hidden europe 50

Belgrade and Beyond: Cities Shaped by the Lie of the Land

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The confluence of the Sava (foreground) and the Danube (background) in Belgrade (photo © hidden europe).


We explore the making of a city, referring to examples from across Europe. Those cities blessed with distinctive geographical assets would do well to value them. For, in an increasingly globlised world, a strong sense of place could turn out to be a city's trump card - one that endures longer than its reputation for fine food, ritzy shopping or a lively club scene.

Some cities transcend geography. They have over decades, even centuries, evolved in a manner which entirely eclipses the natural lie of the land. In many cases, planners and developers have nudged the city in a particular direction — Haussmann’s dramatic rebuilding of Paris in the third quarter of the 19th century is a good example, though even that ambitious project did not entirely eradicate the native geography of the Paris region. Indeed, many of the parks and gardens which are part of Haussmann’s Paris — such as the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and the Bois de Boulogne — nicely pick up elements of the regional landscapes encountered in and around the valley of the River Seine.

Anyone who has climbed the steps up to Sacré-Coeur Basilica, perched on the summit of a butte at Montmartre, will attest to the fact that even Paris still has its hills and dales. So too does Rome, though only the most astute visitor would ever manage to discern the full Septimontium (Seven Hills of Rome) upon which the city was allegedly founded. If you are tempted to try, a good vantage point is the Janiculum which, being on the west side of the Tiber, is not itself one of the seven hills — but it affords a fine view across the river to the east bank and the historic heart of Rome.

Visitors to our home city of Berlin might remark on the fact that the German capital is notably green in summer and is, by and large, a rather watery place. But, bar for quick glimpses of the Berlin hinterland as their planes drop down to land at one of the city’s two airports, most visitors to Berlin probably don’t grasp the sheer extent, still less the serene beauty, of the lake and forest landscapes which surround the city.

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