. Some of the most impressive ones are the Great Mosque of Córdoba, Roman bridge, Roman Temple and many others.
- Santiago de Compostela – Spain, Galicia. One of the most beautiful medieval cities in the world, pilgrimage centre of European scale. City contains a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture – cathedral, as well as the beautiful Plaza de España, Hospital Reál and many other valuable buildings.
- Toledo – Spain, Castile – La-Mancha. Very well preserved ancient and medieval city with a huge number of valuable buildings. The fortified city is located on a hill and surrounded by Tagus River from three sides. Served as the administrative center in Roman times, capital of Visigoths, the city flourished also in the 16th century AD.
Other countries of Europe
- Alter Flecken of Freudenberg – Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia. A visually impressive and unusual historical city consisting of white and black half-timbered houses. Includes a fortified church from 1585.
- Bruges Old City – Belgium, West Flanders. Once an important trade center, this city has almost intact medieval architecture and numerous canals. The site of the first stock exchange (1309) and numerous important financial institutions.
- Bryggen and Old Bergen – Norway, Bergen in Hordaland. The old wharf of Bergen – Bryggen – consists of a unique ensemble of wooden buildings (some 62 structures), always renovated following old patterns and methods since the 14th – 16th century. The beautiful old city of Bergen has several parts, developed since the 12th century.
- Chester medieval walled city – United Kingdom, England, Cheshire. One of the best-preserved medieval cities in the British Isles. Street network originates from Roman times. The town has nearly intact defensive walls – the best preserved in Britain. On the top of 3 km long walls is a walkway. A unique feature of Chester is Rows – covered walkways on the first floor level of four main streets, with entrances in shops. Rows were developed in the 13th century.
- Historic Centre of Prague – Czechia, Prague. Prague provides one of the most impressive medieval cityscapes in the world. The city has a huge number of outstanding architectural monuments in a beautiful natural setting.
- Kraków Historic Centre – Poland, Lesser Poland. This ancient settlement evolved into the significant city since the 10th century AD and in the 11th century became the capital of Poland. Kraków flourished in the 15th and the 16th centuries when many works of Polish Renaissance were created here. Today it is one of the most spectacular and interesting medieval cities in Europe.
- La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle – Switzerland, Neuchâtel. A planned city with a unique urban pattern. This city developed as a center of watchmaking since 1656 and was rebuilt in the early 19th century in strict grid pattern.
- Lübeck – Germany, Schleswig-Holstein. One of most important medieval cities in Northern Europe, with well preserved core of the fortified medieval city. Lübeck was one of the main cities of the Hanseatic League and prospered in the 12th – 16th century. Contains huge number of valuable structures, often built of brick.
- Old Town of Salzburg – Austria, Salzburg. One of the best preserved late medieval city centres in Europe north of the Alps. Contains very valuable Baroque architecture.
- Quedlinburg – Germany, Saxony-Anhalt. Well preserved medieval city with the characteristic half-timbered buildings. Contains numerous valuable buildings from the 14th to 20th century.
- Rhodes – Greece, South Aegean. One of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Although the city contains ruins of Ancient Greek and Roman buildings, the most impressive today are the fortifications and other structures built by Knights Hospitallers in the 14th century.
- The walled city of Dubrovnik – Croatia, Dubrovnik-Neretva. One of the most outstanding and beautiful medieval cities worldwide. This Dalmatian city is at least 1,300 years old, developed as important centre of international trade. Walled city from three sides is surrounded by sea and is densely built up with numerous historical buildings such as Gothic-Renaissance Sponza Palace, Rectors Palace, the small Renaissance St.Saviours church and many other valuable buildings. The 2 km long fortification walls around the city have been well preserved.
- Valletta – South-Eastern Region, Malta. The small Old City of Valletta contains amazing number of valuable buildings, most in late Renaissance and Baroque style. One of the few planned Renaissance towns which has been preserved almost intact.
- York walled city – United Kingdom, England, North Yorkshire. One of the most beautiful and historically most significant cities in England. Founded by Romans in 71 AD, for many centuries the most important city in Northern England. The structure of this historical city is very well conserved and such places as The Shamble provide insight into medieval city planning. Preserved streets with runnels, overhanging timber frame buildings. Fortification walls include older Roman walls (Multangular Tower, 211 AD and seven more towers) and four medieval gatehouses. There is a possibility that the small Anglian Tower is from Saxon times, built in the 7th century.
- Guanajuato – Mexico, Guanajuato. Beautiful colonial city with numerous impressive buildings in Mexican Baroque style. Many streets for cars go underground here.
- Manhattan – United States, New York. One of the densest urban areas in the world, contains numerous outstanding monuments of the 20th century architecture. Contains huge number of beautiful Art Deco and later skyscrapers.
