If you're a human being on planet Earth right now, chances are pretty good you're reading this from a city. The trend of increased urbanization has been one of the most fascinating demographic trends of the modern age, as increased agricultural productivity and the economic benefits of living close together have combined to bring billions of people from the countryside into the city, often without so much as wiping their feet first. But as more and more time passed, cities graduated from a place people came together to work and trade into a place that looked like home to much of the world's population.
With urbanization came countless blessings: we have seen enormous increases in economic growth, cultural achievements have blossomed, and technological advancement leap from one to the next so fast as to defy counting. Whatever mankind's future might look like, it seems likely that we will face it together in our glittering, tech-smart urban landscapes.
How much do you know about the cities of the world? Each one is special, with its own distinct character. Can you identify the greater nations that play host some of the world's most magnificent cities? Get your atlas and your GPS ready, pack up your portable translator, and give it your best shot!
The city of Moscow is the capital of the Russian Federation, and one of three Russian "Federal" cities. This essentially means that it is a district within itself for administrative purposes, due to its large population. It is famous for its architecture and artistic culture.
The island of Hong Kong is part of China. A former British colony, Hong Kong had a strong tradition of liberal economics and representative government, and this culture has clashed with mainland authorities in recent years.
Tehran is the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is situated on the ruins of several predecessor cities destroyed by various conquerors and invaders. Thanks to Iran's explosive population growth, Tehran grows extremely quickly and is currently the largest city in Western Asia.
Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is a city with a great deal of strife in its history. It is actually the descendant of an earlier city, a million strong, that was obliterated by the Mongols. It had been considered a cultural center of the Middle East, but the damage it sustained during the American invasion has greatly lowered its livability.
The safest city in India, Chennai is also a center for health tourism, as a great many foreigners come to the city for their sophisticated, yet reasonably priced, medical system. It is also the largest city in Southern India.
The gorgeous city of Surabaya is the capital of an Indonesian province, and was critical to the commerce of the Dutch East Indies. Even today, it is still an enormous port, and is the second largest such anchorage in Indonesia.
Chengdu is today a mighty commercial hub, but this Chinese city has a particularly fascinating history. It served as the capital for the attempted Han Restoration nation of Shu in the ancient classic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The greater Nanjing area has no fewer than 30 million people, as befitting a city that has been the capital city for much of the Chinese Empire's history. Indeed, it was the capital of Wu in the Warring States period discussed in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Today it is a giant of commerce as well as a technological hub.
A world heritage site, Rio de Janeiro is more than merely the backdrop for its famous Christ the Redeemer statue. It is also a mecca for tourism, a gateway to dozens of beautiful beaches, and ground zero for Brazil's famous Carnaval.
Chicago is the mightiest city in America's midwest, and the third most populous city in the country overall. It plays a critical role in internal U.S. commerce, which is reflected by it being the second most visited city in the country.
The capital of Ontario province, Toronto is Canada's most populated city and a world class center for commerce, culture and the arts. Although not as old as some other Canadian cities, none can doubt the vital role it plays in Canadian civic life.
The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires is a diverse city of wealth, culture, and Spanish architecture. It is so large that it forms an autonomous district within Argentina, and it is the most visited city in South America.
Kinshasa is a vast city of 11 million people, and the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The people of the city are struggling under the burden of a corrupt government- average earning amounts to about $1 per day for a normal person.
Berlin is the capital of Germany, and one of the most economically successful cities in Europe. It is also a city with a great deal of history, having been both Germany's capital since that state's inception and of the Prussian Kingdom that preceded it.
Roma, or Rome, is the capital of Italy and one of the most important cities in the history of western civilization. It was from here that the Roman Republic- and later the Empire- grew, and the culture and laws of that entity planted deep roots across the entirety of Western Europe.
Los Angeles is the home of Hollywood, and is therefore the entertainment capital of the entire world! It's county is the largest in the United States. It is the cultural and financial heart of SoCal, and a center of American sports, too!
Istanbul was Constantinople, and before that, it was Byzantium, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. An ancient city, Istanbul is a cultural treasure for practitioners of both Christian and Islamic religions, possessing many architectural marvels of those faiths.
The glittering capital of Indonesia, Jakarta has a history dating back all the way to the fourth century! Though its ports and financial systems contribute to a certain level of economic success, Jakarta has a dangerous enemy to contend with- flooding and land degradation.
Karachi is absolutely massive, being the fourth most populated city in the world. Although Pakistan has struggled with poverty and crime there in the past, both appear to be on the upswing, and more and more corporations doing business in Pakistan make Karachi their home.
