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Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilRocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilThe word “city” is generally used to describe a large and important town. Every country has a capital city, where its government is based. Other large cities have grown up around industries and the services that go with them, such as ports, shops, transport and offices. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries provided a major boost for the expansion of cities. Once small market towns, cities expanded rapidly around the new factories and ports, as houses were built for people to come and work there: jobs much better paid than those in the countryside were on offer. The growth of towns and cities, or urban areas, as a result of migration from the countryside, is called urbanization.

The industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1902The industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1902
A city in ancient EgyptA city in ancient Egypt

Ancient cities

The first cities grew up from around 7000 BC, in Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East. In this region, farming had become so efficient that not everybody had to work on the land. Some people became craftworkers, priests or teachers instead. The cities brought together many people with skills and new ideas. The emergence of cities marked the beginning of civilization (from the Latin civis, meaning citizen, a city-dweller).

The city of Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1656The city of Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1656

Pre-industrial cities 

The world’s largest city by population is the supercity of Tokyo-Yokohama, in Japan. Surrounded by mountains, space for building is limited, so some land has been “reclaimed” from the sea.

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