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 |
Unesco World Heritage says: Graz is a particularly fine example of a central European urban complex, which experienced many centuries of Habsburg rule. The old city is a harmonious blend of the architectural styles and artistic movements that have succeeded one another since the Middle Ages, together with cultural influences from the neighbouring regions.
Unesco World Heritage says: Salzburg has managed to preserve an extraordinarily rich urban fabric, developed over the period from the Middle Ages to the 19th century when it was a city state ruled by a prince-archbishop. Its Flamboyant Gothic art attracted many craftsmen and artists before the city became even better known through the work of the Italian architects Vincenzo Scamozzi and Santini Solari, to whom the centre of Salzburg owes much of its Baroque appearance. This meeting-point of northern and southern Europe perhaps sparked the genius of Salzburg's most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose name has been associated with the city ever since.
Unesco World Heritage says: Vienna developed from early Celtic and Roman settlements into a Medieval and Baroque city, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century. The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, as well as the late 19th century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks. (Current population: 1,560,000)
Unesco World Heritage adds: From the 18th century to 1918, Schönbrunn was the residence of the Habsburg emperors. It was designed by the architects Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Nicolaus Pacassi and is full of outstanding examples of decorative art. Together with its gardens, the site of the world's first zoo in 1752, it is a remarkable Baroque ensemble and an alsmost perfect example of Gesamtkunstwerk.
League of Historical Cities says: Brussels was founded in 979 and quickly grew to become a place of commercial and political power. Early on, the city became renowned throughout Europe for its scarlet-coloured wool and its richly adorned tapestries. Though Brussels was damaged in the Second World War, it remains one of Europe's most beautiful cities and continues to remain as influential force in the European Community.
Unesco World Heritage adds: La Grand-Place in Brussels is a remarkably homogeneous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The architecture provides a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of the period in this important political and commercial centre.
Unesco World Heritage adds: The four major town houses - Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta - located in Brussels and designed by the architect Victor Horta, one of the earliest initiators of Art Nouveau, are some of the most remarkable pioneering works of architecture of the end of the 19th century. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterised by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building.
Unesco World Heritage says: Bruges is an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries, and where original Gothic constructions form part of the town's identity. As one of the commercial and cultural capitals of Europe, Bruges developed cultural links to different parts of the world. It is closely associated with the school of Flemish Primitive painting.
Unesco World Heritage says: The Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Tournai was built in the first half of the 12th century. It is especially distinguished by a Romanesque nave of extraordinary dimensions, a wealth of sculpture on its capitals and a transept topped by five towers, all precursors of the Gothic style. The choir, rebuilt in the 13th century, is in the pure Gothic style.
Unesco World Heritage says: Amiens Cathedral, in the heart of Picardy, is one of the largest 'classic' Gothic churches of the 13th century. It is notable for the coherence of its plan, the beauty of its three-tier interior elevation and the particularly fine display of sculptures on the principal facade and in the south transept.
Unesco World Heritage says: In the 14th century, this city in the South of France was the seat of the papacy. The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking fortress lavishly decorated by Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, dominates the city, the surrounding ramparts and the remains of a 12th-century bridge over the Rhone. Beneath this outstanding example of Gothic architecture, the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms complete an exceptional group of monuments that testify to the leading role played by Avignon in 14th century Christian Europe.
League of Historical Cities says: Bordeaux's history as a Roman province, then a region long coveted by England and a major French port has supported its historical identity as a city of international repute. As a city of commerce and worldwide centre in the wine trade, Bordeaux is also home to a range of thriving economic activities that combine with modernity. (Current population: 210,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, one of the founders of the modern science of conservation.
Unesco World Heritage says: Partly built starting in 1145, and then reconstructed over a 26-year period after the fire of 1194, Chartres Cathedral marks the high point of French Gothic art. The vast nave, in pure ogival style, the porches adorned with fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, and the magnificent 12th and 13thcentury stained glass windows, all in remarkable condition, combine to make it a masterpiece.
Unesco World Heritage says: The long history of Lyons, which was founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC as the capital of the Three Gauls and has continued to play a major role in Europe's political, cultural and economic development ever since, is vividly illustrated by its urban fabric and the many fine historic buildings from all periods.
