City Mayors presents the Western Europe's living historic cities

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League of Historical 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 Western Europe
Edited by Tann vom Hove, Artwork by Kevin Visdeloup

'Historic Cities – Living Cities' in Western Europe already includes historic towns and cities from 15 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:

Austria | Belgium | France | Germany | Greece | Italy | Luxembourg | Malta | Netherlands | Norway | Portugal | Spain | Sweden | Switzerland | United Kingdom |

Luxembourg City
Unesco World Heritage says: Because of its strategic position, Luxembourg was, from the 16th century until 1867, when its walls were dismantled, one of Europe's greatest fortified sites. It was repeatedly reinforced as it passed from one great European power to another: the Holy Roman Emperors, the House of Burgundy, the Habsburgs, the French and Spanish kings, and finally the Prussians. Until their partial demolition, the fortifications were a fine example of military architecture spanning several centuries.

La Valetta
Unesco World Heritage says: The capital of Malta is inextricably linked to the history of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John. Valletta's 320 monuments, all within an area of 55 hectares, make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.

League of Historical Cities says: Amsterdam's origins date back to the early 13th century, when it was founded along the bank of the river Amstel as a trading port. Through a prosperous and expanding centre throughout the Middle Ages, Amsterdam's worldwide commercial relations and trade activities in the 17th century marked the zenith of its wealth and power. (Current population: 713,000)

Unesco World Heritage says: Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen, is a reminder of the town's importance as part of the Hanseatic League's trading empire from the 14th to the mid-16th century. Many fires, the last in 1955, have ravaged the beautiful wooden houses of Bryggen but its main structure has been preserved. Many of the remaining 58 buildings are now used as artists' studios.

Unesco World Heritage says: This museum-city, the roots of which go back to Roman times, reached its golden age in the 15th century, when it became the residence of the Portuguese kings. Its unique quality stems from the whitewashed houses decorated with azulejos and wrought-iron balconies dating from the 16th to the 18th century. Its monuments had a profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil.
Unesco World Heritage says:
The historic town of Guimarães is associated with the emergence of the Portuguese national identity in the 12th century. An exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a Medieval settlement into a modern town, its rich building typology exemplifies the specific development of Portuguese architecture from the 15th to 19th century through the consistent use of traditional  building materials and techniques.
League of Historical Cities says: Originally a harbour city constructed by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC, Lisbon owes its name (Olissipus) to the legendary Greek hero Ulysses, who is said to have disembarked at the harbour of what is today Lisbon. Among the city's many historical sites, the tomb of the explorer Vasco da Gama is located in the Jerinimos Monastery. (Current population: 678,000)

Unesco World Heritage adds: Standing at the entrance to Lisbon harbour, the Monastery of the Hieronymites – construction of which began in 1502 – exemplifies Portuguese art at its best. The nearby Tower of Belém, built to commemorate Vasco da Gama's expedition, is a reminder of the great maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world.
Unesco World Heritage says: The city of Porto, built along the hillsides overlooking the mouth of the Douro river, is an outstanding urban landscape with a 1,000-year history. Its continual growth, linked to the sea (the Romans gave it the name Portus, or port), can be seen in the many and varied monuments, from the cathedral with its Romanesque choir, to the neoclassical Stock Exchange and the typically Portuguese Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara.

