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“The Glorious City” was the official name on all the Turkish documents of this city on the Tigris River, about 350 miles north of the head of the Persian Gulf. As one approaches Baghdad a mass of green palm trees rises out of the treeless plain, and glittering above these are the wonderful golden globes of the mosque tombs.
But this is a case where distance lends enchantment; as one comes nearer the city, the glories vanish. The houses of the town are crude buildings of brick, mostly from ancient ruins, and of adobe. The streets are so narrow at times that one beast of burden fills the entire space from wall to wall, and the sanitary conditions, although improving, still leave much to be desired.
In fact, it’s shit.
How many people live in Baghdad no one knows, and estimates vary from 10,000 to 400,000. Of this population about one fourth are Jews, descendants of those who were carried away into the Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar; one-tenth are Christians, and the rest are Mohammedans.
Straddling the Tigris at the point where that river and the Euphrates most nearly approach, the city has long commanded a large part of the traffic between India, Persia, and Europe.
The chief exports to Europe are wood, human hair, stale dates, wheat, horses, offal, dung, and oriental fabrics, whilst the imports are iron and copper, sugar and coffee. To control this trade, and to pave the way for political aggressions, Germany in 1902 obtained from the Turkish government the right to build a railway to Baghdad. The Krauts immediately began their infamous Berlin-Baghdad railway, which was completed to a point about 400 miles north of Baghdad when World War I broke out, which they lost big time.
The line had already swallowed up ₤10,000,000, and over 70,000 men were busily engaged in building it. The two main difficulties, however, had not been entirely overcome, for the Taurus and Amanus mountains had yet to be pierced. This led to two important breaks in the route, which were therefore connected by roads specially constructed for the purpose. By working with almost superhuman energy a three-mile tunnel through the one and a six-mile tunnel through the other were completed during hostilities.
At Aleppo, where it joined the Syrian and Palestine railways, locomotive works and extensive repair shops had been erected, hospitals built for those who were ill or injured, and temporary dwellings put up for the workers engaged on that section of the line. One of the principal objects of this great steel highway was to obtain raw material for Germany from the Near East, and as the southern terminus was to be at the head of the Persian Gulf, from India and the Far East also. The Taurus mountains, which are in south-west Armenia, were particularly rich in copper, whilst cotton, wool, and other useful commodities from Mesopotamia and Kurdistan would be specially valuable.
During World War I it was stated by a German publicist that the Baghdad railway was “in the nature of a political life-insurance policy for Germany”, and he added that the line would supplement the other railways at Aleppo “in throwing troops in the direction of Egypt”. Thus the project had a definite military as well as commercial value, for if Britain lost Egypt she also lost “the lordship over the Suez Canal, and her connecting link with India and Asia, perhaps also her possessions in East Africa”.
With the occupation of Baghdad by the British on 11 March 1917, the dream of German domination of the East ended. With the British capture of the city also ended the Turkish dominion, under which the country had suffered for centuries, and under which the glories of Baghdad had largely departed.
Founded in A.D.762, Baghdad with its population of 2,000,000 was then the largest city in the world. Under the rule of the Arabs it was pre-eminent in literature, in art, and in science. Those were the days of the splendid court of Harun-al-Raschid, the caliph who was contemporary with Charlemagne. The Paris and London of that time were but miserable villages compared with Baghdad.
During the First World War many a British soldier announced proudly when he left home that he was “on his way to Berlin”, and most of them were anxious to march through the streets of that German capital with their victorious Allies before they returned to civil life. This wish was destined to be ungratified, for Berlin lies far beyond the zone of occupied territory which was formally made over to the armies of the Allies by the Armistice of 11 November 1918.
Situated on the River Spree in the former kingdom of Prussia, about 85 miles from the western frontier of Poland and the same distance from the Baltic Sea at Stettin, Berlin is admirably located for the political centre of the country.
