The Changing Faces of Cities

The world is a very dynamic place and if we look back throughout history we can see how much it changes. Many travelers love exploring the history of places they visit and comparing and contrasting the ups and downs of destinations. By understanding the changing faces of cities we can see how culture, power and people have changed. 

One of the ways to evaluate the importance of a city is to look at its population. So we’ve compiled a timeline of the most populous, and thus most influential cities, over nearly two thousand years. Don’t worry it isn’t that long of a list, but it does show, in most cases, that the cities which attract people to this day, have often been at the forefront of of people’s minds for a long time.

Cities by Population & Year

  • Rome – 300
  • Rome – 400
  • Constantinople (Istanbul) – 500
  • Constantinople (Istanbul) – 600
  • Chang’an – 700
  • Chang’an – 800
  • Baghdad – 900
  • Baghdad – 1000
  • Baghdad – 1100
  • Hangzhou – 1200
  • Hangzhou – 1300
  • Nanjing – 1400
  • Beijing – 1500
  • Beijing – 1600
  • Beijing – 1700
  • Beijing – 1800
  • London – 1900

It’s interesting to see how much Chinese cities dominated the globe from 300 AD to 1900 AD. European cities were the largest only in 300-500 AD back in the day when “all roads lead to Rome” and when London took over in 1900 at the crest of the British Empire.

Society and politics are complicated so size isn’t always a predictor of power, but in general it does show the importance of a place. Aside from Baghdad for obvious reasons and Chang’an, most of these dominant cities are still a hit with tourists. The changing faces of cities is a cool indicator of the fortunes of global urban areas.


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