This article is a work in progress and I update it once in a while with relevant information as my thinking on this topic evolves.
I am not sure if this will ever be complete, hopefully it does.
Please be vary of accuracy. I’ll add links to sources over time.
Last updated on: 15.01.2024
Throughout history, the largest cities have risen and fallen around the world, often due to changes in trade routes, infrastructure, exploitation of specific resources, migration, and industrialization.
Sometimes we hear about the disproportional influence of Amsterdam in Dutch politics. The city’s influence is probably derived from being the biggest and the wealthiest. However, at one point of time in Dutch history, Amsterdam was over 5 times as big as the second-biggest city of Rotterdam.
A lot has changed since then, policies of decentralisation and bundled deconcentration have dispersed the population a lot more in the Netherlands, with a polycentric network of cities.
- 8th century: The Frisians and the Franks are the main inhabitants of the region that is now the Netherlands. The Frisians control the coastal areas and the islands, while the Franks rule the inland territories. The Frisian city of Dorestad is a major trading centre, connecting the North Sea with the Rhine and the Meuse rivers. The Frankish city of Utrecht is a religious and political centre, where Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious is crowned as king of Aquitaine in 781.
- 9th century: The Vikings raid and plunder the region, especially Dorestad and Utrecht, which decline in importance. The Franks build fortifications and castles to defend themselves, such as Maastricht and Nijmegen. The Frisians lose their autonomy and become part of the Frankish kingdom. The Franks also convert the Frisians and the Saxons to Christianity, establishing dioceses and monasteries.
- 10th century: The region is divided into several counties and lordships, such as Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Gelre, Utrecht and Brabant. The counts of Holland emerge as the most powerful rulers, expanding their territory along the coast and the rivers. The cities of Dordrecht, Haarlem and Leiden are founded by the counts of Holland. The cities of Deventer, Zwolle and Kampen are founded by the bishops of Utrecht. The cities of Groningen, Leeuwarden and Sneek are founded by the Frisian nobles.
- 11th century: The region is part of the Holy Roman Empire, but the emperor has little control over the local lords, who often fight among themselves. The cities grow in size and wealth, thanks to trade, agriculture, and crafts. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Gouda and Zutphen are founded. The cities of Maastricht, Nijmegen, Utrecht and Tiel are granted city rights by the emperor or the bishops. The cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp in Flanders become the main trading partners of the Dutch cities.
- 12th century: The region is affected by the Crusades, the Investiture Controversy and the rise of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. The counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht compete for supremacy over the region, while the counts of Flanders and the dukes of Brabant also intervene. The cities gain more autonomy and privileges from their lords, forming city councils and guilds. The cities of Arnhem, Breda, Den Bosch and Eindhoven are founded. The cities of Dordrecht, Deventer, Zwolle and Kampen join the Hanseatic League, a trade alliance of northern European cities.
- 13th century: The region is involved in the conflicts between the Hohenstaufen and the Welf dynasties, the Mongol invasions and the Seventh Crusade. The counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht continue to clash, while the dukes of Brabant and the kings of England and France also interfere. The cities become more powerful and independent, forming alliances and confederations. The cities of Alkmaar, Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Medemblik are founded. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Maastricht become the largest and most prosperous cities in the region.
- 14th century: The region is affected by the Hundred Years’ War, the Avignon Papacy and the Black Death. The counts of Holland and the dukes of Brabant are the dominant rulers, while the bishops of Utrecht lose their influence. The cities suffer from epidemics, famines and wars, but also experience a cultural and artistic flourishing. The cities of Delft, Leiden and Haarlem become centres of cloth production and trade. The cities of Groningen, Leeuwarden and Sneek form the Frisian Freedom, a federation of autonomous rural communities.
- 15th century: The region is part of the Burgundian Netherlands, a personal union of several Low Countries under the dukes of Burgundy. The Burgundian dukes centralize the administration and taxation, but also respect the privileges and customs of the cities and the provinces. The cities benefit from the peace and stability, as well as the patronage and protection of the dukes. The cities of Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent become the largest and richest cities in Europe, thanks to their trade and finance. The cities of Utrecht, Maastricht, Nijmegen and Zutphen become centres of learning and culture.
