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5 Big Cities That Changed Their Names

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The Four Lads sang a song in 1953 about a city that changed its name.

Take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks'

Constantinople isn't the only city to change its name. I grew up learning about Bombay, Canton, Leningrad, and Saigon (especially Saigon), but those names aren't used much anymore. Here are the stories of a few city names, new and old.

1. Bombay is now Mumbai

The big city in the state of Maharashtra, India was called Kakamuchee and Galajunkja in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, it was referred to as Manbai. There is still disagreement about how the name Bombay came about. On the one hand, Bombay is seen as an English corruption of Mumbai, which is a name derived from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi. On the other hand, the name may have come from bom baim, a Portuguese phrase meaning "good little bay", although there are doubts due to the issue of the word genders. The city was ruled by Portugal from 1535 to 1661. Variation of the name included Mombayn, Bombay, Bombain, Bombaym, Monbaym, Mombaim, Mombaym, Bambaye, Bombaiim, Bombeye, and Boon Bay, all of which are documented spellings. When the British took possession of the city in 1661, they put a stop to all this nonsense and decided the name would be Bombay. India achieved independence from the British Empire in 1947. The idea of a new, purely Indian name gained favor over the years and became a political campaign in the 1980s and 90s. When the Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won a majority of seats in the state assembly in 1995, the name Mumbai, which was commonly used in some local languages, was officially adopted. The name is a return to India's past and a homage to Mumbadevi, the goddess who is the patron saint of the city. Image by Flickr user d ha rm e sh.

2. Canton is now Guangzhou

The city of Guangzhou, China was founded under the name Panyu in 214 BC. Four hundred years later, it was named the capital of Guang prefecture and people began to call the city Guangzhou, which literally means Guang prefecture. Portugal established a trading monopoly in Guangdong province in the 1500s, and the name Cantão began to be used, which became Canton. No one is quite sure how the name Cantão or Canton actually came about, but it is believed to be a European phonetic mispronunciation of Guangzhou or Guangdong. The name Guangzhou was officially adopted by the city in 1918. So the city was never officially named Canton at all! Nevertheless, westerners used Canton on maps and travel schedules, and in geography and travel books until the late 20th century. Image by Flickr user Gijs Budel.

3. Saigon is now Hồ Chí Minh City

The original name of the Kmer village that eventually became Saigon was Prey Nokor. The earliest reference to the name Sài Gòn was in 1698, as the village was taken from Cambodia by the Vietnamese. It is thought that the term Sài Gòn was a Vietnamese translation of the Kmer words Prei Kor, which means Kapok Tree Forest or City of Kapok Trees. The area was actually a swamp, but its location made it a strategic seaport. The small fishing village grew into a modern city under the French, who took over in 1859 and called it Saigon. Saigon became the capital of Vietnam in 1949, and when the country split in 1954, Saigon remained the capital of South Vietnam. About that time, Saigon merged with Cholon on the other side of the Saigon River. No matter how it evolved, the name Saigon was a symbol of colonialism, so when the north defeated the south in 1975, the city lost its status as capital. The following year it was officially renamed for the deceased communist leader Hồ Chí Minh. Image by Flickr user Andrin Villa.

4. St. Petersburg is now St. Petersburg (again)

The original name of the small Russian town that became St. Petersburg is long gone, but it was only a tiny village before the Tsar arrived. Tsar Peter the Great, in his quest to make Russia more modern and therefore more European, named it St. Petersburg in 1703 and moved the government and the royal family to the city in 1710. He named the city in honor of St. Peter the evangelist, although most folks knew it was a roundabout way to name the city after himself. The "burg" was a nod to his relatives and allies in Germany. It became a large and modern city under Peter's rule. In 1914, World War I broke out and Germany was suddenly Russia's enemy. St. Petersburg became Petrograd, which still meant the City of Peter, rendered in the Russian language. After the communist revolution, even the name Petrograd didn't seem Russian enough. After Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, the city was renamed Leningrad in honor of the Soviet leader. In 1991, Russia held its first presidential election following the collapse of the Soviet government. On the same day, citizens of Leningrad voted in a referendum to change the name of Leningrad back to its historic moniker, St. Petersburg. Image by Flickr user Archie Dinzeo.

5. Constantinople is now Istanbul

The former capital of Turkey has been known by many names: Byzantium, Augusta Antonina, New Rome, Constantinople, Kostantiniyye. Ä°stanbul, Stamboul, and Islambol, among others. The city was founded in 667 BC and named Byzantium by the Greeks after Byzas, the king of Megara. The city was later absorbed into the Roman Empire, where it had several names. Emperor Constantine made it his eastern capital and it became Constantinople, the name that stuck in western ears for over a thousand years while the locals called the city by different names. Istanbul is a word that means "the city" and had been used colloquially for the last few hundred years to refer to the Turkish capital. Officials used the name off and on, but in 1930 the postal service decreed that all addresses in the city would be "Ä°stanbul". The i is dotted on the initial capital because the pronunciation is different from the dotless i in Turkish, although Istanbul is accepted in all other languages. Image by Flickr user maistora.

