City Mayors presents the The America's living historic cities

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Historic Cities: Introduction
Historic Cities: Western Europe
Historic Cities: Eastern Europe
Historic Cities: The Americas
Historic Cities: Asia
Historic Cities: Africa

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Historic Cities - Living Cities in The Americas
Edited by Tann vom Hove, Artwork by Kevin Visdeloup

'Historic Cities – Living Cities' in The Americas already includes historic towns and cities from 13 countries. The series will be developed further and we are inviting readers to submit additional examples of today’s thriving cities with a historically significant past. Please email the editor with your suggestions, inserting 'Historic Cities' in the subject line.

| Introduction | Western Europe (A to K) | Western Europe (L to Z) | Eastern Europe | The Americas | Asia & Australia | Africa |

On this page:
Bolivia | Brazil | Canada | Chile | Colombia | Cuba | Dominican Republic | Ecuador | Guatemala | Mexico | Peru | United States | Venezuela |

Unesco World Heritage says: In the 16th century, this area was regarded as the world's largest industrial complex. The extraction of silver ore relied on a series of hydraulic mills. The site consists of the industrial monuments of the Cerro Rico, where water is provided by an intricate system of aqueducts and artificial lakes; the colonial town with the Casa de la Moneda; the Church of San Lorenzo; several patrician houses; and the ‘barrios mitayos’, the areas where the workers lived.
Unesco World Heritage says: Sucre, the first capital of Bolivia, was founded by the Spanish in the first half of the 16th century. Its many well-preserved 16th century religious buildings, such as San Lázaro, San Francisco and Santo Domingo, illustrate the blending of local architectural traditions with styles imported from Europe.

Unesco World Heritage says: As the first capital of Brazil, from 1549 to 1763, Salvador de Bahia witnessed the blending of European, African and Amerindian cultures. It was also, from 1558, the first slave market in the New World, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations. The city has managed to preserve many outstanding Renaissance buildings. A special feature of the old town are the brightly coloured houses, often decorated with fine stucco-work.
Unesco World Heritage says: Brasilia, a capital created ex nihilo in the centre of the country in 1956, was a landmark in the history of town planning. Urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer intended that every element – from the layout of the residential and administrative districts (often compared to the shape of a bird in flight) to the symmetry of the buildings themselves – should be in harmony with the city's overall design. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative.
Unesco World Heritage says: Goiás is a testament to the occupation and colonisation of the lands of central Brazil in the 18th and 19th centuries. The urban layout is an example of the organic development of a mining town, adapted to the conditions of the site. Although modest, both public and private architecture form a harmonious whole, thanks to the coherent use of local materials and vernacular techniques.
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, the town's history is linked to the sugar cane industry. Rebuilt after being looted by the Dutch, its basic urban fabric dates from the 18th century. The harmonious balance between the buildings, gardens, 20 Baroque churches, convents and numerous small passos (chapels) all contribute to Olinda's particular charm.
Ouro Preto
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto (Black Gold) was the focal point of the gold rush and Brazil's golden age in the 18th century. With the exhaustion of the gold mines in the 19th century, the city's influence declined but many churches, bridges and fountains remain as a testimony to its past prosperity and the exceptional talent of the Baroque sculptor Aleijadinho.
Rio de Janeiro
League of Historical Cities says: Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1565 on a small hill facing Guanabra Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. Its growing importance was first linked to the shipments of gold from the port to Portugal and later to the commerce of coffee. Being the most important Brazilian city for so long, Rio de Janeiro's historical heritage encompasses nearly 3,600 protected buildings. (Current population: 5,340,000)
São Luis
Unesco World Heritage says: The late 17th-century core of this historic town, founded by the French and occupied by the Dutch before coming under Portuguese rule, has preserved the original rectangular street plan in its entirety. Thanks to a period of economic stagnation in the early 20th century, an exceptional number of fine historic buildings have survived, making this an outstanding example of an Iberian colonial town.

Lunenburg is the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. Established in 1753, it has retained its original layout and overall appearance, based on a rectangular grid pattern drawn up in the home country. The inhabitants have managed to safeguard the city's identity throughout the centuries by preserving the wooden architecture of the houses, some of which date from the 18th century.
League of Historical cities says: Founded in 1642, Montreal went on to become a major North American metropolitan city. A key element of its urban heritage is the historic city centre, called Old Montreal, which was described in the New York Times as one of the most attractive 18th- and 19th-century neighbourhoods anywhere on the continent, where you can easily trace the city's evolution from a trading post to a French town to a British city to today's modern, French-dominated metropolis. (Current population: (1,018,000)
Québec was founded by the French explorer Champlain in the early 17th century. It is the only North American city to have preserved its ramparts, together with the numerous bastions, gates and defensive works which still surround Old Québec. The Upper Town, built on the cliff, has remained the religious and administrative centre, with its churches, convents and other monuments like the Dauphine Redoubt, the Citadel and Château Frontenac. Together with the Lower Town and its ancient districts, it forms an urban ensemble which is one of the best examples of a fortified colonial city. (Current population: 170,000)

The colonial city of Valparaíso presents an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. In its natural amphitheatre-like setting, the city is characterised by a vernacular urban fabric adapted to the hillsides that are dotted with a great variety of church spires. It contrasts with the geometrical layout utilized in the plain. The city has well preserved its interesting early industrial infrastructures, such as the numerous 'elevators' on the steep hillsides.