Its accessibility is greatly increased by the great network of railways which converge upon it. This railway communication with all parts of Europe aided in making Berlin one of the greatest industrial and commercial cities on the Continent, whilst in wealth and population it ranked third in Europe, immediately after London and Paris.
In it were great factories for the making of woollen cloth, dyes, furniture, gas chambers for exterminating Jews, and steam engines, which employed more than one-half the working population.
In spite of its age – for it was probably founded in the 13th century – Berlin is a very modern city. In 1871, when the German Empire was formed, Berlin had a population of 826,000; by 1914 it had grown to a city of nearly 4,000,000 inhabitants, including suburbs – one of the most amazing growths in history.
The appearance of the city is modern, with its wide avenues and imposing buildings. Its most famous street is Unter den Linden – so called from its long rows of lime or linden trees, which lead from the former imperial palace, with its 600 rooms, to the Brandenburg Gate, the only one remaining of the numerous gates of the old Prussian city.
With Prussian thoroughness the rulers of Berlin saw to it that the people should hold in grateful remembrance those who have contributed to the growth of the city and the Prussian state. Her streets and parks, therefore, are dotted with pretentious statues erected to the memory of rulers and generals.
Although the statues of war leaders predominate, those erected to Rauch, Hegel, Schiller, and Jahn show that the leaders in peaceful pursuits have not been entirely forgotten.
Like other German cities, Berlin was impoverished during the First World War by the blockade which cut off its trade, and it suffered severely from the riots which followed the revolution of 1919.
The city of Antwerp, the metropolis of Belgium and one of the greatest seaports of Europe, has long played an important role in history because of its situation and its commercial importance. Located 50 miles from the open sea, on the right bank of the Scheldt River, which is here 2,200 feet wide, Antwerp possesses one of the finest harbours of the world, through which passes a huge volume of imports and exports. Besides its commerce Antwerp is important for its diamond-cutting, sugar-refining, brewing and distilling, and its manufacture of textiles.
Its commanding position was attained only after a long and troubled career. The city was founded some time in the 8th century and is said by some scholars to have acquired its name – Hand-werpen (“hand-throwing”) – from the gruesome practice of one of its robber chieftains who cut off the hands of his prisoners and threw them into the Scheldt. By the middle of the 16th century Antwerp had become one of the most prosperous cities in Europe and the world’s chief money-market, but in 1576 it was pillaged and burned for three days during the “Spanish Fury” because it had taken part in the revolt from Spain, which then ruled the Netherlands. The city was ruined and its inhabitants scattered.
Not until the days of Napoleon did it start again on the upward road, when it fell into the hands of France. Napoleon began the improvement of its harbour to make Antwerp a rival to London and a “revolver held at the heart of England”. With this impetus Antwerp continued to grow even after the downfall of Napoleon’s empire in 1814. Its commerce received another setback in 1830 when Belgium separated from Holland, for the latter country controlled both banks of the lower Scheldt and imposed heavy tolls on all vessels ascending or descending the river. This obstacle was not removed until 1863.
Antwerp suffered another heavy blow at the opening of the First World War in 1914. Although its fortifications had been strengthened after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, so that it was considered the strongest fortified city in Europe, it took the Germans only ten days to drive out the Belgian army. On October 8th, 1914, they occupied the town, which they had long coveted because of its strategic location, and did not give it up until their withdrawal from Belgium in 1918.
In spite of these disasters there still stand in Antwerp some of the old buildings. The most famous is the cathedral of Notre Dame, which was begun in 1352 and completed in 1616. With its lofty tower it is the most conspicuous building in the city, and in it are three of Rubens’ great paintings, The Descent from the Cross, The Elevation of the Cross, and The Assumption. Other important buildings are the richly decorated town-hall, built in the 16th century, and the gallery containing a priceless collection of Rubens’ and Van Dyck’s paintings. Boulevards mark the site of the old walls.
