The fascination generated by New York city is hard to put into words. The sheer number of attractions within the largest city in the USA is simply overwhelming. As millions of visitors agree, New York city has it all.
New York, the city of superlatives, is much more than the island of Manhattan. For over a century New York was the gateway to the “Promised Land”, to an America of unlimited opportunity. Many people coming to New York today do so for different reasons than immigrants of yore.
Tourists come to experience the fast pace of this vast metropolis. Who doesn’t want to be part of the crowd in Times Square on New Years Eve, if only once? Artists and intellectuals flock to New York to partake of the creative energy of city life, stimulated by first-class cultural institutions and events.
When explorer Henry Hudson, for whom the Hudson River is named, sailed into New York Bay in 1609, his enthusiastic description of New York’s natural harbour sparked the interest of his Dutch sponsors. In 1624, they founded their first settlement on the island the Algonquin Indians called “Manahatta” (“hilly countryside”).
The city of Nieuw Amsterdam was born in 1626 when the Dutch bought the island from the Algonquins for 60 Dutch gulden, or roughly $24. New Amsterdam became a British colony on 24 September 1664 as part of a treaty ending a war between Holland and England. The British victors changed the city’s name to honour the Duke of York.
The young republic
During the American Revolution (1776-1783), the British occupied New York City for nearly the entire war, and the city burned to the ground twice. Undeterred, New York City grew steadily following American independence. In 1788, New York was named the capital of the United States, a role taken over by Philadelphia two years later.
New York developed into the economic centre of the USA instead. The establishment of the stock exchange on Wall Street in 1792 secured the city’s reputation as the financial capital of the New World. Its harbours and shipyards took in goods, and hardworking immigrants, from all over the world. War in the streets. Throughout the nineteenth century, New York was a great construction zone, with new homes and parks erected almost daily.
Central Park, laid out in 1858-1866, was one of many public works projects of the time. Beloved by New Yorkers as well as tourists, Central Park is still a popular place to stroll, have a picnic and especially to people-watch. In the nineteenth century, the newer parts of New York were laid out in its characteristic grid system; only Broadway and the older part of the city south of Washington Square lie outside the checkerboard pattern of streets. As the century proceeded, more and more emigrants from Europe arrived in the fast-growing city. Violence and unrest came with them.
Most newcomers had to settle, at least initially, in slums like the infamous Five Points and Bowery. In July 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, the so-called Draft Riots broke out, violent confrontation between long-time New Yorkers and recent immigrants. The bloody street fights led to at least 120 deaths over four days of chaos. Over 100 buildings were destroyed, most of them burned to the ground. The Martin Scorsese movie Gangs of New York is a memorable recreation of this unsettled time.
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