- 16th century: The region is part of the Habsburg Netherlands, a personal union of several Low Countries under the kings of Spain. The Habsburg kings impose their Catholic faith and their absolutist rule, sparking the Eighty Years’ War, a revolt of the northern provinces against the Spanish oppression. The northern provinces form the United Provinces, a confederation of sovereign states, while the southern provinces remain loyal to Spain. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leiden and Haarlem become the leaders of the rebellion and the founders of the Dutch Republic. The cities of Antwerp, Brussels, Mechelen and Bruges are besieged and sacked by the Spanish troops and lose their prominence.
- 17th century: The region is divided into the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands, two rival states with different political and religious systems. The Dutch Republic becomes a major maritime and colonial power, competing with England, France and Portugal. The Spanish Netherlands becomes a buffer zone between France and the Holy Roman Empire, suffering from wars and invasions. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leiden and Haarlem experience the Dutch Golden Age, a period of economic, cultural and scientific prosperity. The cities of Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Bruges experience the Spanish Fury, a period of decline and repression.
- 18th century: The region is affected by the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War. The Dutch Republic loses its naval and commercial supremacy, facing internal conflicts and foreign interventions. The Spanish Netherlands passes to the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, who try to modernize and reform the region. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Maastricht become less influential and wealthy, but still retain their cultural and intellectual prestige. The cities of Antwerp, Brussels, Liège and Namur become more prosperous and enlightened, but also more rebellious and discontented.
- 19th century: The region is part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, a constitutional monarchy created by the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon. The kingdom is composed of the former Dutch Republic, the former Austrian Netherlands and the former Prince-Bishopric of Liège. The kingdom is divided by linguistic, religious and economic differences, leading to the Belgian Revolution of 1830, which separates the southern provinces from the northern ones. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht become the main cities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which industrializes.
- 20th century: The region is affected by the World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War and the Decolonization. The Netherlands remains neutral in the First World War, but is occupied by Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The Netherlands became a founding member of NATO and the European Union, as well as welfare states and parliamentary democracies. The Netherlands lost its colonies in Asia and Americas, becoming more multicultural and diverse. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht become the largest and most modern cities in the Netherlands.
- 21st century: The region is part of the European Union, a political and economic union of 27 member states. The Netherlands and Belgium are among the most developed and prosperous countries in the world, with high standards of living and human rights. The Netherlands and Belgium are also among the most progressive and tolerant countries in the world, with liberal policies on euthanasia, abortion, same-sex marriage and cannabis. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht are the main urban centres of the Netherlands.
- 8th century: The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria and East Anglia dominate England. London, York, Winchester and Canterbury are among the largest and most influential cities. Offa, king of Mercia, builds a defensive earthwork called Offa’s Dyke to separate his realm from Wales.
- 9th century: The Vikings raid and settle in various parts of England, especially in the north and east. They establish the Danelaw, a region of Danish law and customs, and create the city of Jorvik (York) as their capital. Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, resists the Viking invasions and recaptures London. He also begins the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a historical record of events.
- 10th century: The Anglo-Saxon kings of Wessex gradually unify England under their rule, defeating the Vikings and the Celtic kingdoms. Athelstan becomes the first king of all England and consolidates his power by building forts and bridges. London, Winchester and York remain the most populous and prosperous cities.
- 11th century: The Norman Conquest of England changes the political and cultural landscape of the country. William the Conqueror defeats Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings and becomes king of England. He builds castles and cathedrals to assert his authority and commissions the Domesday Book, a survey of land and property. London, Winchester, York, Lincoln and Norwich are the largest cities in England, while Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen are the main urban centres in Scotland.
