Cities That Rose From the Ashes: These Once War-torn Towns Have Totally Transformed Into Thriving Cityscapes

Wed Mar 16 2022

We live in trying times. All of us have seen the news stories, read the headlines, and looked at the photos circulating in the press of war-torn cities. You only need to turn on the television to see that Ukraine’s famous cityscapes are undergoing transformative changes due to the ravages of war. But the truth is, there are better times ahead to look forward to.

Here you’ll find a heartwarming reminder of the fact that cities and countries do bounce back. Slowly but surely, people rebuild their hometowns to what they were before, sometimes making them even greater than what was there to begin with. It’s a solid reminder of how difficult times pass and make way for brighter, thriving futures. Take a look at these transformed cityscapes, both in the immediate aftermath of war v. how great they are today.

London’s St Paul’s Cathedral Went From Smoke Show To Inner-city Retreat

London’s St Paul’s Cathedral is more than just Princess Diana’s wedding venue. It’s served an important role throughout history, for both the royal family and their British subjects. It’s over 1400 years old, having first begun construction all the way back in 1675. But during WW2, the dome was hit by a Nazi bomb and the interior was left in pieces. In the photo on the left, we can see the smoke pouring out through the roof of the building back in 1940.

When the British people saw the photos of St Paul’s Cathedral in flames, they adopted it as a symbol of their indestructibility. Luckily, the foundation of the building survived the war in good condition, and in the years preceding 1945, the whole site was built back up to its former glory. Despite the destruction from WW2, the cathedral survives today in the heart of central London and is still used for special occasions.

Munich’s Medieval City Gate Is Now the Backdrop of Bustling Shopping Area

The Karlstor in Munich, Germany, had been reduced to a pile of rubble during the Second World War. All that was left were the shells of former buildings, unoccupied structures, and the great medieval Karlstor. Ironically, the Karlstor used to serve as a major defensive fortification and checkpoint, but during WWII it had been captured by the Americans.

Back in 1945, civilians and servicemen continued to walk through the area, getting from A to B. But today, Munich’s gothic city gate serves as a backdrop to a busy shopping area that’s just bursting with activity. It’s amazing to see just how unrecognizable the same location became just a few decades down the line.

Richmond’s Factories Went Up in Flames During the Civil War but Now Its Industries Are Booming

Richmond, Virginia, is one of America’s oldest major cities. Pictured below during the 1860s, the city suffered greatly at the hands of the Civil War, which saw army officials ordered to burn warehouses, and part of the business district burned down by mobs. In the photo below we can see to what extent these trade hubs were destroyed.

Richmond has recovered tremendously since the Civil War of the 19th century. Today, it’s the third-most populous metropolitan region in the state, and it has several prosperous industries – think finance, medicine, biotechnology, manufacturing, and transportation. On top of that, there are a ton of green spaces that the government is looking to expand.

Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome Is Now Tucked Behind Some City Greenery

Hiroshima, Japan, is one of the cities that suffered worst from WWII – all that was left behind was a shadow of the city it had once been. As we can see from the black and white photo taken in 1945, rebuilding the city was a daunting task. Luckily, the people of Japan managed to pull off an incredible transformation.

Now, the Atomic Bomb Dome stands as a reminder of the tens of thousands of lives lost to the war. Previously called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, it was a building used for research and design consultation, and was one of the few buildings left standing. We’re happy to see that today, it’s dwarfed by the city’s taller buildings and trees, remaining as a solemn monument in a green city that’s bursting with life.

A Little Village in Normandy Was Built Back Up Following Those D-Day Landings In 1944

Northern France’s Rue Saint-Pierre was literally left in pieces by the German forces. In the top photo, we can see Canadian troops on patrol, walking among the ruins. Rue Saint-Pierre was completely destroyed and uninhabited following the D-Day landings, but thankfully the charm of the region was only hibernating.

Rue Saint-Pierre regained all of its charms once again when the people built the region back up. It’s a small village with a population of only a few hundred, but people flock to it for a relaxing summer vacation. In the photo above, we can see shoppers walking along the rebuilt main street in 2013.

The City of Cologne Had Been Completely Flattened Except for One Proud Landmark That Refused To Bow Down

Cologne Cathedral has existed in the North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany since 1248, making it a very precious medieval masterpiece. But that didn’t stop it from getting badly damaged by aerial bombs during WWII. It was however left standing in an otherwise totally flattened city that had suffered terribly in the war. This black and white photo from 1945 shows just how grim and grubby it was at the time.

