City Mayors presents the Eastern Europe's living historic cities

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World Heritage Centre
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 Eastern Europe
Edited by Tann vom Hove, Artwork by Kevin Visdeloup

'Historic Cities – Living Cities' in Eastern Europe 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:

Bulgaria | Croatia | Czech Republic | Estonia | Georgia | Hungary | Latvia | Lithuania | Poland | Romania | Russia | Serbia | Slovakia | Ukraine |

Unesco World Heritage says: Located on the outskirts of Sofia, Boyana Church consists of three buildings. The eastern church was built in the 10th century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two-storey building to be erected next to it. The frescoes in this second church, painted in 1259, make it one of the most important collections of medieval paintings. The ensemble is completed by a third church, built at the beginning of the 19th century. This site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.

Unesco World Heritage says: The 'Pearl of the Adriatic', situated on the Dalmatian coast, became an important Mediterranean sea power from the 13th century onwards. Although severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Damaged again in the 1990s by armed conflict, it is now the focus of a major restoration programme co-ordinated by UNESCO.
The ruins of Diocletian's Palace, built between the late 3rd and the early 4th centuries AD, can be found throughout Split. The cathedral was built in the Middle Ages, re-using materials from the ancient mausoleum. Twelfth- and 13th-century Romanesque churches, medieval fortifications, 15th-century Gothic palaces and other palaces in Renaissance and Baroque style make up the rest of the protected area, listed as a UNESCO heritage site. (Current population: 250,000)
League of Historical Cities says: Situated in the south of central Europe, Zagreb developed on the crossroads between eastern and western Europe and between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. The city flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries, growing into the major commercial centre of northern Croatia. Since the 18th century, Zagreb has developed continually as the political, cultural and economic capital of Croatia. (Current population: 700,000)

Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov
Unesco World Heritage says: Situated on the banks of the Vltava river, the town was built around a 13th century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. It is an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town whose architectural heritage has remained intact thanks to its peaceful evolution over more than five centuries.
Kutná Hora
Unesco World Heritage says: Kutná Hora developed as a result of the exploitation of the silver mines. In the 14th century it became a royal city endowed with monuments that symbolised its prosperity. The Church of St Barbara, a jewel of the late Gothic period, and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec, which was restored in line with the Baroque taste of the early 18th century, were to influence the architecture of central Europe. These masterpieces today form part of a well-preserved medieval urban fabric with some particularly fine private dwellings.
League of Historical Cities says: Due to its 1,100 years of development, historic Prague constitutes a unique urban and architectural phenomenon. The city boasts all architectural styles from the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles to all phases of the Baroque period. Over 2,800 cultural monuments protected by law are currently registered throughout the territory of the city of Prague. (Current population: 1,212,000)

Unesco World Heritage adds: Built between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Old Town, the Lesser Town and the New Town speak of the great architectural and cultural influence enjoyed by this city since the Middle Ages. The many magnificent monuments, such as Hradcani Castle, St Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge and numerous churches and palaces, were built mostly in the 14th century under the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV.
Unesco World Heritage says: The ensemble of the Jewish Quarter, the old Jewish cemetery and the Basilica of St Procopius in Trebic are reminders of the co-existence of Jewish and Christian cultures from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The Jewish Quarter bears outstanding testimony to the different aspects of the life of this community. St Procopius Basilica, built as part of the Benedictine monastery in the early 13th century, is a remarkable example of the influence of western European architectural heritage in this region.

Unesco World Heritage says: The origins of Tallinn date back to the 13th century, when a castle was built there by the crusading knights of the Teutonic Order. It developed as a major centre of the Hanseatic League, and its wealth is demonstrated by the opulence of the public buildings (the churches in particular) and the domestic architecture of the merchants' houses, which have survived to a remarkable degree despite the ravages of fire and war in the intervening centuries.

Tika Lebanidze says: Tbilisi is one of the ancient cities in the world. The first settlements here emerged in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Tbilisi is the Capital of Georgia since the second half of the 5th century AD.
History has preserved for us an extraordinary story about the foundation of Tbilisi. Once upon a time Tbilisi and its surroundings were covered by forests, and Vakhtang Gorgasali was hunting there. The king and the members of his company made their pheasant fly, and the falcon chased the pheasant until soon both the birds disappeared from sight. After a long search the king and his company saw that both birds had fallen into a hot sulphur spring. There were many such medical springs in that territory. King Vakhtang liked the area and decided to build a city in the area. He named it Tbilisi because of those hot springs.
Tbilisi is prominent for its diversity which is so much characteristic for it only. Here past and present harmonically exist side by side each other.
Tbilisi entered 21st century with changes and with a new image, that is even nowadays being actively changed though at the same time it keeps the details characteristic for Tbilisi only. The past and present are closely linked with each other here. Lots of modern buildings are being constructed that make 1500 years old city more distinguished and interesting.
Tbilisi is a living city that is growing and developing and is becoming more and more beautiful. Overseas capital is invested in the construction of hotels, shopping malls and residential buildings and the whole city is going to be redeveloped very soon.

League of Historical Cities says: The faithfully preserved historic core of Budapest is characterised by numerous fine edifices and urban structures of three original towns. Budapest's unique charm derives from the city's ideal natural location and rich architectural heritage. The Castle District, the seat of Hungarian kings, is one of Europe's best preserved royal seats. (Current population: 2,017,000)

Unesco World Heritage says: This site has the remains of monuments such as the Roman city of Aquincum and the Gothic castle of Buda, which have had a considerable influence on the architecture of various periods. It is one of the world's outstanding urban landscapes and illustrates the great periods in the history of the Hungarian capital.