- 12th century: The Angevin Empire, ruled by Henry II and his sons Richard I and John, spans England, Normandy, Anjou, Aquitaine and parts of Ireland and Wales. The Magna Carta, a charter of rights and liberties, is signed by King John and the barons at Runnymede in 1215. The cities of London, Winchester, York, Lincoln, Norwich, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge grow in size and importance, as do the towns of Chester, Shrewsbury, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby.
- 13th century: The First Barons’ War, the Second Barons’ War and the Wars of Scottish Independence mark a period of political instability and conflict in England and Scotland. The Parliament of England, a representative assembly of nobles and clergy, is established by Simon de Montfort and later by Edward I. The cities of London, York, Lincoln, Norwich, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge continue to flourish, while the towns of Coventry, Worcester, Gloucester, Exeter, Salisbury and Canterbury also develop. In Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Stirling are the main urban centres.
- 14th century: The Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt are some of the major events that affect England and Scotland in this century. The population of England declines by about half due to the plague, while the population of Scotland increases slightly. The cities of London, York, Bristol, Norwich and Coventry are the largest in England, while Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee are the largest in Scotland.
- 15th century: The Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, divide England for most of the century. The Tudor dynasty, founded by Henry VII, emerges victorious and consolidates its power by marrying into the Scottish royal family. The cities of London, York, Bristol, Norwich and Coventry remain the most populous and wealthy in England, while Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee are the most populous and wealthy in Scotland.
- 16th century: The Reformation, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the English Renaissance are some of the cultural and religious changes that take place in England and Scotland in this century. Henry VIII breaks with the Roman Catholic Church and establishes the Church of England, while Scotland remains mostly Catholic. Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, reigns for 45 years and oversees a period of exploration, trade and artistic achievement. The cities of London, Bristol, Norwich, York and Exeter are the largest in England, while Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Stirling are the largest in Scotland.
- 17th century: The English Civil War, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution and the Acts of Union are some of the political and constitutional events that shape England and Scotland in this century. Charles I is executed by the Parliamentarians, who establish a republic under Oliver Cromwell. Charles II is restored to the throne after the death of Cromwell, but is succeeded by his Catholic brother James II, who is deposed by William of Orange and Mary II in the Glorious Revolution. England and Scotland are united under one monarch and one parliament in 1707. The cities of London, Bristol, Norwich, York and Exeter are the largest in England, while Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth are the largest in Scotland.
- 18th century: The Industrial Revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars are some of the economic, social and military events that affect England and Scotland in this century. The invention of new machines, such as the steam engine, the spinning jenny and the power loom, transform the production of goods and the growth of trade. The colonies in North America rebel against British rule and declare their independence. France undergoes a radical political and social upheaval, which leads to a series of wars with Britain and its allies. The cities of London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds are the largest in England, while Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Paisley are the largest in Scotland.
- 19th century: The British Empire, the Victorian Era, the Reform Acts and the Irish Home Rule are some of the themes that dominate England and Scotland in this century. Britain expands its overseas territories and becomes the world’s foremost power. Queen Victoria reigns for 63 years and presides over a period of social, cultural and technological progress. The Reform Acts extend the right to vote to more men and eventually to some women. The Irish question becomes a source of conflict and division, as some Irish nationalists seek greater autonomy or independence from Britain. The cities of London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds are the largest in England, while Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Paisley are the largest in Scotland.
- 20th century: The World Wars, the Great Depression, the Welfare State, the Cold War and the Decolonisation are some of the events that shape England and Scotland in this century. Britain is involved in two global conflicts, which result in millions of casualties and huge social and economic changes. The Great Depression causes widespread unemployment and poverty, which leads to the creation of the Welfare State, a system of social security and public services. The Cold War pits Britain and its allies against the Soviet Union and its allies in a tense ideological and military rivalry. The British Empire declines and most of its colonies gain their independence. The cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool are the largest in England, while Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Paisley are the largest in Scotland.
- 21st century: The European Union, the War on Terror, the Scottish Independence Referendum and the Brexit Referendum are some of the issues that affect England and Scotland in this century. Britain joins the European Union, a political and economic union of 28 member states, but later votes to leave it in a referendum in 2016. Britain participates in the War on Terror, a global campaign against terrorism, following the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States. Scotland holds a referendum on its independence from the United Kingdom in 2014, but votes to remain part of it. The cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool are the largest in England, while Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Paisley are the largest in Scotland.