Bonus: Truth or Consequences

In 1950, the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico changed its name to Truth or Consequences after the radio quiz show of the same name. The change was in response to the show's host promising to broadcast from the first town that named itself after the program. Thus began a fifty-year tradition of broadcasting the show from the town once a year, first on radio and later on television. The name stayed, although residents call it "T or C" now. Read more stories of American towns that changed their names for one reason or another in the post 7 Towns That Changed Their Names (And 4 That Almost Did). Image by Flickr user Kristen Taylor.

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Ramones Karaoke, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
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Fake It Until You Make It: 10 Artificial Ruins
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Ramones Karaoke, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The love of ruins, sometimes called ruinophilia, has for centuries inspired the creation of clever fakes—a host of sham facades and hollowed-out castle shells found on grand English, European, and even American estates. The popularity of constructing artificial ruins was at its peak during the 18th and 19th centuries, but architects occasionally still incorporate them today.

Why build a structure that is already crumbling? Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the popularity of counterfeit ruins was influenced by two factors—a classical education that enforced the ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, and the extended tour of Europe (known as The Grand Tour) that well-to-do young men and women took after completing their education. Travelers might start in London or France and roam as far as the Middle East, but the trip almost always included Italy and a chance to admire Roman ruins. More than a few wealthy travelers returned home longing to duplicate those ruins, either to complement a romantic landscape, to demonstrate wealth, or to provide a pretense of family history for the newly rich.

Here are a few romantic ruins constructed between the 18th and 21st centuries.

1. SHAM CASTLE // BATHAMPTON, ENGLAND

Sham Castle (shown above) is aptly named—it’s only a façade. The "castle," overlooking the English city of Bath, was created in 1762 to improve the view for Ralph Allen, a local entrepreneur and philanthropist as well as to provide jobs for local stonemasons. From a distance it looks like a castle ruin, but it's merely a wall that has two three-story circular turrets and a two-story square tower at either end. The castle is not the only folly (as such purely decorative architecture is often called) that Allen built. He also constructed a sham bridge on Serpentine Lake in what is now Prior Park Landscape Garden—the bridge can't be crossed, but provides a nice focal point for the lake. Today, Sham Castle is part of a private golf course.

2. WIMPOLE FOLLY // CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND

Building a structure that looks as if it's crumbling does not preclude having to perform regular maintenance. The four-story Gothic tower known as Wimpole Folly in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, England, was built 1768-72 for Philip Yorke, first Earl of Hardwicke and owner of the Wimpole Estate. Owned by Britain’s National Trust, the ruin threatened to truly crumble a few years ago, so restoration efforts were needed. The last restoration was so well done it won the 2016 European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage. The Wimpole Estate is now open to the public for walks and hikes.

3. CAPEL MANOR FOLLY // ENFIELD, ENGLAND

Capel Manor at Bulls Cross, Enfield, England has been the site of several grand homes since the estate’s first recorded mention in the 13th century, so visitors might be tempted to believe that the manor house's ruins date back at least a few centuries. But that sense of history is an illusion: The faux 15th-century house was built in 2010 to add visual appeal to the manor gardens, which have been open to the public since the 1920s.

4. ROMAN RUIN // SCHONBRUNN PALACE, VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The Roman Ruin was built as a garden ornament for the 1441-room Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, one of the most important monuments in Austria. The ruin was once called The Ruins of Carthage, after the ancient North African city defeated by Roman military force. But despite the illusion of antiquity, the ruins were created almost 2000 years after Carthage fell in 146 B.C.E. The ruin’s rectangular pool, framed by an intricate semi-circle arch, was designed in 1778 by the architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, who modeled it on the Ancient Roman temple of Vespasian and Titus, which he had seen an engraving of.

5. THE RUINEBERG // POTSDAM, GERMANY

One of the earliest examples of artificial ruins in Germany was the complex of structures known as The Ruinenberg. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, had a summer palace in Potsdam, near Berlin, that was said to rival Versailles. In 1748 Frederick commissioned a large fountain for the palace complete with artificial ruins. The waterworks part of his plan proved too difficult and was soon abandoned, but not before designer Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff constructed the ruins. The complex includes Roman pillars, a round temple, and the wall of a Roman theatre. Since 1927 the site has belonged to the Prussian Gardens and Palaces Foundation, Berlin-Brandenburg.

6. PARC MONCEAU // PARIS, FRANCE

Elegant Parc Monceau is located in the fashionable 8th arrondissement of Paris near the Champs-Elysees and Palais de l’Elysée. In 1778, the Duke of Chartres decided to build a mansion on land previously used for hunting. He loved English architecture and gardens, including the notion of nostalgic ruins, so he hired the architect Louis Carrogis Carmontelle to create an extravagant park complete with a Roman temple, antique statues, a Chinese bridge, a farmhouse, a Dutch windmill, a minaret, a small Egyptian pyramid, and some fake gravestones. The most notable feature of the park is a pond surrounded by Corinthian columns, now known as Colonnade de Carmontelle.