Santa Cruz de Mompox
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded in 1540 on the banks of the River Magdalena, Mompox played a key role in the Spanish colonisation of northern South America. From the 16th to the 19th century the city developed parallel to the river, with the main street acting as a dyke. The historic centre has preserved the harmony and unity of the urban landscape. Most of the buildings are still used for their original purposes, providing an exceptional picture of what a Spanish colonial city was once like.

Unesco World Heritage says: Havana was founded in 1519 by the Spanish. By the 17th century, it had become one of the Caribbean's main centres for shipbuilding. Although it is today a sprawling metropolis of two million inhabitants, its old centre retains an interesting mix of Baroque and neoclassical monuments, and a homogeneous ensemble of private houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards.

Dominican Republic
Santo Domingo
Unesco World Heritage says: After Christopher Columbus's arrival on the island in 1492, Santo Domingo became the site of the first cathedral, hospital, customs house and university in the Americas. This colonial town, founded in 1498, was laid out on a grid pattern that became the model for almost all town planners in the New World.

Unesco World Heritage says: Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 metres. Despite the 1917 earthquake, the city has the best preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America. The monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía, with their rich interiors, are pure examples of the 'Baroque school of Quito', which is a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art.
Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca
Unesco World Heritage says: Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca is set in a valley surrounded by the Andean mountains in the south of Ecuador. This inland colonial town (entroterra), now the country's third city, was founded in 1557 on the rigorous planning guidelines issued 30 years earlier by the Spanish king Charles V. Cuenca still observes the formal orthogonal town plan that it has respected for 400 years. One of the region's agricultural and administrative centres, it has been a melting pot for local and immigrant populations. Cuenca's architecture, much of which dates from the 18th century, was 'modernised' in the economic prosperity of the 19th century as the city became a major exporter of quinine, straw hats and other products.

Unesco World Heritage says: Antigua, the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, was founded in the early 16th century. Built 1,500 metres above sea level, in an earthquake- prone region, it was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 but its principal monuments are still preserved as ruins. In the space of under three centuries the city was built on a grid pattern inspired by the Italian Renaissance.

Unesco World Heritage says: Campeche is a typical example of a harbour town from the Spanish colonial period in the New World. The historic centre has kept its outer walls and system of fortifications, designed to defend this Caribbean port against attacks from the sea.
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded by the Spanish in the early 16th century, Guanajuato became the world's leading silver extraction centre in the 18th century. This past can be seen in its 'subterranean streets' and the 'Boca del Inferno', a mineshaft that plunges a breathtaking 600 metres. The town's fine Baroque and neoclassical buildings, resulting from the prosperity of the mines, have influenced buildings throughout central Mexico. The churches of La Compañía and La Valenciana are considered to be among the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture in Central and South America. Guanajuato was also witness to events which changed the history of the country.
Mexico City
Unesco World Heritage says: Built in the 16th century by the Spanish on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the old Aztec capital, Mexico City is now one of the world's largest and most densely populated cities. It has five Aztec temples, the ruins of which have been identified, a cathedral (the largest on the continent) and some fine 19th and 20th century public buildings such as the Palacio de las Bellas Artes. Xochimilco lies 28km south of Mexico City. With its network of canals and artificial islands, it testifies to the efforts of the Aztec people to build a habitat in the midst of an unfavourable environment. Its characteristic urban and rural structures, built since the 16th century and during the colonial period, have been preserved in an exceptional manner. (Current population: 8,831,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Built in the 16th century, Morelia is an outstanding example of urban planning which combines the ideas of the Spanish Renaissance with the Mesoamerican experience. Well adapted to the slopes of the hill site, its streets still follow the original layout. More than 200 historic buildings, all in the region's characteristic pink stone, reflect the town's architectural history, revealing a masterly and eclectic blend of the medieval spirit with Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical elements. Morelia was the birthplace of several important personalities of independent Mexico and has played a major role in the country's history.
Unesco World Heritage says: Puebla, which was founded ex nihilo in 1531, is situated about 100km east of Mexico City, at the foot of the Popocatepetl volcano. It has preserved its great religious structures such as the 16th 17th century cathedral and fine buildings like the old archbishop's palace, as well as a host of houses with walls covered in tiles (azulejos). The new aesthetic concepts resulting from the fusion of European and American styles were adopted locally and are peculiar to the Baroque district of Puebla.
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded in 1546 after the discovery of a rich silver lode, Zacatecas reached the height of its prosperity in the 16th and 17th centuries. Built on the steep slopes of a narrow valley, the town has breathtaking views and there are many old buildings, both religious and civil. The cathedral, built between 1730 and 1760, dominates the centre of the town. It is notable for its harmonious design and the Baroque profusion of its façades, where European and indigenous decorative elements are found side by side.