- 8th century: The Carolingian dynasty, founded by Charlemagne, ruled over a large part of Europe, including present-day Germany. Charlemagne established his capital in Aachen, which became a center of culture, learning, and politics. Other important cities in this period were Cologne, Mainz, Regensburg, and Trier.
- 9th century: After the death of Charlemagne, his empire was divided into three parts by the Treaty of Verdun in 843. The eastern part, which later became the Holy Roman Empire, included most of Germany. The cities of Magdeburg, Worms, Speyer, and Bamberg were among the most influential in this region.
- 10th century: The Ottonian dynasty, descended from Charlemagne’s grandson Otto I, consolidated the power of the Holy Roman Empire and expanded its borders. Otto I was crowned as the first emperor in Rome in 962. He also founded the archbishopric of Magdeburg, which became a major ecclesiastical and political center. Other prominent cities in this century were Augsburg, Nuremberg, and Hildesheim.
- 11th century: The Salian dynasty, which succeeded the Ottonians, faced several challenges, such as the Investiture Controversy, a conflict between the papacy and the empire over the appointment of bishops, and the Great Saxon Revolt, a rebellion of the nobles against the central authority. The cities of Goslar, Quedlinburg, and Worms were important sites of royal residence and imperial assemblies. The city of Strasbourg also rose to prominence as a cultural and commercial hub.
- 12th century: The Hohenstaufen dynasty, which came to power after the death of the last Salian emperor, Henry V, in 1125, pursued an ambitious policy of expansion and reform. Under Frederick I Barbarossa, the empire reached its peak of territorial extent and prestige. He also granted many privileges and rights to the cities, which led to the emergence of the free imperial cities, such as Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, and Lübeck. These cities formed alliances and networks, such as the Hanseatic League, to protect their interests and trade.
- 13th century: The Hohenstaufen dynasty ended with the death of Frederick II in 1250, and the empire entered a period of fragmentation and decline, known as the Interregnum. The power of the cities increased, as they gained more autonomy and influence. The city of Hamburg became the leading member of the Hanseatic League, which dominated the trade in the Baltic and North Sea regions. Other important cities in this century were Berlin, Bremen, Erfurt, and Freiburg.
- 14th century: The Luxemburg dynasty, which emerged from the Interregnum, restored some stability and order to the empire. Charles IV, the most notable emperor of this dynasty, issued the Golden Bull of 1356, which established the electoral college of seven princes who had the right to choose the emperor. He also founded the University of Prague, the first in Central Europe. The cities of Aachen, Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, and Rhens were designated as the electoral cities. The city of Prague also became a major center of culture and politics.
- 15th century: The Habsburg dynasty, which succeeded the Luxemburgs, faced many challenges, such as the Hussite Wars, a religious and national uprising in Bohemia, the Swiss Confederacy, a federation of cantons that resisted the Habsburg rule, and the Ottoman threat, which threatened the eastern borders of the empire. The cities of Vienna, Munich, and Heidelberg became the main residences of the Habsburgs. The city of Nuremberg also flourished as a center of art, trade, and innovation.
- 16th century: The Reformation, a religious and social movement that challenged the authority and doctrines of the Catholic Church, had a profound impact on the empire and its cities. Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation, posted his 95 Theses in Wittenberg in 1517, which sparked a wave of protests and reforms. Many cities, such as Augsburg, Magdeburg, Strasbourg, and Wittenberg, adopted the Protestant faith, while others, such as Cologne, Mainz, and Trier, remained Catholic. The religious division led to the Schmalkaldic War, a conflict between the Protestant and Catholic states, which ended with the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which granted each state the right to choose its own religion.