League of Historical Cities says: Founded in 985 AD, Montpellier has since the 12th century been famous for its medical faculty. It has always been a cosmopolitan city, open to the sea and influences from all over the Mediterranean. It has numerous private houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Later developments blend harmoniously with the old town - there is sensitive town planning, an emphasis on culture and the quality of life, a dynamic Technopolis. (Current population: 200,000)
League of Historical Cities says: Since the time of Henry IV, the design and scale of Paris has been a masterpiece of harmony for 400 years. Among the city's many enlightened design concepts are a series of regulations that determine the height of buildings according to the width of the street they stand on.
Unesco World Heritage adds: From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are architectural masterpieces while Haussmann's wide squares and boulevards influenced late 19th and 20th century town planning the world over. (Current population: 2,152,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: The outstanding handling of new architectural techniques in the 13th century, and the harmonious marriage of sculptural decoration with architecture, has made Notre-Dame in Reims one of the masterpieces of Gothic art. The former abbey still has its beautiful 9th century nave, in which lie the remains of Archbishop St Rémi (440533), who instituted the Holy Anointing of the kings of France. The former archiepiscopal palace known as the Tau Palace, which played an important role in religious ceremonies, was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century.
Unesco World Heritage says: Surrounded by two arms of the River Rhine, the Grande Ile (Big Island) is the historic centre of the Alsatian capital. It has an outstanding complex of monuments within a fairly small area. The cathedral, the four ancient churches and the Palais Rohan former residence of the prince-bishops far from appearing as isolated monuments, form a district that is characteristic of a medieval town and illustrates Strasbourg's evolution from the 15th to the 18th century.
Unesco World Heritage says: Construction of this palatine chapel, with its octagonal basilica and cupola, began c. 790800 under the Emperor Charlemagne. Originally inspired by the churches of the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire, it was splendidly enlarged in the Middle Ages. (Aachen's 14th century City Hall)
Unesco World Heritage says: From the 10th century onwards, this town became an important link with the Slav peoples, especially those of Poland and Pomerania. During its period of greatest prosperity, from the 12th century onwards, the architecture of Bamberg strongly influenced northern Germany and Hungary. In the late 18th century it was the centre of the Enlightenment in southern Germany, with eminent philosophers and writers such as Hegel and Hoffmann living there.
League of Historical Cities says: Cologne, the oldest of the major German cities, began as the town of the Ubiis in 38 BC. The city developed along the Rhine River at around the river's halfway point. Cologne is famous as a sightseeing destination and cultural centre. The Cologne Cathedral is one of Europe's finest standing examples of Gothic style architecture and the most visited building in Germany. (Current population: 960,000)
Unesco World Heritage adds: Begun in 1248, the construction of Cologne Cathedral took place in several stages and was not completed until 1880. Over seven centuries, successive builders were inspired by the same faith and a spirit of absolute fidelity to the original plans. Apart from its exceptional intrinsic value and the artistic masterpieces it contains, Cologne Cathedral testifies to the enduring strength of European Christianity.
Unesco World Heritage says: Lübeck the former capital and Queen City of the Hanseatic League was founded in the 12th century and prospered until the 16th century as the major trading centre for northern Europe. It has remained a centre for maritime commerce to this day, particularly with the Nordic countries. Despite the damage it suffered in the Second World War, the basic structure of the old city, consisting mainly of 15th- and 16th-century patrician residences, public monuments (the famous Holstentor brick gate), churches and salt storehouses, remains unaltered.
Unesco World Heritage says: With 500 hectares of parks and 150 buildings constructed between 1730 and 1916, Potsdam's complex of palaces and parks forms an artistic whole, whose eclectic nature reinforces its sense of uniqueness. It extends into the district of Berlin-Zehlendorf, with the palaces and parks lining the banks of the River Havel and Lake Glienicke. Voltaire stayed at the Sans-Souci Palace, built under Frederick II between 1745 and 1747.
Unesco World Heritage says: Speyer Cathedral, a basilica with four towers and two domes, was founded by Conrad II in 1030 and remodelled at the end of the 11th century. It is one of the most important Romanesque monuments from the time of the Holy Roman Empire. The cathedral was the burial place of the German emperors for almost 300 years.
Unesco World Heritage says: In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the small Thuringian town of Weimar witnessed a remarkable cultural flowering, attracting many writers and scholars, notably Goethe and Schiller. This development is reflected in the high quality of many of the buildings and of the parks in the surrounding area.