Unesco World Heritage says: Situated in the Peruvian Andes, Cuzco developed, under the Inca ruler Pachacutec, into a complex urban centre with distinct religious and administrative functions. It was surrounded by clearly delineated areas for agricultural, artisan and industrial production. When the Spaniards conquered it in the 16th century, they preserved the basic structure but built Baroque churches and palaces over the ruins of the Inca city. (Current population: 280,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Although severely damaged by earthquakes, this 'City of the Kings' was, until the middle of the 18th century, the capital and most important city of the Spanish dominions in South America. Many of its buildings, such as the Convent of San Francisco (the largest of its type in this part of the world), are the result of collaboration between local crafts people and others from the Old World.

United States
League of Historical Cities says: Founded in 1630 by Puritans from England, Boston is one of America's best preserved historical cities. Because of its unusually high concentration of excellent educational institutions, the city has long been a major American center for an impressive range of electronics, space and medical related industries. (Current population: 570,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), author of the American Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, was also a talented architect of neoclassical buildings. He designed Monticello (1769–1809), his plantation home, and his ideal 'academical village' (1817–26), which is still the heart of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Jefferson's use of an architectural vocabulary based upon classical antiquity symbolises both the aspirations of the new American republic as the inheritor of European tradition and the cultural experimentation that could be expected as the country matured.
New York City:
Unesco World Heritage says: The Statue of Liberty was made in Paris by the French sculptor Bartholdi, in collaboration with Gustave Eiffel (who was responsible for the steel framework). This towering monument to liberty was a gift from France on the centenary of American independence in 1886. Standing at the entrance to New York Harbour, it has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States of America since it was inaugurated in 1886.
Unesco World Heritage says: The Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution of the United States (1787) were both signed in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents are of fundamental importance to American history and have also had a profound impact on law makers around the world.
Natchitoches, Louisiana:
Pj Little writes: Louisiana has a rich and unique heritage of Native Americans, Spanish, French, Creoles, African slaves, Caribbian refuges, and exiled Acadians who arrived between 1528 and 1812. The City of Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-uh-dish), settled in 1714, is the oldest continuous settlement in the state; the oldest settlement on the Louisiana Trace; the first settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory and the first French Colony in Louisiana. Its early history is found in its Queen Anne and Victorian homes and Creole-style cottages, wrought iron balconies, mansions and plantations. The 33- block Historic Landmark District in Natchitoches, that includes homes, churches and commercial buildings, is the only city outside of New Orleans to be so designated. It is also a Cane River National Heritage Area, Cane River Scenic Byway, Los Adaes State Historic Site, Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site, and a Louisiana African American Heritage Trail site. It received the Preserve America Presidential Award for Heritage Tourism and In 2005 the City of Natchitoches was designated one of the "Dozen Distinctive Destinations". Recently the city received the Great American Main Street Award - both awarded by the National Trust for HIstoric Preservation. The Natchitoches meat pie is one of the official state foods in Louisiana (made famous in the movie "Steel Magnolias"). and the city is the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Louisiana. The poplation in 2009 was estimated to be 39,255.

Peoria, Illinois:
Pj Little writes: Archaeologists can trace early man in Peoria as far back as 10,000 B.C.. By 1650 the area was a favorite wintering place for the nomadic tribes. Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet first explored the shore of what is now Peoria in 1673. The first European settlers to the area were French, but it was not until 1691 that a permanent settlement was established when Henri Tonti and Francois de LaForest built a fort near the Illinois River at what later became the foot of Mary and Adams Streets. The ancient Indian trails became stagecoah lines that carried passengers and mail, whilst the ferries, once pushed by hand, evolved into steam powered boats that navigated the Illinois River. Peoria continues to preserve and honor its past with 11 designated Historic Districts and 27 recognized buildings of historical importance. The Illnois River continues as both a recreation resource and a major import/export connection between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

Unesco World Heritage says: With its earthen constructions unique to the Caribbean, Coro is the only surviving example of a rich fusion of local traditions with Spanish Mudéjar and Dutch architectural techniques. One of the first colonial towns (founded in 1527), it has some 602 historic buildings.

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