- 17th century: The Thirty Years’ War, a devastating war that involved most of the European powers, ravaged the empire and its cities from 1618 to 1648. The war was triggered by the Defenestration of Prague, an act of rebellion by the Protestant Bohemians against the Catholic Habsburgs. The war resulted in the deaths of millions of people, the destruction of many cities, and the loss of imperial authority. The war ended with the Peace of Westphalia, which recognized the sovereignty of the states and the equality of the religions. The cities of Berlin, Dresden, and Hamburg emerged as the leading cities in the aftermath of the war.
- 18th century: The Enlightenment, a philosophical and cultural movement that emphasized reason, science, and human rights, influenced the empire and its cities. Frederick II, the king of Prussia, was one of the most enlightened rulers, who promoted education, religious tolerance, and administrative reforms. He also expanded his territory through the Silesian Wars and the Seven Years’ War. The city of Berlin became the capital of Prussia and a center of enlightenment. Other important cities in this century were Leipzig, Mannheim, and Weimar.
- 19th century: The Napoleonic Wars, a series of wars that involved France and most of Europe, reshaped the empire and its cities. Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France, conquered and reorganized most of Germany, creating the Confederation of the Rhine, a puppet state of France, and abolishing the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The wars sparked a wave of nationalism and liberalism in Germany, which led to the Wars of Liberation, a series of uprisings and battles that ended the French domination. The Congress of Vienna, which redrew the map of Europe after the wars, created the German Confederation, a loose association of 39 states. The city of Frankfurt became the seat of the confederation and the site of the Frankfurt Parliament, the first attempt to create a unified German state. The city of Vienna also became the capital of the Austrian Empire, which dominated the confederation. Other influential cities in this century were Munich, Stuttgart, and Düsseldorf.
- 20th century: The unification of Germany, a process that culminated in the creation of the German Empire in 1871, transformed the empire and its cities. Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor of Prussia, orchestrated the unification through a series of wars and alliances. He also established the Second Reich, a federal constitutional monarchy, with Wilhelm I as the first emperor. The city of Berlin became the capital of the empire and a metropolis of industry, culture, and politics. The city of Hamburg also grew as a major port and trade center. Other prominent cities in this century were Essen, Cologne, and Dresden. The World Wars, two global conflicts that involved Germany and most of the world, devastated the empire and its cities. The First World War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, resulted in the defeat and collapse of the empire, and the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed harsh reparations and territorial losses on Germany. The Weimar Republic, a democratic republic, was established as the successor state, but faced many economic and political crises. The city of Weimar became the seat of the republic and a center of culture and arts. The city of Munich also witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party, a fascist and nationalist movement, led by Adolf Hitler. The Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, resulted in the total defeat and occupation of Germany, and the Holocaust, the genocide of millions of Jews and other persecuted groups. The Nazi regime, which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945, waged a war of aggression and expansion, and committed many atrocities and crimes. The city of Berlin was the capital of the Third Reich and the site of the final battle and the suicide of Hitler. The city of Nuremberg was the venue of the Nazi rallies and the Nuremberg trials, the prosecution of the Nazi leaders. Other important cities in this century were Bonn, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart. The division of Germany, a state of separation and confrontation that lasted from 1949 to 1990, affected the empire and its cities. Germany was divided into two states, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), which were aligned with the Western and Eastern blocs, respectively, during the Cold War. The city of Berlin was also divided into West Berlin and East Berlin, and separated by the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Iron Curtain. The city of Bonn became the capital of West Germany and the seat of the Bundestag, the parliament. The city of East Berlin became the capital of East Germany. Frankfurt became the financial center of Germany and the home of the European Central Bank. The reunification of Germany, a process that ended the division and reunification of Germany in 1990, affected the empire and its cities.
