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Old Towns

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An Old Town, or a historical district, is a preserved urban neighborhood of significant age, built before the emergence of rail travel, large-scale urban planning and high-rise construction in the mid-19th century. The oldest towns have existed since before the beginning of the common era. Several Old Towns are recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Understand[edit]

An Old Town is inhabited or is part of functioning or inhabited city or a town, in contrast to an archaeological site or a ghost town which are usually uninhabited.

The Old Towns that exist today, are not necessarily the first settlements built at the location; many of them have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Some Old Towns, such as Düsseldorf, have been restored to its former appearance in recent times.

Foreign-language terms for Old Towns:

  • Arabic: Medina (not to be confused with the Saudi Arabian city of the same name).
  • Bulgarian: Стар град (Star grad)
  • Czech: Staré město
  • Dutch: Oude stad
  • French: Vieille ville
  • German: Altstadt
  • Italian: Centro Storico
  • Polish: Stare Miastro
  • Portuguese: Cidade Velha
  • Serbo-Croatian: Stari Grad
  • Norwegian: Gamleby

Get around[edit]

Since the very purpose of Old Towns was to collect buildings within walking distance of each other they were built to be more pedestrian oriented during a time before the existence of automobiles. Old Towns usually have narrow streets and even narrower alleys, where pedestrians move easier than automobiles.

Pre-modern cities typically had less than 100,000 inhabitants (with a few exceptions, such as Rome, Istanbul and Beijing) were densely populated, so they are usually less than a kilometer across. Due to grade separation, staircases and cobblestone, travellers with disabilities might have difficulties to get through some points. Wheeled suitcases, strollers and bicycles can also be hard to get through.

Entering an Old Town by automobile can be physically impossible, illegal, or at least very difficult.

See[edit][add listing]

Architecture in Old Towns can be totally unique. Old Towns are usually dominated by city walls or other fortifications, together with palaces and religious buildings (churches, mosques, temples etc). Non-government profane buildings can be prominent in merchant cities, such as Venice.

In some of the Old Towns the palaces and some houses may be converted to a science, art, history, or a biographical museum of a famous person who was born in, had lived in and/or even died in that particular house. Not just one but multiple buildings could be converted to different museums within close proximity to each other. Other palaces can be converted to government offices or for private use with limited or no public access. The religious buildings are typically still used for religious services but can be open for viewing, like a museum when religious services are not in session. Typically religious services will take precedent over public tours. Rules for indoor photography varies or can be more sensitive or even prohibited in religious settings. Some are free to enter while others charge an admission (at varying rates), or you decide on a donation basis.

Do[edit][add listing]

Several Old Towns are served by horse-carriage rides, in old-style carriages. These are often costly, far from genuine, and should primarily be considered if a guided tour is included.

Several Old Towns have traditional festivals, connecting to their past heritage. Whether carried on since old times (such as Sechseläuten in Zürich), or made up by posterity (such as the Medieval Week in Visby), they can provide an experience beyond the usual, as well as overcrowded venues.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Old Towns usually contain different kinds of shopping: traditional arts and crafts, as well as mass-produced souvenirs and mundane shopping.

Eat[edit][add listing]

As Old Towns are frequented by travellers, meals can be overpriced, and hygiene might be deficient. Best places to eat at are those that are popular with locals. Look inside to see how busy they are and if the people inside are locals or visitors. Avoid those that are frequented most by travellers or are empty.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

The available accommodations inside the Old Towns are usually limited in size and comfort, compared to the Grand Old Hotels of the late-19th century. The available accommodations can anything from 1 star hostels to 5 star boutique hotels or even international chain hotels that fit into the architecture and anything in between depending on the popularity of the town. Rooms are rarely standardized, you should have a look at the room or at several rooms before you make the deal.

Stay safe[edit]

As Old Towns are often packed with travellers, be aware of common scams. Street lighting might be deficient in Old Towns. In other places the Old Town may be a high crime area or next to one where there are high incidences of street crime or even kidnapping; or in a major war zone such as Aleppo or Sana'a (one of several listed below).

