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Historic Cities / Living Cities in Asia & Australia
Edited by Tann vom Hove, Artwork by Kevin Visdeloup
'Historic Cities Living Cities' in Asia and Australia already includes historic towns and cities from 25 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, mentioning Historic Cities- Living 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:
Australia | Azerbaijan | Bangladesh | China | India | Indonesia | Iran | Iraq | Israel | Japan | Korea | Laos | Mongolia | Myanmar (Burma) | Nepal | New Zealnd | Pakistan | Philippines | Sri Lanka | Syria | Thailand | Turkey | Uzbekistan | Vietnam | Yemen |
League of Historical Cities says: Melbourne was laid out in 1837 with a complete network of lanes and arcades which gave this city so much of its charm. The city's cable car system, introduced in 1855, has developed into one of the largest and most modern tram networks in the world. Melbourne is famous for its Victorian architecture and its parks and gardens, with over one quarter of the inner city set aside as park land. (Current population: 340,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Built on a site inhabited since the Palaeolithic period, the Walled City of Baku reveals evidence of Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence in cultural continuity. The Inner City (Icheri Sheher) has preserved much of its 12th century defensive walls. The 12th century Maiden Tower (Giz Galasy) is built over earlier structures dating from the 7th to 6th centuries BC, and the 15th-century Shirvanshahs' Palace is one of the pearls of Azerbaijan's architecture. The site sustained significant damage during the earthquake of November 2000 and is increasingly affected by the pressure of urban development, the absence of conservation policies and by dubious restoration efforts.
Unesco World Heritage says: Ancient City of Bagerhat (formerly Khalifatabad). The city, founded in the 15th Century by the Turkish general Ulugh Khan Jahan, houses a great number of mosques and early Islamic monuments.
The Forbidden City (Beijing)
Unesco World Heritage says: China’s centre of power during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Forbidden City with its nearly 10,000 rooms is the greatest testimony to Chinese civilisation.
Unesco World Heritage says: The Potala Palace, winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century, symbolises Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. The complex, comprising the White and Red Palaces with their ancillary buildings, is built on Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley, at an altitude of 3,700 metres. Also founded in the 7th century, the Jokhang Temple Monastery is an exceptional Buddhist religious complex. Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's former summer palace, constructed in the 18th century, is a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, add to their historic and religious interest.
Unesco World Heritage says: The architecture of the old town is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures assembled over many centuries.
League of Historical Cities says: Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu Province. The city boasts a long history and a rich culture. The history of Nanjing began in 472 BC, when the king of Yue Kingdom conquered the Wu Kingdom and built up the city southwest of Zhonghua Gate. Since the third century, ten dynasties established their regimes in this city and left behind brilliant cultural relics. (Current population: 2,09,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: The ancient city of Ping Yao was founded in the 14th century. In the 19th and early 20th Century, the city was China’s principal banking centre.
League of Historical Cities says: Xian became the capital of Zhou around 1100 B.C and continued for the next 2,000 years to be the capital for 11 Chinese dynasties. As the greatest achievement of the Tang Dynasty, Xian was systematically planned on the basis of a regular street grid inside the walls of a castle. Today Xian is drawing worldwide attention as a business and scientific centre. (Current population: 2,185,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Goa, the former capital of the Portuguese Indies, is home to numerous churches and convents. An outstanding example is the Church of Bom Jesus which contains the tomb of St Fracis Xavier.
Unesco World Heritage says: The red sandstone tower of Qutb Minar, built in the 13th Century and 73 metres high, stands a few kilometres south of Delhi. The area surrounding the tower includes funerary buildings and two mosques.
Vasco Travel says: Deep in the heart of the Thar Desert is Jaisalmer, one of the last princely bastions in the region. Founded on what was the cross-roads of lucrative trade routes, this remote settlement came to be celebrated for the valour of its rulers, and for the aesthetic sense represented by their palaces and havelis. The rich merchants employed stone-craftsmen, who created works of great delicacy on the sandstone mansions they built, decorating facades with sculptural filigree, screen windows, delicate pavilions and beautiful balconies. Today, these buildings are still inhabited.