- 21st century: Berlin became the capital of the unified Germany and the seat of the Bundestag, the parliament. The city of Bonn remained the federal city and the secondary seat of the government. Other significant cities include Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart. Germany is a federal parliamentary republic and a member of the European Union. Germany is one of the most populous and economically powerful countries in Europe, and its cities are hubs of culture, innovation, and diversity. Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne are the next largest cities after Berlin, followed by Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Düsseldorf1
- 8th century: The largest city in France was Paris, which was the capital of the Frankish kingdom under Charlemagne. It had a population of about 25,000 people and was a center of culture, learning, and trade. Other important cities were Tours, Orléans, Reims, and Lyon
- 9th century: The Frankish empire was divided into several kingdoms, and Paris was attacked by the Vikings several times. The city was defended by Count Odo, who became king of the West Franks in 888. Other cities that grew in importance were Metz, Verdun, Laon, and Nantes.
- 10th century: The Carolingian dynasty declined and was replaced by the Capetian dynasty, which established Paris as the royal seat. The city expanded its walls and built the first stone bridge over the Seine. Other cities that prospered were Rouen, Beauvais, Bourges, and Poitiers.
- 11th century: The feudal system developed and the lords of the cities gained more autonomy and power. The cities also became centers of commerce, crafts, and religious life. Some of the largest and most influential cities were Toulouse, Limoges, Angers, Le Mans, and Avignon.
- 12th century: This was a period of cultural and intellectual flourishing, known as the Renaissance of the 12th century. The cities witnessed the rise of the Gothic architecture, the development of the universities, and the growth of the literature and arts. Some of the most prominent cities were Chartres, Amiens, Bordeaux, Montpellier, and Marseille.
- 13th century: This century was marked by the expansion and consolidation of the French monarchy, which increased its control over the cities and the nobility. The cities also faced the challenges of the Crusades, the Albigensian Crusade, and the Mongol invasions. Some of the most important cities were Paris, which reached a population of 200,000 people and became the largest city in Europe, Lyon, which was a major trade hub, Strasbourg, which was a center of political and religious activity, Dijon, which was the capital of the duchy of Burgundy, and Aix-en-Provence, which was the seat of the counts of Provence.
- 14th century: This was a time of crisis and decline for the cities, as they suffered from the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, the Great Famine, and the Jacquerie revolt. The cities also witnessed the rise of the Valois dynasty, the Papal Schism, and the emergence of the national identity. Some of the most resilient and influential cities were Paris, which remained the political and cultural capital, Toulouse, which was a stronghold of the French resistance against the English, Rouen, which was the site of the trial and execution of Joan of Arc, Orléans, which was liberated by Joan of Arc in 1429, and Lille, which was a prosperous textile center.
- The 15th century was a period of recovery and growth for the cities, as they benefited from the end of the Hundred Years’ War, the expansion of trade, and the development of the printing press. The cities also witnessed the rise of the Renaissance, the humanism, and the arts. Some of the most flourishing and innovative cities were Lyon, which became the second largest city in France and a center of banking, printing, and fairs, Bordeaux, which was a major port and wine producer, Tours, which was a center of the French Renaissance and the court of Charles VII and Louis XI, Nancy, which was the capital of the duchy of Lorraine and a center of art and architecture, and Bourges, which was the seat of the Parlement of Paris and a center of law and education.
- The 16th century was a time of turmoil and transformation for the cities, as they faced the Wars of Religion, the Reformation, and the rise of the absolutism. The cities also witnessed the spread of the Renaissance, the exploration, and the colonization. Some of the most significant and diverse cities were Paris, which reached a population of 300,000 people and became the seat of the royal power and the center of the Catholic League, Marseille, which was a major port and a gateway to the Mediterranean and the Orient, Nantes, which was a major port and a center of the Atlantic trade and the slave trade, Geneva, which was a center of the Protestant Reformation and the home of John Calvin, and Strasbourg, which was a free imperial city and a center of humanism and printing.
- The 17th century was a period of glory and grandeur for the cities, as they benefited from the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who made France the dominant power in Europe. The cities also witnessed the development of the classical culture, the arts, and the sciences. Some of the most splendid and prestigious cities were Paris, which reached a population of 500,000 people and became the most populous and magnificent city in Europe, Versailles, which was the site of the royal palace and the court of Louis XIV, Lyon, which was a major economic and cultural center and a center of the silk industry, Toulouse, which was a major judicial and administrative center and a center of the pastel trade, and Montpellier, which was a major medical and educational center and a center of the botanical and zoological studies.