Unesco World Heritage says: Founded in the 11th century to protect the Spanish territories from the Moors, this 'City of Saints and Stones', the birthplace of St Teresa and the burial place of the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, has kept its medieval austerity. This purity of form can still be seen in the Gothic cathedral and the fortifications, which, with their 82 semicircular towers and nine gates, are the most complete in Spain.
League of Historical Cities says: Barcelona constitutes an important economic and commercial nucleus which has had an influence throughout Spain and the Mediterranean basin. During its 2,000 years of history, the city has seen the passing of many civilisations whose architectural and artistic remains live together in near perfect harmony with the latest trends in architecture, urbanism, art and design. (Current population: 1,668,000)
Unesco World Heritage adds: The works by Antonio Gaudí (1852–1926) may be seen as truly universal in view of the diverse cultural sources that inspired them. They represent an eclectic as well as a very personal style which was given free rein not only in the field of architecture but also in gardens, sculpture and all forms of decorative art.
Unesco World Heritage says: The city's history of battles between Moors and Christians is reflected in its architecture, which is a blend of Roman, Islamic, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance styles. Of the 30 or so towers from the Muslim period, the Torre del Bujaco is the most famous.
Unesco World Heritage says: Cordoba's period of greatest glory began in the 8th century after the Moorish conquest, when some 300 mosques and innumerable palaces and public buildings were built to rival the splendours of Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad. In the 13th century, under Ferdinand III, the Saint, Cordoba's Great Mosque was turned into a cathedral and new defensive structures, particularly the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and the Torre Fortaleza de la Calahorra, were erected. (Current population: 300,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Built by the Moors in a defensive position at the heart of the Caliphate of Cordoba, Cuenca is an unusually well-preserved medieval fortified city. Conquered by the Castilians in the 12th century, it became a royal town and bishopric endowed with important buildings, such as Spain's first Gothic cathedral, and the famous casas colgadas (hanging houses), suspended from sheer cliffs overlooking the Huécar river. Taking full advantage of its location, the city towers above the magnificent countryside.
La Laguna (Tenerife)
La Laguna, Tenerife, was founded between 1496 and 1497 by Alonso Fernández de Lugo and was the capital of the island after the conclusion of the conquest of the islands. The University of La Laguna was founded in 1701. A declining population and economy in the 18th century resulted in the moving of the capital to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1723. Santa Cruz has since been the capital of the island of Tenerife. Later, the international airport at Los Rodeos was opened and became the most used airport on the island until Reina Sofía Airport was built in the south of the island. In 2004, La Laguna had 137,000 inhabitants and covered an area of some 1,337 square kilometres. The city was declared a World Heritage Site in December 1999 and several streets of historical significance are now closed to automobile traffic. The city’s economy is business-oriented, with agriculture concentrated in the north eastern part of the city. The urban area dominates the central and the southern parts. Tourism covers the northern coast.
Unesco World Heritage says: Built at the end of the 16th century on a plan in the form of a grill, the instrument of the martyrdom of St Lawrence, the Escurial Monastery stands in an exceptionally beautiful site in Castile. Its austere architecture, a break with previous styles, had a considerable influence on Spanish architecture for more than half a century. It was the retreat of a mystic king and became, in the last years of Philip II's reign, the centre of the greatest political power of the time.
Marc Sanderson writes: Málaga, Spain, is a thriving city with a historically significant past. It is experiencing a special transformation in its history. Recently, Málaga has advanced significantly toward its objective of being a dynamic cultural metropolitan city which is open to the sea with a great quality of life and a respect for the environment. It continues to be the economic and technology capital of Andalusia as well as the tourist and recreational capital of Europe. The fact is that given its low cost of living, high quality of life, excellent transportation infrastructure and its geographic location, Málaga offers a wealth of opportunities for economic and socio-cultural development not only in the area of tourism. Its important cultural infrastructure and the rich historic and artistic heritage, reflecting 3,000 years of history, make Málaga a deserving candidate for the 2016 European Capital of Culture.
Unesco World Heritage says: This ancient university town north-west of Madrid was first conquered by the Carthaginians in the 3rd century BC. It then became a Roman settlement before being ruled by the Moors until the 11th century. The university, one of the oldest in Europe, reached its high point during Salamanca's golden age. The city's historic centre has important Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque monuments. The Plaza Mayor, with its galleries and arcades, is particularly impressive.
Santiago de Compostela
Unesco World Heritage says: This famous pilgrimage site in north-west Spain became a symbol in the Spanish Christians' struggle against Islam. Destroyed by the Muslims at the end of the 10th century, it was completely rebuilt in the following century. With its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, the Old Town of Santiago is one of the world's most beautiful urban areas. The oldest monuments are grouped around the tomb of St James and the cathedral, which contains the remarkable Pórtico de la Gloria. (Current population: 130,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Three buildings form a remarkable monumental complex in the heart of Seville. The cathedral and the Alcázar – dating from the Reconquest of 1248 to the 16th century and imbued with Moorish influences – are an exceptional testimony to the civilisation of the Almohads as well as that of Christian Andalusia. The Giralda minaret is the masterpiece of Almohad architecture. It stands next to the cathedral with its five naves; the largest Gothic building in Europe, it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The ancient Lonja, which became the Archivo de Indias, contains valuable documents from the archives of the colonies in the Americas.
Unesco World Heritage says: Successively a Roman municipium, the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, a fortress of the Emirate of Cordoba, an outpost of the Christian kingdoms fighting the Moors and, in the 16th century, the temporary seat of supreme power under Charles V, Toledo is the repository of more than 2,000 years of history. Its masterpieces are the product of heterogeneous civilisations in an environment where the existence of three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – was a major factor.

