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Google Maps of iconic cities before buildings

What did iconic cities look like pre-civilisation?

The most popular cities around the world are instantly recognisable. Iconic landscapes of landmarks, attractions and a bustling atmosphere make them the most frequented tourist locations. But while we recognise the world as it is today, would you recognise these famous cities if you saw pictures of them pre-civilisation? Well, lets see. 

We’ve created some stark contrasts that allow you to see how these cities have changed over time. It’s difficult to accept how the city that never sleeps for example not only didn’t have the lights, billboards and skyscrapers that source its identity, but it was nothing more than a massive sheet of ice. Dubai’s historic landscape is perhaps more recognisable as it wasn’t until the last century that it became one of the fastest growing cities. 

Take a look at our Google Map creations to unearth the startling reality of how our world has changed.


(Image: Landsat / Copernicus)

Population 2019 – 9,176,530
Area – 1,572 km2
First settled – 43AD

Romans settled Londinium in 43AD, not as a major capital, but as a stopping point for the Roman army. In 61AD Queen Boudicca led a rebellion against the Romans and burnt Londinium down. London was rebuilt from the ashes. 

Much of the vegetation is gone to make way for London’s expansion over the years. But some areas like Hyde Park, the “original hunting forest”, still has the British oak forests.

New York

(Image: Landsat / Copernicus)

Population 2019 – 8,398,748
Area – 141,300 km2
First settled – 1100AD

The strange arrangement and islands of New York were formed from a massive sheet of ice. Taller than any skyscraper there now, you can still find remnants of its effects.

Many of the neighbourhood’s original names took influence from the ridges of ice. Ridgewood and Crown Heights being references. Though there are still slopes through the city, most of the hills in New York have been flattened for buildings.


(Image: Landsat / Copernicus)

Population 2019 – 636,244
Area – 414.6 km2
First settled – 400AD

After the fall of the roman empire, the Venetian lagoon offered refuge for those escaping barbarians in 400AD.  This small chain of islands and marshland was difficult to chase people through.

With the safety of the lagoon, small settlements were built for fishing and salt deposits. The small islands all connected by bridges to set the foundation for the floating city.


(Image: Landsat / Copernicus. Image © 2019 Maxar Technologies)

Population 2019 – 4,177,700
Area – 4,114 km2
First settled – 3000BC

Starting as a small settlement in 3000 BCE, the tiny village used to be known for its fishing and pearls. 

It wasn’t until the discovery of oil in 1966 that it became one of the fastest-growing cities in terms of population and wealth. Expanding to be a display of luxury by changing the land itself to form a tree with sand.

Cape Town

(Image: Image Landsat / Copernicus. Image © 2019 Maxar Technologies)

Population 2019 – 4,524,111
Area – 400.3 km2
First settled – 1652AD

Though the settlement formed in early history, it wasn’t until 1652 that Dutch colonisers created a way-station for ships. The port is still one of the symbols of the city as it grew larger.

The mountains had large rivers of spring water that ran towards the sea to create the wetlands. These have been preserved as Parks and Nature reserves.


(Image: Image Landsat / Copernicus. Image © 2019 Maxar Technologies)

Population 2019 – 14,118,400
Area – 2,188 km2
First settled – 1457AD

Tokyo came about after being a small fishing village called Edo on the edge of the Sumida River which is a highlight of the city to this day. 

Tokyo has been subject to massive earthquakes and fires due to being in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Even the recent typhoon, but the city and people still stand to show their resilience in a harsh land.

Some cities have drastically changed the landscape around them like Venice and Dubai. It has only been a few years since London even had a building classified as a skyscraper back in 1980, the National Westminster Tower. How cities will change and grow in the next 40 years might differ to try and conserve what we use to have. Growing taller and improving what we have.

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