The imperial “northern capital” of Russia, Saint Petersburg is a city of many names such as Venice of the North for its many canals. On its northern side is a hidden waterway with a rich history whose name in English translates to “Black River.”
The river has a place in history as a dueling site where Russia’s most famous poet was fatally wounded. That makes its name appropriate from a poetic viewpoint.
In the years prior to the Second World War, my grandfather lived in Bucharest where he worked at his uncle’s workshop. In contrast to his humble hometown, the Romanian capital aspired to be the Paris of Eastern Europe with its wide boulevards, triumphal arch, majestic palaces, and an urban waterway lined with trees and benches.
In the postcard above, found on a local history blog, we see the Dâmbovița River flowing straight through the city, with neatly planted trees on either bank. In the corner is a postage stamp featuring the country’s boy-king Mihai (Michael), who first sat on his throne at age five. The river has seen plenty of changes in its host city since the founding of the country.
Ten miles shy of its entry into the Baltic Sea, the Daugava River passes through the city of Riga. Within the borders of Latvia’s capital city, the nation’s great river give up some of its water to bifurcation streams before uniting again and emptying into the sea. The cradle of industry in Riga is the Sarkandaugava, a branch of the Daugava that flows around Kundziņsala, the largest island within the city’s borders.
This hidden Riga stream flows through traces of every period in the city’s history and holds the key to its future, as the gateway to Riga for seaborne goods.
The Sri Lankan capital of Colombo is a city crossed by canals, a legacy of colonial rule in this South Asian island nation. The longest canal within the city is Sebastian Canal, which connects Beira Lake with the Kelani Ganga river.
Above, the canal flows beneath Khettarama Temple Road, near a small picturesque stupa nestled between oil tanks and a cricket stadium. Continue reading
Flowing through nine European countries, the Danube River is full of history along its 2,860-mile course. The oldest capital city on the Danube is Vienna, where the rivers enters the Pannonian Plain, splitting briefly into branches and collecting tributaries along the way. To reduce impact from flooding and improve navigation for boats, the main course of the Danube was straightened as it flows through Vienna, while its old natural course kept its winding route with a concrete bulkhead as the Donaukanal. A tributary of this “canal” is a river that shares the city’s name.
It isn’t clear whether the ancient city received its name from the river or vice versa. Vienna’s founding predates the Roman Empire. Since 1899, the Vienna River has been confined to a concrete channel within the borders of the city, and in the section between Naschmarkt and Stadtpark, it runs through a tunnel. Continue reading
The state of Utah was founded on very lofty ideas and the Mormon settlers who developed the state applied a few biblical names to the map: Jordan River, Zion, and Moab. The capital city however has a plain name, Salt Lake City and the stream that continued to the city’s growth also has a simple name: City Creek.
Today this hidden urban stream is associated with a shopping center in the city’s downtown, where a channel resembling the creek flows through the mall to the delight of shoppers. Continue reading
Along the southern Baltic Sea coast are a number of port cities that were members of the Hanseatic League, a coalition of German-speaking ports located at the mouths of major rivers draining into the sea. From the time of the Teutonic Knights’ conquest of the city in 1308 until the surrender of Germany in 1945, Gdansk appeared on maps as the German name Danzig. Its main waterway is the Motlawa and as the city grew, its network of waterways included canals and defensive moats.
The most prominent of the city’s moats is the Opływ Motławy, seen in a 1931 aerial photo above and largely unchanged since then. Continue reading
In the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is a city with a hidden river running through its center. Instead of serving as a visual feature, it was driven underground as a result of rapid urbanization. When the country’s monarchy was overthrown in 1889, state leaders sought a new beginning for Minas Gerais with a new capital in a location conducive to urban expansion. The former Curral del Rei mining town was selected, redesigned by planners and subsequently renamed Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon).
In 1897, the new state capital was officially inaugurated. The Ribeirão Arrudas flowed through the center of the city, permitted to flow freely by urban planner Aarão Reis, who laid the city out in a checkerboard pattern.
The stream was a nuisance, frequently overflowing its banks. Between 1974 and 1997, the river was forced into a concrete channel and in some sections, completely concealed beneath the traffic. Continue reading
When it comes to claiming the title as the New York of Asia, Hong Kong makes a convincing case based on its seaport, diverse history and population, a downtown, urban islands, densely developed but also with plenty of nature preserves within its borders. And of course, a number of hidden urban streams flowing behind buildings and beneath the streets. the Kai Tak River is one such example.
Confined to a concrete channel for most of its course and hidden beneath an airport for much of the past century, it is now the subject of an ambitious redevelopment project and innovative design proposals that aim to restore its natural appearance. Continue reading
Ten miles shy of its entry into the Baltic Sea, the Daugava River passes through the city of Riga. Within the borders of Latvia’s capital city, the nation’s great river give up some of its water to bifurcation streams before uniting again and emptying into the sea. Examples include the Mazā Daugava, Bieķengrāvis, Zunds, Sarkandaugava, and Vecdaugava. One branch of the Daugava however is artificial, a former defensive moat, the Pilsētas Kanāls or City Canal.
The canal has a storied history and has seen many battles before its transformation into the city’s version of Central Park. Continue reading