9 of the world's greatest cities before they became cities

Like all living things, cities have lifespans.

Some, like Paris, are ancient — over 2,000 years old. Others are adolescent in comparison.

Here are the maps, paintings, and old-time photographs that show the journeys of our greatest cities:

49 PHOTOS
The world's greatest cities before they were cities
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The world's greatest cities before they were cities

Rio de Janeiro was founded by Portuguese colonists in 1565.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Guanabara Bay, the second largest bay in Brazil, was one of the main draws.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

By 1711, the city had grown.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons 

And it's still one of the most picturesque cities in the world.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

New York, as you might have heard, was first called New Amsterdam when it was colonized by Dutch settlers in the early 17th century. It was renamed NYC in 1664 in honor of the Duke of York.

Photo Credit:Wikipedia Commons

This woodcut of southern Manhattan dates from 1651, when it was still named New Amsterdam.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Between 1870 and 1915, New York's population tripled — surging from 1.5 million to 5 million residents. In this 1900 photo, Italian immigrants crowd the Lower East Side's Mulberry Street.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

So the city invested in infrastructure — like the Manhattan Bridge, pictured here in 1909 — to support its burgeoning population.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

New York has 8.4 million people living in its five boroughs, according to 2013 census numbers.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Archaeologists say that the first people to settle Paris were the Parisii, a Celtic tribe that set up a settlement on the Seine at around 250 BC

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

They settled the Île de la Cité, now the site of Notre Dame.

(Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

The Parisii had really sweet coins, like these, which are kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia commons

By the early 1400s, when this painting was made, Paris was already one of Europe's largest cities, if not the largest. That's the Palais de la Cité, a castle on the Île de la Cité, behind the wall.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia commons

Now it's one of the most beloved cities on Earth.

Photo Credit: Getty

Located along the Huangpu River in central Shangai, The Bund neighborhood became a global financial center in the late 1800s, featuring trading houses from the US, Russia, the UK, and Europe.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Old City of Shanghai — pictured here in the 1880s — came complete with moat.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

It was bustling. The commercial success turned a fishing town into the unfortunately named "Pearl of the Orient."

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

In 1987, the Shanghai district of Pudong was far from developed. It's that marshy area on the other side of the Huangpu River, opposite of the Bund.

 REUTERS/Stringer

In the early 1990s, Pudong opened up to foreign investment.

Photo Credit : Reuters 

The area quickly went vertical.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Today, the Bund is one of the most beautiful places in all of China.

 REUTERS/Aly Song

And Pudong is one of the most futuristic.

REUTERS/Aly Song

Istanbul (called Byzantium, then Constantinople) was founded in 660 BCE. Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

Photo Credit: wikipedia commons

The Ottomans quickly transformed the city from a hub of Christianity to a symbol of Islamic culture, building ornate mosques.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons 

Starting in the 19th century, the city expanded northward. Istanbul's commercial center was constructed near the Galata Bridge, which has been re-built five times over the past five centuries.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Istanbul remains the cultural center of Turkey today.

Photo Credit: Getty

The Romans founded Londinium (now known as London) in 43 AD. You can see the city's first bridge, crossing over the Thames River, in the illustration below.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

By the 11th century, London was the largest port in England.

 (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Westminster Abbey, founded in the 10th century, is a World Heritage Site and one of London's oldest and most important buildings. Here it is in a 1749 painting.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

In the 17th century, London suffered from the Great Plague, which killed about 100,000 people. In 1666, the Great Fire broke out — It took the city a decade to rebuild.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

During the Georgian era (from 1714 to 1830), new districts like Mayfair formed, and new bridges over the Thames encouraged development in South London.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The city continued to rise to the global empire that it is today.

Photo Credit: Getty

Mexico City, originally named Tenochtitlán, was founded under the Aztec Empire in 1325.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés landed there in 1519, and conquered it soon after. Tenochtitlán was renamed "Mexico" in the 15th century, because the Spanish found it easier to pronounce.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Mexico City instituted a grid system (which is how many colonial Spanish cities were set up) starting in the 16th century, with the Zócalo as the main square.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

In the late 19th century, the city started developing a modern infrastructure, including roads, schools, and public transport — though many of these resources were concentrated in wealthy areas.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Mexico City grew upwards in the 1950s with the construction of the Torre Latinoamericana — the city's first skyscraper.

Photo Credit: Getty

Today, Mexico City is a vibrant home to over 8.9 million people.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Moscow was founded in the 12th century. By the 17th century, the Tsars (aka Slavic monarchs including Ivan IV and the Romanovs) were in charge.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The city grew around the Moskva river.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Street vendors set up around the Kremlin.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The world-famous St. Basil's Cathedral was completed in 1561, and it continues to wow visitors with its historic charm...

Photo Credit: Getty

... while Moscow gets more cutting-edge every year.

Photo Credit: Getty 

The region near today's Johannesburg was originally inhabited by the San people, an indigenous group of hunter-gatherers, roughly 20,000 years ago. In the 13th century, Bantu-speaking people moved to the area, formed small villages, farmed, and mined for iron.

Photo Credit: South African History Online 

A gold basin, called Witwatersrand, was discovered in 1884, which attracted many Europeans to the area. Today, the basin holds the world's largest known gold reserves and has produced over 1.5 billion ounces of the precious metal.

Photo Credit: The National Library of France

Around this time, the city was named Johannesburg — though historians don't know exactly why. The city's earliest records, which may have offered information about its etymology, is lost.

Photo Credit: The European Library

By 1900, over 100,000 people lived in Johannesburg.

Photo Credit: The European Library 

And today, it is home to over 4.4 million residents, making it the largest city in South Africa.

Photo Credit: Getty 

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Drake Baer contributed to an earlier version of this story.

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