- The 18th century was a time of enlightenment and revolution for the cities, as they experienced the growth of the trade, the industry, and the population. The cities also witnessed the spread of the Enlightenment, the philosophy, and the literature. Some of the most enlightened and revolutionary cities were Paris, which reached a population of 700,000 people and became the center of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, Bordeaux, which was a major port and a center of the wine trade and the Enlightenment, Lille, which was a major industrial and textile center and a center of the resistance against the Austrian occupation, Nancy, which was a major artistic and architectural center and a center of the Stanislas Leszczynski’s reforms, and Rennes, which was a major judicial and administrative center and a center of the Breton patriotism.
- The 19th century was a period of modernization and urbanization for the cities, as they underwent the industrial revolution, the railway development, and the demographic transition. The cities also witnessed the development of the romanticism, the realism, and the impressionism. Some of the most modern and urban cities were Paris, which reached a population of 2.9 million people and became the capital of the Second Empire and the Third Republic, Lyon, which was a major industrial and financial center and a center of the silk and textile industry, Marseille, which was a major port and a center of the trade and immigration, Nantes, which was a major port and a center of the shipbuilding and the abolitionism, and Strasbourg, which was a major cultural and political center and a center of the Franco-German rivalry.
- The 20th century was a time of crisis and innovation for the cities, as they faced the two world wars, decolonization, and globalization. The cities also witnessed the development of the modernism, existentialism, and postmodernism. Some of the most innovative and influential cities were Paris, which reached a population of 8.5 million people and became the center of the art, fashion, and culture, Lyon, which was a major economic and scientific center and a center of the resistance and gastronomy, Toulouse, which was a major aerospace and high-tech center and a center of the Occitan culture and the aviation industry, Nice, which was a major tourist and cultural center and a center of the Riviera and the Carnival, and Lille, which was a major service and cultural center and a center of the Eurostar and the European Capital of Culture.
- The 21st century has been a turbulent and transformative time for the largest French cities, as they have faced various challenges and opportunities in the fields of politics, society, economy, culture, and environment. Some of the major events that have marked this period are the 2005 riots, the 2015 terrorist attacks, the 2017 presidential election, the 2018-2019 Yellow Vests movement, and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. These events have had a significant impact on the urban landscape, the population, the security, the public services, the social movements, and the international relations of the cities. They have also stimulated the cities to innovate, diversify, and cooperate, and to develop their own identities and strengths in a globalized world.
Over 2,000 years ago, Rome became the first city in the world to have a population of more than one million people, and in 2021, it was Italy’s largest city with a population of 2.8 million; however it did go through a period of great decline in the middle ages. After the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476CE, Rome’s population dropped rapidly, below 100,000 inhabitants in 500CE.
- 8th century: The Lombards ruled most of Italy, except for some areas controlled by the Byzantine Empire or the Papacy. The largest cities were Rome, Ravenna, Naples, and Venice.
- 9th century: The Carolingian Empire conquered most of the Lombard kingdom, but its authority declined after the death of Charlemagne. The Saracens raided the coasts of Italy and established bases in Sicily and Sardinia. The largest cities were Rome, Venice, Naples, and Palermo.
- 10th century: The Ottonian dynasty restored some order and stability in Italy, but faced opposition from the local nobles and the Papacy. The Hungarians and the Saracens continued to invade and plunder the Italian lands. The largest cities were Rome, Venice, Naples, and Palermo.
- 11th century: The Normans conquered southern Italy and Sicily from the Byzantines and the Saracens, creating the Kingdom of Sicily. The Papacy reformed and strengthened its spiritual and temporal power, initiating the Investiture Controversy with the Holy Roman Empire. The communes emerged as autonomous and prosperous urban centers in northern and central Italy, challenging the feudal lords and the imperial authority. The largest cities were Rome, Venice, Naples, and Milan.