Famous Old Towns[edit]

This list includes inhabited urban districts of decent size and population, open to the public, that have remained largely intact since around 1850 or earlier, or have been faithfully restored to that state.

Europe[edit]

Most of the South European cities date back to the Roman Empire or even before, or were founded during the Middle Ages (AD 500-1500). Several of them bear scars from warfare. Several Old Towns (not least in Germany and Italy) were once independent city-states. Today, just a few of them fly their own flag (Monaco, San Marino etc).

Middle East[edit]

The Middle East contains many of the world's oldest cities, some of them inhabited for several thousand years.

(NOTE: Due to various conflicts in the Middle East it is currently unsafe to travel to Yemen, Iraq, Syria and the Gaza Strip. Some of these countries or regions are sketchy with high rates of homicides, kidnappings, civil unrest, corruption and/or terrorism by insurgent group(s) while others are outright war zones. See the linked article of the respective country you want, Wikitravel's War zone safety article and/or your country's foreign ministry's travel warning site for updates of the situation there)

Asia[edit]

(NOTE: Due to various conflicts and threat of terrorism it is currently unsafe to travel to Afghanistan, the Philippines (insurgency in Sulu, Zamboanga and Sabah), Myanmar (Insurgency in Shan, Mon, Chin (Zomi), Karen, Kayah, Rakhine and Kachin states other areas remain safe), Thailand (Insurgency & instability in some of the deep southern provinces, other areas remain safe) and Pakistan. Some of these countries are sketchy in some regions with high rates of homicides, kidnappings, civil unrest, corruption and/or terrorism by insurgent groups while it remain safe in other parts of the same country. Others are outright civil war zones. See the linked article of the respective country you want, Wikitravel's War zone safety article and/or your country's foreign ministry's travel warning site for updates of the situation there

Africa[edit]

Most Old Towns in North Africa have an Arabic (or at least Islamic) heritage, but some have an even earlier history.

(NOTE: Due to various conflicts and threat of terrorism and the Ebola outbreak in some parts of Africa it is currently unsafe to travel to the remote southern Algeria, Egypt, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia (Somaliland is still safe), Sudan, and South Sudan. Some of these countries are sketchy with high rates of homicides, kidnappings, civil unrest, corruption and/or terrorism by insurgent group(s) while others are outright war zones. See the linked article of the respective country you want, Wikitravel's War zone safety article and/or your country's foreign ministry's travel warning site for updates of the situation there.)

Americas[edit]

The Americas have some colonial Old Towns from the time between the European arrival in 1492, and the independence movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of these are in the Caribbean (current & former French, Dutch, English & Spanish territories); New Spain (Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Florida and southwestern U.S.); New Granada (Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela); and in other coastal areas of Latin America.

(NOTE: Due to war like violence caused by drug cartels, criminal gangs and insurgents (in Colombia) it is currently unsafe to travel to Mexico (states of Chihuahua (especially Ciudad Juarez), Guerro, Sinaloa (except Mazatlan), Coahuila, Durango, Jalisco (outside of Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta especially the areas near the Zacatecas and Michocoan borders), Guerro, Michocoan (outside of Morelia & Lazaro Cardenas), Nuevo Laredo, Sinaloa (outside of Mazatlan), Tamaulipas (especially in Matamoros but also in remote areas), Veracruz and Zacatecas (outside of Zacatecas city)) and Colombia (The remote areas in the departments of Chocó (towards Panama), Cauca and Valle del Cauca (especially areas south of Cali towards Ecuador and west towards the Pacific coast); eastern Meta, Vichada, and Arauca in the east; and all of the Amazona department except for Leticia). Other countries in the region (Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela) are sketchy with high rates of homicides, assault, civil unrest, corruption, robbery/muggings and other violence perpetrated by gangs and/or other criminals. See the linked article of the respective country you want, Wikitravel's War zone safety article and/or your country's foreign ministry's travel warning site for updates of the situation there)

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