Madurai is one of the oldest cities of India, with a history dating all the way back to the Sangam period of the pre-Christian era. The glory of Madurai returned in a diminished form in the earlier part of this millennium; it later on came under the rule of the Vijayanagar kingdom after being ransacked by the ravaging armies of Delhi (Malik Kafur). During the 16th and 18th centuries, Madurai was ruled by the Nayak Emperors, the foremost of whom was Tirumalai Nayakar. The Sangam period poet Nakkeerar is associated with some of the Tiruvilayaadal episodes of Sundareswarar - that are enacted as a part of temple festival traditions even today. More
League of Historical Cities says: Varanasi is acknowledged as one of the most ancient cities in the world and the foremost sacred city of pilgrimage in India. The origin of the city is lost in antiquity and only mythological stories exist prior to the 6th century BC, when the Lord Buddha preached his first sermon just outside the city to his first five disciples. (Current population: 1,026,000)
League of Historical Cities says: Yogyakarta became the Kingdom of Yogyakarta in 1755, with the construction of the Pangeran Mangkubumi (The Sultan's Palace) for the founder and the first king of the kingdom. As the city's oldest structure, with its origins in the philosophical principles of Javanese culture, the palace has remained the centre of the city's government and the centre of Javanese culture. (Current population:400,000)
League of Historical Cities says: Historically, Isfahan dates back to ancient times. However, most of its preserved monuments date from the Islamic era when the city was the capital of Iran from the 7th to the17th centuries. Isfahan's numerous cultural treasures and historical splendours comprising of palaces, mosques, churches, bazaars and beautiful bridges, make it one of the most beautiful cities in Asia Minor. (Current population: 1,300,000)
Unesco World Heritage adds: Meidan Emam, a complex of buildings commissioned by Shah Abbas I the Great in the early part of the 17th Century, includes the Royal Mosque, the Mosque of Sheykh Lotfollah and the Portico of Qaysariyyeh and, from an earlier period, the 15th Centruy Timurid Palace.
League of Historical Cities says: Founded in 762 AD by Abu Jafar al Mansur, the city of Baghdad was originally built on the west bank of the Tigris River. Circular walls enclosed the city and although its original name was Madinat as Salam (City of Peace), it was more popularly known as the Round City. At the city's centre were the caliph's palace and the grand mosque. November 15 is designated as Day of Baghdad. Festival is held on this day to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of the city.(Latest recorded population: 3,840,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Acre is a historic walled port-city with continual settlement from the Phoenician period. The present city is characteristic of a fortified town dating from the Ottoman 18th and 19th centuries, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, khans and baths. The remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291, lie almost intact, both above and below today's street level, providing an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.
League of Historical Cities says: Today, Jerusalem is the largest and most populated city in Israel - a fascinating mosaic of different religions and people. This mixture and the city's extraordinary range of historical relics make Jerusalem a major tourist center. Its unique history, historical monuments and archaeological sites make the city one of the world's most important repositories for western and eastern civilisation. (Population: 578,000)
Fukuoka, with a population of some 1.3 million people Japan’s eighth largest city, traces its history back to the 8th century. In medieval times, Fukuoka became one of the few active international trade cities, hosting many foreign merchants, and in the 16th century, wealthy merchants went overseas to seek more profitable business. In May 2006, the city announced that it would bid to become the official Japanese candidate for the 2016 Summer Olympics. More
League of Historical Cities says: Kyoto was the capital of Japan for 1,000 years until the transfer of government to Tokyo after the Imperial Restoration in 1868. Kyoto is rich with architectural masterpieces and artistic works. About 20 per cent of Japan's national treasures are in Kyoto. (Current population: 1,460,000)
Unesco World Heritage adds: Kyoto, built in 794 AD, was the imperial capital of Japan from its foundation until the middle of the 19th century. Kyoto pioneered the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and Japanese garden design which influenced landscape gardening all over the world.
Unesco World Heritage says: The Hiroshima Peace Memorial was the only structure left standing in the city after the dropping of the first atomic bomb on 6 August 1945. It expresses the hope for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons.
League of Historical Cities says: The city of Nara was established as the capital, named Heijokyo, in the year 710 and has since been the cradle of the Japanese arts and the essence of its culture. Nara, as an international cultural tourism city, engages the rich and elegant ambience of the Tempyo culture which flourished as the eastern terminal point of the Silk Road. (Current population: 350,000)
League of Historical Cities says: Kaesong, with a history of more than 1,000 years, was founded as the capital of Koryo, the first unified state in Korea which lasted for over five centuries. Since ancient times, Kaesong has enjoyed a world-wide reputation as a centre of Koryo Insam cultivation. The city boasts an abundance of historical remains, museums, palaces and important tombs. (Current population: 140,000)
League of Historical Cities says: For nearly 1,000 years, from 57 BC to 935 A.D., Kyongju was the capital of the Shilla kingdom and flourished as a center of sophisticated culture and government. It is said that the city is like an open-air museum. In the centre of the city, the Tumulus Park houses some 20 large and small tombs from the Shilla Dynasty. (Current population: 140,000)
The town presents a fine example of the fusion of traditional Lao architecture and European design brought to the country by colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries.