League of Historical Cities says: Helsingborg is beautifully situated at the Strait of Oresund between Sweden and Denmark. Its history dates back to the Viking Age, when and up to 1658 the southern-most part of Sweden belonged to Denmark. During that time the castle of Helsingborg (Karnan) was a stronghold for the Danish King. Since then the town has developed into one of the most important ports of Scandinavia and into an industrial, commercial and cultural centre as well. (Current population: 110,000)
Unesoco World Heritage says: Karlskrona is an outstanding example of a late17th century European planned naval city. The original plan and many of the buildings have survived intact, along with installations that illustrate its subsequent development up to the present day.
Unesco World Heritage says: The Royal Domain of Drottningholm stands on an island in Lake Mälar in a suburb of Stockholm. With its castle, superbly preserved theatre (built in 1766), Chinese pavilion and gardens, it is the finest example of an 18th century north European royal residence inspired by the Palace of Versailles.
Unesco World Heritage says: A former Viking site on the island of Gotland, Visby was the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic from the 12th to the 14th century. Its 13th century ramparts and more than 200 warehouses and wealthy merchants' dwellings from the same period make it the best preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe.

Unesco World Heritage says: Founded in the 12th century on a hill site surrounded by the Aare river, Bern developed over the centuries in line with an exceptionally coherent planning concept. The buildings in the Old City, dating from a variety of periods, include 15th century arcades and 16th century fountains. Most of the medieval town was restored in the 18th century but it has retained its original character.
League of Historical Cities says: Zurich is really a lakeside town. In addition to the lake of Zurich, three rivers and streams flow within its boundaries. Wherever you look you'll always see water somewhere, whether you are in the picturesque old part of town or enjoying the view from the shade of the Lindenhof over the roofs or the majestic panorama of the chain of alpine mountains on the horizon. (Current population: 360,000)

United Kingdom
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded by the Romans as a thermal spa, Bath became an important centre of the wool industry in the Middle Ages. In the 18th century, under George III, it developed into an elegant town with neoclassical Palladian buildings, which blend harmoniously with the Roman baths.
Unesco World Heritage says: Canterbury, in Kent, has been the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for nearly five centuries. Canterbury's other important monuments are the modest Church of St Martin, the oldest church in England; the ruins of the Abbey of St Augustine, a reminder of the saint's evangelising role in the Heptarchy from 597; and Christ Church Cathedral, a breathtaking mixture of Romanesque and Perpendicular Gothic, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170.
Unesco World Heritage says: Durham Cathedral was built in the late 11th and early 12th centuries to house the relics of St Cuthbert (evangeliser of Northumbria) and the Venerable Bede. It attests to the importance of the early Benedictine monastic community and is the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. The innovative audacity of its vaulting foreshadowed Gothic architecture. Behind the cathedral stands the castle, an ancient Norman fortress which was the residence of the prince-bishops of Durham.
Unesco World Heritage says: Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century. It has two distinct areas: the Old Town, dominated by a medieval fortress, and the neoclassical New Town, whose development from the 18th century onwards had a far-reaching influence on European urban planning. The harmonious juxtaposition of these two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, is what gives the city its unique character. (Current population: 440,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Westminster Palace, which houses the two Chambers of the British Parliament and was rebuilt from the year 1840 on the site of important medieval remains, is a fine example of neo-Gothic architecture. The site – which also comprises the small medieval Church of Saint Margaret, built in Perpendicular Gothic style, and Westminster Abbey, where all the sovereigns since the 11th century have been crowned – is of great historic and symbolic significance.