- 12th century: The Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy fought for the control of Italy in the Wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which divided the Italian cities into two factions. The communes expanded their territories and formed leagues to defend their interests and liberties. The Kingdom of Sicily reached its cultural and political peak under the Norman and Hohenstaufen dynasties. The largest cities were Rome, Venice, Naples, and Milan.
- 13th century: The Hohenstaufen dynasty ended with the death of Frederick II, leaving the Kingdom of Sicily in turmoil. The Papacy moved to Avignon and faced the Great Schism. The communes developed into signorie, or city-states ruled by powerful families or individuals. The Maritime Republics of Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi competed for the domination of the Mediterranean trade and commerce. The largest cities were Venice, Genoa, Naples, and Florence.
- 14th century: The Black Death devastated the population and the economy of Italy, killing about one third of the inhabitants. The signorie consolidated their power and influence, often expanding into other regions. The Renaissance began in Italy, with the flourishing of art, literature, philosophy, and science. The largest cities were Venice, Genoa, Naples, and Florence.
- 15th century: The Kingdom of Naples was contested by the Angevin and Aragonese dynasties, leading to the Neapolitan Wars. The Papacy returned to Rome and became a major patron of the arts and culture. The signorie faced internal conflicts and external threats from the French, the Spanish, and the Holy Roman Empire, which sought to conquer Italy. The Renaissance reached its peak, with the contributions of artists and thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli. The largest cities were Venice, Naples, Milan, and Florence.
- 16th century: The Italian Wars involved the major European powers in a series of conflicts for the control of Italy, resulting in the domination of the Spanish Habsburgs over most of the peninsula. The Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation affected the religious and political landscape of Italy. The Renaissance gave way to the Mannerism and the Baroque styles in art and architecture. The largest cities were Naples, Venice, Milan, and Rome.
- 17th century: The Spanish Habsburgs declined in power and influence, while the French Bourbons and the Austrian Habsburgs increased their presence and ambitions in Italy. The War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Polish Succession involved Italy in the dynastic disputes of the European monarchies. The Baroque culture reached its zenith, with the works of artists such as Bernini, Caravaggio, and Borromini. The largest cities were Naples, Venice, Milan, and Rome.
- 18th century: The War of the Austrian Succession and the War of the Spanish Succession reshaped the political map of Italy, with the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of Naples, and the Duchy of Savoy gaining or losing territories. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution influenced the intellectual and social movements in Italy, inspiring the ideas of reform and nationalism. The Napoleonic Wars brought the end of the Old Regime and the creation of the Italian Republic and the Kingdom of Italy under the French domination. The largest cities were Naples, Milan, Venice, and Rome.
- 19th century: The Risorgimento was the movement that aimed to unify Italy as a single nation, with the leadership of the Kingdom of Sardinia and the support of the French and the British. The First War of Italian Independence (1848-1849), the Second War of Italian Independence (1859-1860), and the Third War of Italian Independence (1866) resulted in the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, with Rome as its capital since 1870. The Industrial Revolution and the Mass Migration transformed the economy and the society of Italy, especially in the northern and central regions. The largest cities were Naples, Milan, Rome, and Turin.
- 20th century: The Kingdom of Italy joined the Triple Alliance with the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1882, but switched sides in the First World War (1914-1918), joining the Entente Powers. The Fascist Regime led by Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, and allied with Nazi Germany in the Second World War (1939-1945), which brought devastation and occupation to Italy. The Italian Resistance and the Allied Forces liberated Italy from the Nazis and the Fascists in 1945, and the Italian Republic was established in 1946, after a referendum that abolished the monarchy. The Economic Miracle and the Social Transformation marked the post-war period, with the rapid growth of industry, services, and living standards. The largest cities were Rome, Milan, Naples, and Turin.
- 21st century: The Italian Republic is a founding member of the European Union and a member of the NATO, the United Nations, the G7, and the G20. It faces the challenges of the Globalization, the Economic Crisis, the Migration Flows, the Environmental Issues, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. It also enjoys a rich and diverse Cultural Heritage, with 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most in the world. The largest cities are Rome, Milan, Naples, and Turin