League of Historical Cities says: Ulan Bator was called Ikh Khuree (1706-1911), Niisei Khuree (1911-1923) and finally Ulan Bator since 1924. Ulan Bator means "Red Hero." Ulan Bator is situated on the bank of the river Tuul and is surrounded by the beautiful foothills of the Khangai mountain range with the Bogd Khan mountain facing the city. (Current population:
League of Historical Cities says: The origin of Yangon, capital city of the Union of Myanmar, can be traced back to the time of King Okklapa who built the city of Okklapa on the present site and the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in the 6th century BC From the 11th century, the King became known as Dagon and existed as an obscure fishing village, in 1755, King Alaungpaya conquered lower Myanmar and renamed the city as Yangon meaning 'end of strife'. (Current population: 2,510,000)
League of Historical Cities says: Situated at an altitude of 1,350 metres, the valley in which Katmandu is located is surrounded by green mountains. The abundance of shrines, temples, palaces, squares, ageless sculptures and legends associated with the city make Katmandu in every way a living museum. Within the city, there are as many temples as there are houses and as many statues as inhabitants. (Current population: 240,000)
James Dignan says: Dunedin has a population of 120,000. The city was founded in 1848, and saw rapid growth during the Otago gold rush of the 1860s, becoming New Zealand's largest city,a title it held during much of the latter 19th century. During much of the 20th century, it saw decline with the 'drift to the north' and rapid growth of centres like Auckland. This trend was reversed in the last ten years of the 20th century, and at the dawn of the 21st century Dunedin is regarded both in New Zealand and overseas as a centre of innovation drawing much of its economy from new industries such as Information Technology, and a growing reputation for ecotourism. With the country's oldest (and second largest) university, the city has a thriving multicultural community with a vibrant cultural life, and foresight from city leaders saw Dunedin retain many of its older and grander buildings.
League of Historical Cities says: Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city and the capital of the State of Punjab, lies on a plain made fertile by the Ravi River. A circular road, that marks the position of Mugal era castle walls, encloses the old city, where mosques and shops along the city's narrow street continue to retain their ancient appearance. There are many legacies of the Mughal era in the city. The Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore were built during the Mughal civilisation. The Fort contains marble palaces and mosques. The Gardens near Lahore are built on three terraces with lodges, waterfalls and ornamental ponds. (Population: 2,953,000)
Manila and other cities
In the 16th century, during the Spanish reign, four baroque churches were built which represent the interpretation of European Baroque by Chinese and Philippine craftsmen.
Kandy (World Heritage Site)
Known as Sri Lanka's hill capital and cultural centre, once the capital of the Kandyan Kingdom, and the historical home of Buddhist power. The town, built around a peaceful lake is also home to the famous Temple of the Tooth (Dullada Maligawa), a temple which houses Sri Lanka's most important religious relic - the sacred tooth of Buddha. The tooth was, according to legend, rescued from his funeral pyre and brought to Sri Lanka hidden in an Indian princess's hair. During the 10-day August Perahera festival there are glittering processions of almost 100 decorated elephants, the most noble carrying the tooth relic casket.
Anuradhapura (World Heritage Site)
Sri Lanka's first capital, was founded in the 4th century BC and is home to the sacred Bo Tree. This, the world's oldest living tree, was grown from a sapling taken from the Bo tree beneath which Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment. The Thuparama Dagoba, the oldest of many temples in Anuradhapura, is believed to contain the right collar-bone of Buddha. The Jetavanarama Dagoba is the largest remaining structure and may once have been over 100m (328ft) in height and housed an estimated 3000 monks. Other ancient dagobas include Abhayagiri and the Miriswatte. About 32 miles south-east of Anuradhapura is the Aukana Budha. This 42 1/2 feet (13 meters) high statue carved out of solid granite, goes back to the 5th century, to the reign of King Dathusena. On a rainy day, it is said, that one can see droplets of water falling off the tip of the statue's nose hitting the ground exactly between the toes - a testament to the architectural accuracy of the sculptor. Mihintale, eight miles east of Anuradhapura, is an important as a place of pilgrimage. This is a monastic city of caves, temples and ruins where Buddhism first took a hold on the Island. It was in Mhintale in 247BC that King Devanampiyatissa became converted to Buddhism, and from this day Buddhism was established in Sri Lanka. Popularly regarded as the greatest, and certainly the most popular among the Buddhists, of the stupas at Anuradhapura, Ruwanveli Seya, is the pride of the Great Emperor Dutugamunu. Raised in the 2nd century B.C. this dagoba is supposed to have the perfect water bubble shape.