Unesco World Heritage says: Riga was a major centre of the Hanseatic League, deriving its prosperity in the 13th–15th centuries from trade with central and eastern Europe. The urban fabric of its medieval centre reflects this prosperity, though most of the earliest buildings were destroyed by fire or war. Riga became an important economic centre in the 19th century, when the suburbs surrounding the medieval town were laid out, first with imposing wooden buildings in neoclassical style and then in Jugendstil. It is generally recognised that Riga has the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe.

Unesco World Heritage says: Political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the 13th to the end of the 18th century, Vilnius has had a profound influence on the cultural and architectural development of much of eastern Europe. Despite invasions and partial destruction, it has preserved an impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings as well as its medieval layout and natural setting.

League of Historical Cities says: Since its early history as a Slavic village, Kracow became a key cultural link between eastern and western Europe in the 10th century. Today many medieval buildings remain in the centre of the city, the most impressive of which is Wawel Castle, a Romanesque-Gothic castle. Another important city monument is the Jagiellonian University complex where the astronomer Copernicus studied in the 15th century. (Current population: 750,000)

Unesco World Heritage adds: The historic centre of Kracow, the former capital of Poland, is situated at the foot of the Royal Wawel Castle. The 13th century merchants' town has Europe's largest market square and numerous historical houses, palaces and churches with their magnificent interiors. Further evidence of the town's fascinating history is provided by the remnants of the 14th century fortifications and the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues in the southern part of town, Jagellonian University and the Gothic cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.
Unesco World Heritage says: Torun owes its origins to the Teutonic Order, which built a castle there in the mid-13th century as a base for the conquest and evangelisation of Prussia. It soon developed a commercial role as part of the Hanseatic League. In the Old and New Town, the many imposing public and private buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries (among them the house of Copernicus) are striking evidence of Torun's importance.
Unesco World Heritage says: During the Warsaw uprising in August 1944, more than 85 per cent of Warsaw's historic centre was destroyed by Nazi troops. After the war, a five-year reconstruction campaign by its citizens resulted in today's meticulous restoration of the Old Town, with its churches, palaces and marketplace. It is an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th centuries.

League of Historical Cities says: Iasi, one of the oldest towns in the area, constitutes the cultural capital of Romania and the most important historic, industrial and economic centre of the eastern part of the country. Iasi is famous as the city of poetry and great romances. The Town of Seven Hills has more than 200 spots of tourist interest monuments, museums, memorial houses, parks and public gardens. (Current population: 330,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded by German craftsmen and merchants known as the Saxons of Transylvania, Sighisoara is a fine example of a small, fortified medieval town, which played an important strategic and commercial role on the fringes of central Europe for several centuries.

Unesco World heritage says: Inextricably linked to all the most important historical and political events in Russia since the 13th century, the Kremlin (built between the 14th and 17th centuries by outstanding Russian and foreign architects) was the residence of the Great Prince and also a religious centre. At the foot of its ramparts, on Red Square, St Basil's Basilica is one of the most beautiful of Russian Orthodox monuments.
Unesco World Heritage says: Situated on the ancient trade route between central Asia and northern Europe, Novgorod was Russia's first capital in the 9th century. Surrounded by churches and monasteries, it was a centre for Orthodox spirituality as well as Russian architecture. Its medieval monuments and the 14th-century frescoes of Theophanes the Greek (Andrei Rublev's teacher) illustrate the development of its remarkable architecture and cultural creativity.
St Petersburg
Unesco World Heritage says: The 'Venice of the North', with its numerous canals and more than 400 bridges, is the result of a vast urban project begun in 1703 under Peter the Great. Later known as Leningrad (in the former USSR), the city is closely associated with the October Revolution. Its architectural heritage reconciles the very different Baroque and pure neoclassical styles, as can be seen in the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace and the Hermitage.

Belgrade’s history can be traced back to the Celtic settlement of Singidunum, first mentioned in 279 BC. The Romans conquered the town at the beginning of the first century AD and ruled it for 400 years. After the division of the Roman Empire into the Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire in 395, Singidunum became a border town of the Byzantine Empire. At around 630 AD the first Serbs settled in the area but the city itself became neglected because, by then it had lost its status of border stronghold. Only in the 9th century was the city mentioned again and by then under its Slavic name of Beograd (white town), probably because the city walls were made of white limestone. From the 13th century until the 19th century, Belgrade was fought over, ruled and often badly damaged by the great powers of the day, including the Hungarians, the Austrians and the Turks. In 1867 the Turkish army finally abandoned Belgrade after ruling the city for 346 years. After the first World War, Belgrade became the capital of the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1945 the monarchy was abolished and was replaced by the socialist republic of Yugoslavia under President Tito, with Belgrade as its capital. Since 1992 Belgrade has been the capital of Serbia. During the Kosovo conflict in 1999, Belgrade was bombed by NATO forces. In 2000, Serb President Slobodan Milosevic was forced to resign in a popular uprising. (Current population: 1.6 million)

Unesco World Heritage says: Bardejov is a small but exceptionally complete and well-preserved example of a fortified medieval town, which typifies the urbanisation in this region. Among other remarkable features, it also contains a small Jewish quarter around a fine 18th century synagogue.

League of Historical Cities says: Kiev is situated on the banks of the Dnieper river and has a colorful history of nearly 1,500 years. In the 10th century Kiev's Prince Vladimir introduced Christianity as the state religion, and by the 11th century, Kiev had become one of the largest and finest cities in the Christian world. (Current population: 2,643,000)

Unesco World Heritage adds: Designed to rival Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Kiev's Saint-Sophia Cathedral symbolises the 'new Constantinople', capital of the Christian principality of Kiev, which was created in the 11th century in a region evangelised after the baptism of St Vladimir in 988. The spiritual and intellectual influence of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra contributed to the spread of Orthodox thought and the Orthodox faith in the Russian world from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

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