Unesco World Heritage adds: The historic landscape garden of Kew features elements that illustrate significant periods of the art of gardens from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Kew Gardens house botanic collections (conserved plants, living plants and documents) that have been considerably enriched through the centuries. Since their creation in 1759, the gardens have made a significant and uninterrupted contribution to the study of plant diversity and economic botany.
Michael Loveday writes: Norwich was England’s second city for a significant part of the last 1000 years. In its heyday its city walls enclosed the largest medieval city in England covering an area larger than the City of London and Southwark together. The legacy of that period includes an enormous collection of cultural heritage assets including just over a dozen individually remarkable buildings emblematic of the last millennium - together, representing an urban heritage resource unique in the UK and of universal stature. They include two cathedrals (one Romanesque and one Edwardian) , a Norman castle - ‘the finest secular building of its period in Europe’(HESLOP), a medieval hospital complex probably the oldest continuously occupied old peoples’ home in Europe, England’s largest provincial guildhall, the UK’s only surviving intact medieval friary complex, a unique merchant trading hall, a Georgian Assembly House equal to Bath’s, ‘the noblest mill of the English Industrial revolution’(NAIRN), one of the UK’s most opulent Edwardian office buildings, ‘the foremost English public building between the wars’(PEVSNER) and the Forum, an award winning C21st library, multi media and visitor centre.

Added to this, Norwich has the largest collection of medieval churches in Northern Europe (32 within the walls and over 50 in the built up area) - more than London, York and Bristol together and a wide range of other cultural heritage assets. Its appearance reflects centuries of European integration including Danes, Normans, Bretons, Jews and in the C16th 40% of the City's population were Dutch, Flemish, Walloon or Huguenot French. Today its knowledge based industries cluster (University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital) hosts over 100 different nationalities. Michael Loveday is the Chief Executive of the Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust (HEART)
Phil Bateman writes: Wolverhampton is one of the UK's newest cities having been granted City status by Queen Elizabeth in the year 2000 which signified more than 1,000 years of settlement. The year 985 AD, saw the foundation of Wolverhampton. It was originally called Wulfrunhampton taking the name of the Lady Wulfruna later becoming Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton was one of the 'staple' towns involved in the wool trade of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

During the seventeenth century Wolverhampton and its people began to have some connections with important national events. The accession of James I after the death of Elizabeth I was soon followed by a major Catholic plot to kill the new king. Although the Gunpowder Plot is closely associated with London and the Houses of Parliament, the final act took place near to Wolverhampton, at Hobeach House in Himley. The town was honoured by the presence of Queen Victoria on only one occasion, in November 1866. However her presence was particularly important since it marked possibly her first public appearance after the death of Prince Albert.

Wolverhampton is a city that was first a market town and then became a major centre in the hotbed of the Industrial Revolution. Wolverhampton during this period was a settlement that not only witnessed the mining of coal and limestone together with the iron ore. It was the home of steel and japanning and motor cars and motor cycles, it was a city founded upon engineering and it provided for the needs of the nation and the Empire.

Wolverhampton is known to have been producing locks and keys as early as 1603 with the best known local firm being that of Charles and Jeremiah Chubb which arrived here in 1818 at 38 Horseley Fields. They prospered and moved to larger premises, the old workhouse in Horseley Fields. In 1847 John Chubb was appointed "patent lock maker" to Queen Victoria. At the time of the Great Exhibition (1851) Chubbs were making 30,000 locks a year without using machinery. Today it is a city that is coming to terms with the creative technologies, with a growing service sector, but still delivering precision engineering for the aerospace industry... indeed there is a feeling that we are quickly becoming the home of aerospace, with companies like Goodrich, Marstons and Smiths, not many miles away from RAF Cosford. Cllr Phil Bateman is former city mayor of Wolverhampton

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