31 images of the world's greatest cities before they were cities

Wikimedia CommonsA woodcut of Tokyo before it was Tokyo, 1850s.

Like all living things, cities have lifespans.

Some, like Paris, are ancient — over 2,000 years old. Others are adolescent in comparison, like Sydney, at just over 200 years old.

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

Rio de Janeiro was founded by Portuguese colonists in 1565.

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

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By 1711, the city had grown.

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

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New York, as you might have heard, was once New Amsterdam.

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This woodcut of Manhattan dates from 1651.

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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.

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

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New York has 8.4 million people living in it.

Shoriful Chowdhury / Shutterstock.com

Before 1868, Tokyo was a fishing village called 'Edo,' Japanese for estuary.

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Many woodblock artists depicted the quiet beauty of the place, with Mount Fuji presiding in the background.

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By 1905, Tokyo was already industrialising. Here's what the city looked liked after Japan won the Russo-Japanese War.

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This card from 1930s reads 'Come to Tokyo,' and features cherry blossoms in front of modern and traditional architecture, plus the city's trademark elevated railway.

Library of Congress

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.

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

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

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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.

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Sydney, Australia, was founded in 1788. This watercolor of Sydney Cove dates to 1792.

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By 1844 the population was about 39,000.

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By 1900 the downtown was as bustling as any other.

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

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

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

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