Polonnaruwa (World Heritage Site)
The country's second seat of rule and a medieval capital. By far the most stunning carvings are the four gigantic stone buddhas, one reclining serenely, one sitting and two standing. On the Southern side of the Parakrama Samudra (Polonnaruwa) is a striking stone statue of a bearded man holding in his hands what seems to be book (written on palm leaves). The care-worn expression hints at royalty and popular belief identifies it as a statue of Parakramabahu the Great.
Sirigiya (World Heritage Site)
A spectacular rock fortress, a monastic retreat, and a rock art gallery. It is built in the 5th century by King Kasyapa. There are water gardens, 5th century rock paintings of well endowed damsels, a 1000-year-old graffiti wall recording visitors impressions of the pin-ups, a couple of enormous stone lion paws and tremendous views. Today, Sigiriya is being considered for the place of 8th wonder of the ancient world.
Dambulla Rock Temple (World Heritage Site)
Dating back to the 1st Century BC, this is the most impressive of all the cave temples in Sri Lanka. The ceiling of the cavern is illustrated with paintings that follow the natural folds of the rock. Access is along the gentle slope of the Dambulla Rock, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands, which includes the rock fortress Sigiriya, 19kms away.
Galle (World Heritage Site)
This walled town surrounded with a magnificent stretch of tropical beach has been home to Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists and is the finest colonial city on the island. The port of Galle, thought by some to be the Biblical city of Tarshish, splendidly illustrates the solidity of the Dutch presence in Sri Lanka. The 36-hectare (89 acre) Dutch Fort, built in 1663, has withstood the ravages of time. This area has a quiet, relaxed atmosphere that seems almost detached from the flow of history. The New Oriental Hotel, built for Dutch governors in 1684, is a colonial gem with a wonderfully atmospheric bar.
Founded in the 3rd millennium BC, the ancient city of Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, it was the centre of a flourishing craft industry, specialising in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of its history.
League of Historical Cities says: Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in the country. The deep-rooted culture of Chiang Mai stems from the fact that the city was the capital of Lanna Thai, which dates back to the 13th century, the same period as Thailand's first capital, Sukhothai. (Current population: 170,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: With its strategic location on the Bosphorus peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. Its masterpieces include the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque, all now under threat from population pressure, industrial pollution and uncontrolled urbanisation. (Current population: 6,620,000)
League of Historical Cities says: The City of Konya became the centre of culture, art and politics in 12th and 13th centuries. Many Islamic scientists, artists and architects were invited to Konya and they contributed to the spread of that knowledge. Thus Konya prospered as a center of Islamic world. Many theological schools and mosques were built in this period. (Current population: 570,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: From the 13th century to the advent of the railway in the early 20th century, Safranbolu was an important caravan station on the main EastWest trade route. The Old Mosque, Old Bath and Süleyman Pasha Medrese were built in 1322. During its apogee in the 17th century, Safranbolu's architecture influenced urban development throughout much of the Ottoman Empire.
League of Historical Cities says: Tashkent means "the city of stone" in Turkish. Owing to the special characteristics of the people, made up of numerous ethnic groups and religions, it is often called "the city of friendship and brotherly love." As an important Central Asian transportation and trade centre, Tashkent has been an oasis of the Silk Road for the past 2,000 years. (Current population: 2,094,000)
League of Historical Cities says: Hanoi means "within the rivers" and is derived from its position at the central point of the delta between the Red River and its tributary, the Day River. During the early part of the 11th century, Vietnam was united for the first time by the Ly people, who set up their capital at Tanron, a castle town located on the site of present day Hanoi. (Current population: 1,090,000)
The ancient town of Hoi An is an exceptionally well-preserved example of an Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century.
Sana’a, located at an altitude of 2,200 metres, has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. After the birth of Islam, the city became a major religious centre. Today Sana’a still has more than 6,000 buildings built before the 11th Century.
'Historic Cities Living Cities' in Africa already includes historic towns and cities from eight 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, mentioning Historic Cities- Living Cities in the subject line.
| Introduction | Western Europe (A to K) | Western Europe (L to Z) | Eastern Europe | The Americas | Asia & Australia | Africa |
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