Sao Paolo has the highest GDP of any city in the entire southern hemisphere, and is a critical part of the Brazilian state. Beyond its wealth, however, Sao Paolo is famous for its extraordinary flourishing arts scene and its large gay pride parade.
The city of Bogor is known for its inhabitants' laid back attitude- the original translation of its name roughly amounts to "No worries!" It also rains a great deal there, even in the so-called "dry season." Better get your umbrella.
The city formerly known as Saigon is today the largest city in Vietnam. After the northern victory in the Vietnam War, this conquered metropolis was renamed after the leader of the north, Ho Chi Minh. People still call it by its old name, though.
Frankfurt, which is technically Frankfurt-on-the-river-Main, is a large and culturally diverse city in Germany. Frankfurt was a mainstay of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, and it only lost its independence in the years preceding German unification in the 19th century.
A heavily commercial city, Tienjin is also one of China's most populated, with more than 15 million people. Historically, it was the center for Western attempts to "open" China, and the concept of extraterritoriality gave multiple nations their own districts within Tienjin.
The second largest city in Russia, St. Petersburg is the cultural heart of that great nation. It was actually the capital of the Russian Empire, probably due to its status as a port on the Baltic Sea. During World War II, it was known as Leningrad, and the battle fought over it was critical to the war effort.
The capital of Chile, Santiago was founded by conquistadores dispatched by Pizarro. It was destroyed in a war against the land's indigenous peoples, but was rebuilt into the bustling metropolis we see today!
The beautiful city of Ahmedabad has been consistently ranked as one of the nicest Indian cities in which to live. It has a diverse economy ranging from financial trading to cotton production. Its poverty rate has declined precipitously, from 28 percent down to 10 percent, in tandem with increased economic liberalization and growth.
The capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka has 19 million people. It was known in past eras as the Venice of the East, and has always served as a base for Muslim voices in the Indian subcontinent.
Eclipsed in importance only by Rome, Alexandria was one of the most prominent cities of the Ancient World. It was famous for its mighty lighthouse, and, of course, its great library, although the latter was lost in a fire.
Standing athwart the majestic Pearl River, Guangzhou is the capital of China's Guangdong province. Its enormously increasing migrant population has given it the nickname "The Capital of the Third World" by residents.
The heart of Canada's Quebec, Montreal is named after the mountain that sits at its heart, Mount Royal. French is the most common language spoken there, with a little bit under half the population making it their language of choice, although English is also extremely common.
The city of Delhi contains New Delhi within it, making it a city within a city. Delhi is the capital of the province of the same name and is absolutely ancient, dating back to the 6th century B.C. While a wealthy city, Delhi also ranks among the top cities worldwide when it comes to pollution.
Ankara is the capital of the Republic of Turkey. The modern Turkish state's founder, Ataturk, had his headquarters located here, and that served as a major impetus for moving the capital away from its traditional home in Istanbul. Although its history may not be as rich as Istanbul's, Ankara is nonetheless full of architectural treasures from the many civilizations that had held sway in the area at different times.
Besides being the capital of Egypt, Cairo is the educational center of much of the Middle East due to its famous university. It is also located near Giza, home of the Pyramids, and so the city is also a major spot for tourism.
India's "City of Joy,", Kolkata is the most valuable city in eastern India. It is particularly known for its culture, including dozens of theaters, libraries, museums, and more. It is the sole city in the east of India to have an international airport, so if you fly from that direction, chances are good you will land there.
Although New York City was once New Amsterdam, today it is part of the United States of America. Its vast harbor leads to its natural role as a port, which was the purpose behind its inception in the first place. NYC is also a financial, cultural, and everything-else-you-can-imagine hub!
India's great city of Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls, and its connection to fine jewelry continues to this day. It also is a major manufacturing center, and has kept open many of the city's ancient and traditional bazaars, where you can haggle over prices with adroit marketeers.
Made world famous in the classic Bogart film, Casablanca is the economic center of Morocco. A conservative state, Morocco has nonetheless been shaken by the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and the government has agreed to some of the protesters' demands for accountability and changes to family laws.
Yokohama might have been little more than a small Japanese fishing village, but destiny intervened when Perry forced open trade with Japan. The Shogunate decided to create a new port both to control and contain the influence of foreign trade, and Yokohama was selected. Its meteoric rise dates from that decision.
The capital of England and, for that matter, the entire U.K., London is a vast metropolis that has stood for millennia. The Romans called it Londinium, but it came from a time that predates even the Roman invasion of England. Today it stands athwart the Thames in splendor and brilliance- assuming you can see it through the rain, of course.