- Mexcaltitán – Mexico, Nayarit. Unique monument of urban planning – man-made island city in shallow lagoon with central, radial planning, resembling a giant wheel in plan. At high water the streets in the town turn into channels.
- Taos Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo – United States, New Mexico. Some of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in United States, outstanding urban planning monuments built by Native Americans starting from around 500 -1000 AD. The apartments form a single, enormous structure, built of adobe.
- Cusco – Peru, Cusco. The historical capital of Inca Empire, inhabited since 900 AD. During Inca time (the 13th century – 1532) the city was developed according to a strict plan. After the Spanish conquest the city has maintained much of its original planning and part of building stones, but there has been built a new, magnificent city, blending local and European traditions.
- Pelourinho (Historic centre of Salvador de Bahia) – Brazil, Bahia. Large historic centre of the first capital of Brazil in 1549 – 1763, built on the upper side of a high cliff overlooking the Bay of Todos de Santos. Old city has retained its planning from the 16th century, contains numerous valuable historical buildings – churches, palaces.
- Potosí – Bolivia, Potosí. A historical mining city next to the largest silver mine in the world. Located at 4,090 m height. In the 17th century was one of the largest and richest cities in the world, numerous very ornate and interesting structures were built in the city in this time.
- Quito – Ecuador. One of the best preserved and most interesting historical city centres in Americas. Contains more than 130 monumental buildings, rich with art values and some 5,000 listed buildings.
Described existing cities and towns
Many of the most popular and exciting landmarks in the world are cities and towns. Millions of tourists are attracted to such cities as Venice, Florence, Prague, Jerusalem. They never fail to impress and one will always find something new and unexpected here. Throughout many centuries such cities have accumulated beautiful and impressive buildings, artwork and memories about important events.
Wondermondo includes in this category those cities and towns, as well as parts of the cities, which represent a value from the tourist or scientific point of view.
From this category are excluded villages, listed in their own category and abandoned cities and towns, also listed in a separate category.
The borderline between a village and town can not be clearly defined. In principle cities and towns have urban area – densely populated area with closely located structures and specific urban infrastructure which may (but may not) include a common fortification system, common water supply and sewage collection, ventilation and other systems.
The world though is very diverse and not everything can be defined that simply. Thus, for example, in some regions of the world the villages have common infrastructure and even form a single, enormous structure. Such examples are Tianluokeng Tulou cluster and other tulous in China, Fujian or the pueblos in New Mexico, United States. Are they towns or are they villages? Or may be – something on its own?
The oldest cities and towns developed in the Fertile Crescent, in contemporary Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Turkey. The oldest towns could be Jericho (Palestine, 9400 BC) and Çatalhöyük (Turkey, 7500 BC). The first true city most likely was Uruk (Iraq, 4500 BC).
As the time passed, the cities increased in size. It is very hard to access the size of cities in the past, but, nevertheless, there are calculations of the number of inhabitants in the ancient cities. Thus, the threshold of 100,000 inhabitants possibly was exceeded by Avaris (Egypt) at 1600 BC. Rome (Italy) exceeded the 1 million inhabitants threshold at the beginning of our era, Xi’an (China) was next sometimes around 700 AD.
The main value of a true city is the elusive feel of cityscape. People are sociable beings and are attracted by amicable, active and diverse crowd, hustling amidst countless ornate and legendary buildings. Many cities of the world offer this – Prague, London, Venice, Varanasi, Marrakesh and many many others.
Of course, the main tangible assets of historical cities are the valuable buildings. Such cities as Rome, London, Paris, Jerusalem, Bukhara, Istanbul, Shiraz, Córdoba, Venice each have several buildings which belong to world’s most admired monuments of architecture.
The planning tradition of the city is another value. Builders of many cities have observed strict rules of planning and building. Amazing planned cities are Huế (Vietnam) or Mexcaltitán (Mexico). Nevertheless the most beautiful cities of the world have diverted from any strict planning rules and are charming exactly due to their diversity and unexpected sights.
Very impressive technological achievement is the infrastructure of many desert cities. In this respect very impressive is Yazd (Iran) and many other historical cities in Near East and Northern Africa – these cities have very impressive underground water supply and cooling systems, covered walkways and other amazing features.
Category of cities and towns has the following subdivisions:
More than four centuries on from its first publication, discover one of the jewels of urban cartography and civic studies. This quality reprint includes the most enchanting color plates from the Civitates orbis terrarum, a magnificent collection of town map engravings, produced between 1572 and 1617.
The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Medieval World traces the development of peoples, cultures, and faiths between the coming of the barbarian invasions in the fourth century and the first voyages to the New World in the sixteenth. This colorful atlas illustrates the sweeping changes from the fall of the Roman Empire to the birth of Islam, the rise of Christianity, and the role of Judaism across Europe.