7. HAGLEY PARK CASTLE // WORCESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND

The ruins of the medieval castle at Hagley Park in Worcestershire are definitely fake, but they were built with debris from the real ruin of a neighboring abbey. The folly was commissioned by Sir George Lyttelton in 1747 and designed by Sanderson Miller, an English pioneer of Gothic revival architecture. The castle has a round tower at each corner, but by design only one is complete and decorated inside with a coat of arms. The grounds, which also feature a temple portico inspired by an ancient Greek temple, some urns, and obelisks, are now privately owned and not open to the public.

8. TATA CASTLE RUINS // TATA, HUNGARY

French architect Charles de Moreau (1758-1841) was a scholar of classical Roman architecture known for his ability to counterfeit impressive ruins. Nicholas I, Prince Esterhazy of Hungary, hired him to work on Tata Castle and to create the ruins of a Romanesque church for the palace’s English Garden. Even though the ruin Moreau created was fake, he built it with the stones of a real ruin, the remnants of the early-12th-century Benedictine and later Dominican abbey of Vértesszőlős. A third-century ancient Roman tombstone and relief were placed nearby.

9. BELVEDERE CASTLE // MANHATTAN, NEW YORK

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in the mid-1800s, and their plan for creating romantic vistas included the construction of a folly known as Belvedere Castle. The Gothic-Romanesque style hybrid, overlooking Central Park’s Great Lawn, was completed in 1869. Although the folly was designed as a hollow shell and meant to be a ruin, it eventually served a practical purpose, housing a weather bureau and exhibit space. The castle also provides a beautiful backdrop for Shakespeare in the Park productions, evoking the royal homes that play prominent roles in the Bard’s works.

10. FOLLY WALL IN BARKING TOWN SQUARE // LONDON

In a borough known for its real historic buildings, the ancient wall found in London’s Barking Town Square might look centuries old. It’s not, and ironically, the wall is part of the square’s renovation efforts. The wall was built by bricklaying students at Barking College using old bricks and crumbling stone items found at salvage yards. Known as the "Secret Garden," named after the children’s book about a walled garden, the wall was designed to screen a nearby supermarket and was unveiled in 2007.

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Lovely Vintage Manuals Show How to Design for the Human Body
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IA Collaborative

If you're designing something for people to hold and use, you probably want to make sure that it will fit a normal human. You don't want to make a cell phone that people can't hold in their hands (mostly) or a vacuum that will have you throwing out your back every time you clean the house. Ergonomics isn't just for your office desk setup; it's for every product you physically touch.

In the mid-1970s, the office of legendary industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss created a series of manuals for designers working on products that involved the human body. And now, the rare Humanscale manuals from Henry Dreyfuss Associates are about to come back into print with the help of a Kickstarter campaign from a contemporary design firm. Using the work of original Henry Dreyfuss Associates designers Niels Diffrient and Alvin R. Tilley, the guides are getting another life with the help of the Chicago-based design consultancy IA Collaborative.

A Humanscale page illustrates human strength statistics.

The three Humanscale Manuals, published between 1974 and 1981 but long out-of-print, covered 18 different types of human-centric design categories, like typical body measurements, how people stand in public spaces, how hand and foot controls should work, and how to design for wheelchair users within legal requirements. In the mid-20th century, the ergonomics expertise of Dreyfuss and his partners was used in the development of landmark products like the modern telephones made by Bell Labs, the Polaroid camera, Honeywell's round thermostat, and the Hoover vacuum.

IA Collaborative is looking to reissue all three Humanscale manuals which you can currently only find in their printed form as historic documents in places like the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York. IA Collaborative's Luke Westra and Nathan Ritter worked with some of the original designers to make the guides widely available again. Their goal was to reprint them at a reasonable price for designers. They're not exactly cheap, but the guides are more than just pretty decor for the office. The 60,000-data-point guides, IA Collaborative points out, "include metrics for every facet of human existence."

The manuals come in the form of booklets with wheels inside the page that you spin to reveal standards for different categories of people (strong, tall, short, able-bodied, men, women, children, etc.). There are three booklets, each with three double-sided pages, one for each category. For instance, Humanscale 1/2/3 covers body measurements, link measurements, seating guide, seat/table guide, wheelchair users, and the handicapped and elderly.

A product image of the pages from Humanscale Manual 1/2/3 stacked in a row.

"All products––from office chairs to medical devices—require designs that 'fit' the end user," according to Luke Westra, IA Collective's engineering director. "Finding the human factors data one needs to achieve these ‘fits' can be extremely challenging as it is often scattered across countless sources," he explains in a press release, "unless you've been lucky enough to get your hands on the Humanscale manuals."

Even setting aside the importance of the information they convey, the manuals are beautiful. Before infographics were all over the web, Henry Dreyfuss Associates were creating a huge compendium of visual data by hand. Whether you ever plan to design a desk chair or not, the manuals are worthy collectors' items.

The Kickstarter campaign runs from July 25 to August 24. The three booklets can be purchased individually ($79) or as a full set ($199).

All images courtesy IA Collaborative

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