But by 1956, all repairs to the cathedral following the war had been completed. It took just over a decade for Cologne to get their famous landmark back in fighting shape and reopened for the public. Now, it may be listed as a World Heritage Site, but it’s also a busy tourist attraction that sees more than six million visitors each year. We’re delighted to see that it’s one of Germany’s biggest attractions that well and truly bounced back after the war.

Alsace’s Capital City Strasbourg Became an Intriguing Mash up of French and German Influences

Taken back in the fall of 1944, we can see soldiers marching along the length of a canal through Strasbourg, northeastern France. The soldiers at the front of the column are French resistance fighters, escorting Gestapo agents and the German military police force to the third infantry division. Interestingly, the same location doesn’t look a whole lot different structurally a few decades later, but the atmosphere has definitely changed.

Strasbourg was a tense location of interest during WWII that was liberated in November 1944 during the Alsace campaign. Now, it’s the delightful capital of Alsace that has a charming mix of French and German influence. As National Geographic writer Alena Hadley wrote, “Evidence of Strasbourg’s identity issues are everywhere – in the architecture, language, crafts, and cuisine – and they make for an intriguing mash-up personality all on its own.”

The Old Town in Warsaw Became a Symbol of the Independence and Strength of the Nation After It Was Restored

The Old Town in Warsaw, Poland, was in a sorry state after the war. What was once a poor neighborhood with Art Nouveau design influences had been replaced with rubble, wreckage, and war debris. More than 85% of the city was destroyed, and it certainly would have been hard to see how the city could ever bounce back after that. In the picture below, we can see the Old Town up in flames during the Warsaw Uprising.

But the Old Town refused to go gently into that good night, and post-war authorities decided to invest in restoring the charming place to its former glory. It has actually become so much more than it was before, not only because of the attention to detail applied to the restoration, but because the whole town stands as a symbol of strength for the local people. If you got there today you can expect crowded restaurants, historic building restorations, and a vibrant tourism industry.

Dresden’s Infamous Firestorms Laid Waste to the City Center Until a New Urban Layout Was Created in Its Place

East Germany city Dresden suffered a three-day bombing attack towards the end of WWII in 1945. As the capital of the German state Saxony, it had a large population that bore witness to resulting firestorms all throughout the city, reaching temperatures of around 1500 degrees celsius. In the photo on the left, we can see the destructive path that the firestorm took throughout the city center.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they decided not to reconstruct all the fragmented building parts. They completely cleared the area and today, we can see it’s being used as a car park. One thing that was restored was the statue on the tower of City Hall. It was still in one piece, and easily restorable.

The Historic City of Gdansk Was Wrecked, but Generations of Polish People Worked Hard To Restore Its Grandeur

Gdansk, the 6th largest city in Poland, has been invaded many times throughout its 1000 year-long history. But most notably, it took center stage at the start of the Second World War when it was invaded by Germany. It had several historic sites, one of which was St. Mary’s Basilica, pictured – the largest brick church in the world. Gdansk was swept away almost entirely by the Soviet Red Army during WWII, with only 10% of the historic old city left behind.

It took Gdansk over seven decades to rebuild itself, and efforts are still being made today. But the difference between the city post-war to today is as different as night and day. The major port city has transformed into a beautiful place once more, only due to the huge efforts of the Polish people over a few generations. In 2020, the city welcomed more than a million international tourists!

This Old Croatian Town, Mali Ston, Repaired All the Roofs That Had Been Shelled in the 90s War of Independence

During the four-year war of Croatian independence, much of the country’s infrastructure had been destroyed. The building damages alone totaled around $37 billion US dollars, and 25% of the economy was ruined. Pictured below, we can see the old town of Mali Ston in south Croatia had been greatly impacted by shelling in 1991, the first year of the war.

Amazingly, the difference between the top and bottom photos is only 21 years. Mali Ston had repaired any holes in building infrastructure, broken windows, plumbing, electrical units, and most notably the roofs. Once the war was finished, the locals were allowed to go back to their lucrative oyster production, and it’s been thriving ever since.

