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For a travelling enthusiast, city breaks are always high on the agenda. Visiting different cities is where we can really immerse ourselves into another culture, with so much food, history, architecture and more to enjoy. History is the operative word here. These cities have stood there for so long, it’s easy to forget what came before.

Emerald Home Improvements have made these before and after comparisons of global cities before humans settled there and it adds an interesting dimension to the cities we love to visit.

When you consider the history of a city, you think it’s been there for ages. The old cathedrals, churches, and the folk tales and myths, they give a mystique and identity to the place. But if you consider that humans have been around for nearly 3 million years, these cities have been built in a flash.

If you think of the history of humans as a 24-hour clock, none of these cities existed at 11:59pm. It’s quite interesting to think about as when you look at it one way, a city is the process of hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of cultivation, planning and effort. But if you look at it in relation to human history, these things were built in seconds!

Let’s take a closer look at the examples Emerald looked at:


The capital of the UK, London is a global hub and a true city of the world. London began life as a strategic settlement for the Romans in roughly 43 AD as the narrowest point of the Thames River that can be bridged over, and in a wider sense for its placement in Europe.

A medieval history of Britain says that a settlement has existed there for a thousand years before the Romans, though. Now home to roughly 9 million people, London sprawls over a massive distance and is a serious contender for best city in the world. Before it became a world city, it was largely a ‘hunting forest’ dominated by oak trees.

New York

New York City is a true icon of the world and is very representative of America as a whole. Never-stopping, energetic, wild and free, New York has over 8 million inhabitants. Native American groups had settled where New York City stands today. They would use the waterways for fishing and trading.

Things changed when they had their first visitors from Europe. An Italian was the first European to step foot in New York in 1524. Violent power games ensued over the next hundreds of years between the Native Americans, the Dutch and the British. Before it became the concrete jungle we know it as today, it would’ve been dominated by vast ice ridges, which are reflected in some of the place and street names within the city today, like Ridgewood and Crown Heights.


Venice truly is a marvel of human engineering and innovation. Before a city stood there, it was uninhabited marshland. The geographical features of the land did not lend itself to settlement. But where there’s a will there’s a way. Settled by refugees fleeing violent tribes from Germany and beyond, Venice is now the ‘Floating City’. The fleeing peoples chose this area as it was very difficult to be chased through the lagoon.

As the timelapse shows, before Venice, the land was vast marshland. Now, it is a marvel of human architecture, with its truly distinct personality and romantic canals and waterways. Venice faces many challenges in the future as sea levels rise, but as a resilient city, it will adapt and hopefully overcome.


Throughout history, countless towns and settlements have sprung up where natural wealth has been found. During the Gold Rush era of America, towns were springing up all over the West when someone struck gold. Most of them now lie as ghost towns.

Dubai has a similar story. Originally nothing but a fishing village in the desert until the 1960s, oil was struck and a city was built. To think Dubai has transformed into what it is now in just 60-odd years is quite mind-boggling. Now home to the largest building in the world and artificial islands, Dubai is the spiritual home of obscene wealth and decadent luxury.

Cape Town

The legislative capital of South Africa, Cape Town, stands at the foot of Table Mountain. An early history of the city tells us that in the indigenous language of the area, it was known as ‘where clouds gather’. There’s not much known about the first residents of Cape Town, but there are remnants and evidence of settlement going back 15,000 years.

Then the Europeans came. The Portuguese were the first to make contact, and the Dutch eventually set up trading posts and took control of the area before ceding control to the Brits. Cape Town became a very important city and was a flashpoint in the history of the gruesome Transatlantic Slave Trade. Now home to 500,000 people, it’s easy to see why this was an attractive place to those sea-faring explorers, looking for land to conquer, as the natural beauty of the area is plain to see.


Villages have existed on the Kanto Plain that Tokyo sits on since 3000 BC. All the way up to the 1600s, it was a humble, rural fishing settlement known as Edo. Edo was selected to be the military headquarters of an esteemed general in 1590 and a castle was erected there. Edo grew and grew to become the world’s largest city in 1721 with a population of 1 million.

Tokyo is now home to just under 14 million people, making it a truly massive metropolis. With more skyscrapers than you can shake a stick at, it’s a cultural and financial hub of the world and a hugely popular tourist destination. Before it became the behemoth it is today, it would’ve been covered in forest.