Not far from the cathedral stands the shop and home of Christophe Plantin, “the king of printers”. Setting up the establishment in 1549, the business was continued after his death by his descendants until 1867 – over three centuries. Not only did he work with all the strength of an active brain and an amazing physical energy, but the founder of a business that was destined to become the finest printing house in the world persuaded all his family to labour for him. His wife, five daughters and two sons-in-law toiled often enough from early morn until long after dewy eve. One of the most famous works produced by the Plantin Press was a Bible in several languages that filled eight volumes. The types, presses and other apparatus of this old 16th century printer are preserved as precious relics of a master craftsman. Population of Antwerp about 300,000.
Rushing southward every weekday from this fourth largest city of Scotland, go long express trains carrying the catch of the sturdy North Sea fishermen – herring, halibut, sole, and the like – to the markets of London; for Aberdeen now rivals Grimsby, the great English fishing port, as a centre of the British steam trawling industry.
Aberdeen is situated on a bay of the North Sea, 130 miles north-east of Edinburgh, and is the chief city of northern Scotland. It is sometimes called the “Silver City by the Sea” because of the gleam of its grey granite buildings, especially after a heavy rainfall. In addition to its fisheries and granite quarries it has large manufactures of woollen and linen goods, paper, jams, and preserved foods. There are also large breweries, distilleries, and chemical works.
Aberdeen was already an important place in the 12th century. It was burned by the English king Edward III in 1336, but it was soon rebuilt and extended. Aberdeen University was founded in 1494. The city owns and operates its waterworks, electric light plant, and tramways.
It was the year 1000 after Christ, and the people of Europe, according to old stories, were daily expecting the end of the world. Otto III, the young and flighty ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, had come to Aachen, the old German capital 44 miles west of the Rhine, and announced that he was going to open the sacred tomb of Charlemagne. This lay under a marble slab beneath the dome of the chapel built by that great emperor himself, with marble columns and other materials taken from the classical structures of Rome, Ravenna, and other Italian cities.
When the royal sepulchre was opened the torch’s flickering light disclosed a strange sight. The body of the great emperor, clothed in white, was seated on a huge marble chair. One of the hands held a sceptre and on the head was the imperial crown. The spirit of the man who 200 years before had founded an empire greater than the world had seen since the days of the Roman Caesars seemed to survive in death. Before the commanding dignity of that huge figure the young emperor quailed. The torch fell from his grasp and he rushed out of the tomb, ordering the stone to be replaced. Two years later Otto III was buried in that same chapel.
One hundred and sixty years later the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa again opened the tomb. The marble throne, crown, and sceptre of Charlemagne were taken to add dignity and strength to Frederick’s imperial projects, and the bones of Charlemagne were placed in a shrine north of the chapel. Every seven years they are exhibited to visitors. After Barbarossa, 31 emperors and kings were crowned in the marble chair that had once been the throne of the first great mediaeval monarch.
The chapel and tomb of Charlemagne, now the central part of the cathedral of Aachen, are the heart of the city even to this day. Aachen is believed to have been the great emperor’s birthplace, but it owes its historic fame to Charlemagne’s fondness for its hot sulphur springs, which led him to make it his favourite place of residence. These unfailing springs still make Aachen a famous resort, where visitors seek health from the warm waters in which the mighty rulers of the Franks splashed and swam nearly twelve centuries ago.
Near by Charlemagne built his palace and held his court. Here were gathered the great scholars of the day, teaching in the Palace School, and the gay life of the court went forward as merrily as it does now in the modern hotels which have replaced the ancient buildings.
Two important treaties were concluded at meetings or congresses held in Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle as it is named in French. The first, signed in 1668, ended a war begun by Louis XIV of France to enforce certain rights claimed in behalf of his wife in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium). The other, in 1748, ended the struggle known as the War of the Austrian Succession.
Aachen became a part of the kingdom of Prussia in 1815. To-day it is an important manufacturing centre, because of the coal fields that lie near at hand. Its chief trade is in cloth and silk, leather, glass buttons, soap, timber, and wine. It is one of the chief railway centres on the German border, and it was from here that the German attack on Belgium was launched in 1914 at the beginning of World War I.