Unesco World Heritage says: This magnificent Baroque palace one of the largest and most beautiful in Germany and surrounded by wonderful gardens was created under the patronage of the prince-bishops Lothar Franz and Friedrich Carl von Schönborn. It was built and decorated in the 18th century by an international team of architects, painters (including Tiepolo), sculptors and stucco-workers, led by Balthasar Neumann.
Unesco World Heritage says: Illustrating the civilisations, myths and religions that flourished in Greece over a period of more than 1,000 years, the Acropolis, the site of four of the greatest masterpieces of classical Greek art the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheum and the Temple of Athena Nike can be seen as symbolising the idea of world heritage. (Current population: 886,000)
Ferrara, which grew up around a ford over the River Po, became an intellectual and artistic centre that attracted the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here, Piero della Francesca, Jacopo Bellini and Andrea Mantegna decorated the palaces of the House of Este. The humanist concept of the 'ideal city' came to life there in the neighbourhoods built from 1492 onwards by Biagio Rossetti according to the new principles of perspective. The completion of this project marked the birth of modern town planning and influenced its subsequent development.
Unesco World Heritage says: Built on the site of an Etruscan settlement, Florence, the symbol of the Renaissance, rose to economic and cultural pre-eminence under the Medici in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its 600 years of extraordinary artistic activity can be seen above all in the 13th-century cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), the Church of Santa Croce, the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, the work of great masters such as Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Michelangelo. (Current population: 440,000)
Unesco World Heritage says: From the Neapolis founded by Greek settlers in 470 BC to the city of today, Naples has retained the imprint of the successive cultures that emerged in Europe and the Mediterranean basin. This makes it a unique site, with a wealth of outstanding monuments such as the Church of Santa Chiara and the Castel Nuovo.
Unesco World Heritage says: The world's first botanical garden was created in Padua in 1545. It still preserves its original layout - a circular central plot, symbolising the world, surrounded by a ring of water. Other elements were added later, some architectural (ornamental entrances and balustrades) and some practical (pumping installations and greenhouses). It continues to serve its original purpose as a centre for scientific research.
Unesco World Heritage says: Standing in a large green expanse, Piazza del Duomo houses a group of monuments known the world over. These four masterpieces of medieval architecture - the cathedral, the baptistery, the campanile (the 'Leaning Tower') and the cemetery - had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century.
Unesco World Heritage says: Ravenna was the seat of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of Byzantine Italy until the 8th century. It has a unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments. All eight buildings - the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neonian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe - were constructed in the 5th and 6th centuries. They show great artistic skill, including a wonderful blend of Graeco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles.
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded, according to legend, by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC, Rome was first the centre of the Roman Republic, then of the Roman Empire, and it became the capital of the Christian world in the 4th century. The World Heritage site, extended in 1990 to the walls of Urban VIII, includes some of the major monuments of antiquity such as the Forums, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, Trajan's Column and the Column of Marcus Aurelius, as well as the religious and public buildings of papal Rome. (Current population: 2,829,000)
Unesco World Heritage adds: The Vatican City, one of the most sacred places in Christendom, attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre is St Peter's Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. The basilica, erected over the tomb of St Peter the Apostle, is the largest religious building in the world, the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderna.
Unesco World Heritage says: Siena is the embodiment of a medieval city. Its inhabitants pursued their rivalry with Florence right into the area of urban planning. Throughout the centuries, they preserved their city's Gothic appearance, acquired between the 12th and 15th centuries. During this period the work of Duccio, the Lorenzetti brothers and Simone Martini was to influence the course of Italian and, more broadly, European art. The whole city of Siena, built around the Piazza del Campo, was devised as a work of art that blends into the surrounding landscape.
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world's greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.
Unesco World Heritage says: The historic city of Verona was founded in the 1st century AD. It flourished particularly under the rule of the Scaliger family in the 13th and 14th centuries and as part of the Republic of Venice from the 15th to 18th centuries. Verona, a city of culture and art, has preserved a remarkable amount of monuments from antiquity and the medieval and Renaissance periods, and represents an outstanding example of a military stronghold.
Unesco World Heritage says: Founded in the 2nd century BC in northern Italy, Vicenza prospered under Venetian rule from the early 15th to the end of the 18th century. The work of Andrea Palladio (150880), based on a detailed study of classical Roman architecture, gives the city its unique appearance. Palladio's urban buildings, as well as his villas, scattered throughout the Veneto region, had a decisive influence on the development of architecture. His work inspired a distinct architectural style known as Palladian, which spread to England and other European countries, and also to North America.
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