I’ve always wondered why certain cities are more appealing than others and it struck me that it’s generally because those cities are near water. I’m not referring to seaside cities, but cities that have a river running through them.
Think of London and the Thames (pictured above) – with the redevelopment of Bankside, the opening of the London Eye and the completion of the 183-mile Thames Path (which runs from the source of the river in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier in Docklands), Londoners have finally rediscovered the waterway that was once the great thoroughfare of their city.
Then, of course, there’s the Seine in Paris. Of course it helps that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and that the Seine curves through 10 of the city’s 20 arrondissements, its banks dotted with some of the most famous landmarks of Europe. It was both to celebrate and protect this glorious waterway, with its elegant bridges and beautiful buildings, that the stretch between the Eiffel Tower in the west and Saint-Chapelle and Notre Dame Cathedral in the east was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1991.
The Neva, St Petersburg – An imperial masterpiece, St Petersburg remains very much the dream and vision of Tsar Peter I (later dubbed “the Great”). In the early 18th century he orchestrated the construction of this purpose-built capital on the banks of the river Neva, draining the surrounding swamps into a network of canals in the process. The result is still a jaw dropping fusion of water and architecture, with magnificent panoramas of pillared mansions intensified through reflections.
The Vltava, in Prague, is the Czech Republic’s longest river. This river cuts through the centre of this stunning city of turrets, spires and domes. The views from Karluv Most, or Charles Bridge, are famously breath taking but even more so is a trip along the city’s magnificent waterway, with the cream and golden hues of elegant baroque buildings mirrored on the surface.
The Danube, Vienna – The Danube slices this wedding cake of a city into unequal halves. The old town and most of the historic sights are south of the river, with the Danube Canal, which branches off from the main waterway, forming one of the borders of the ancient centre.
The Danube flows through four capital cities – Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest (pictured right) and Belgrade.
It does, of course, help, that even without their rivers, the above-mentioned cities are a marvel of architecture, history and beauty.
We can’t all lay claims to such magnificent river cities – but there is undoubtedly something special about a city that has a river running through it.
*excerpts from an article in The Independent