Tokyo Managed To Withstand the Single Most Destructive Bombing Raid in Human History

The bombing air raids of Tokyo took place periodically from 1943-45 and devastated the city. Take a look at the photo below of central Tokyo after the Operation Meetinghouse firebombing of the 9th of March. The events from that night have made this the single deadliest air raid of World War II, surpassing the Dresden, Hamburg, and even Hiroshima. You would think that it would be impossible for Tokyo to bounce back after that.

It wasn’t easy to recover from the single most destructive bombing air raid in human history, but Tokyo managed to pull it off. Today, Tokyo is considered to be the largest “Megacity” in the world and has a booming tourism industry, especially after the city won the bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. We’re ecstatic to see the city thriving beyond anyone’s imagination, less than 100 years after it was pretty much destroyed.

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate Went From Ruins to Restoration After Getting Hit From Nearby Explosions

The Brandenburg Gate, just west of Berlin’s city center, had been standing tall since 1791. But in 1945, the historic gate sustained several damages from bullets and explosions. In fact, there had been so many explosions nearby, that the whole area surrounding the gate had turned into a wasteland of war debris.

Fast-forward to today, and we can see that the Brandenburg Gate has once gained regained its former glory – all the structural “scars” have been repaired. But more than that, we can see that the surrounding area has transformed into a built-up urban space. Where there were horse-drawn artillery carriages seven decades ago, there now stand crowds of tourists and people waiting for a bus. Berlin has certainly come a long way since 1945.

Sarajevo Reconstructed Their Buildings and Streets for the Millions of People Who Had Been Displaced in the 90s

The Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995 eventually led to the breakup of Yugoslavia, but not before a ton of devastation had been left in its wake. Approximately two million people were driven away from their homes during the war, and the photo below perfectly illustrates why. Located in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a bunch of kids are seen climbing the body of a military tank.

The photo above shows just how unrecognizable the same location is today, less than 30 years later. In the top photo, the building on the left was replaced, while the buildings on the right-hand side are pretty much the same. That being said, a whole new road was constructed and has turned this former war zone into a healthy and hospitable environment.

Germany’s Reichstag Had Been Burnt to a Crisp but Nowadays Its the Second Most Visited Attraction

One of Berlin’s most historic buildings is the Reichstag, part of which houses the German federal parliament. But in 1933 it suffered bad damages from the Reichstag fire, and all parliamentary sessions there had to be stopped. For the next 12 years, the Reichstag was under Nazi rule, and the grand building remained unrestored. The color photo below is from 1958 and captures the building just before the first restoration was about to begin.

But the restoration of the 50s barely restored the Reichstag to its former glory. Only in 1994 was it decided that the building should be fully restored, and by 1999 it was complete. Now it’s the second most visited attraction in Germany, with people traveling far and wide to see the giant glass dome addition on top of the building. It may have taken a while until the building was fully restored, but it was worth it in the end.

The Coast of Gdansk Has Undergone a Total Reconstruction That Has Given It Cruise-worthy Views

The Polish city of Gdansk is a port city, as we can see from the view below. But aside from the great body of water, we can see a sorry line of broken building facades that have essentially been reduced to ruins. In reality, these aren’t just building facades – they were once functioning buildings. But having lost their roofs, the light comes streaming out through the spaces that once held windows.

The buildings along the canal in 1945 were taken down and replaced with brand new ones. After the war, there were less than 200,000 people living in the port city. But today it’s a different story, and Gdansk is now home to approximately 470,000 individuals. Thanks to the efforts of the Polish population, they were able to build Gdansk up to being the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country.

St. Quentin Canal in Northern France Maintains It’s Natural Charm Despite the Addition of New Safety Features

St Quentin Canal in northern France had been incorporated within the defenses of Germany’s Hindenburg Line during WWI. The photo on the left shows part of the canal in 1918 with French, British, Australian, and American soldiers preparing for battle. They were fighting together to try to break the “Hindenburg Line,” i.e. the German defense position, and this battle would come to be one of the most crucial assaults of the whole war.

St. Quentin Canal has undergone a makeover in the century, albeit an understated one. This site in which thousands of soldiers from either side lost their lives has become a calm waterway that’s perfect for taking a morning stroll with your dog. As we can see, they’ve even erected street lamps for those late-night strolls and added some flood barriers.

A Roundabout in Berlin’s City Center Replaced Battle Tanks and Building Fires With Coffee Drinkers and Public Benches

Berlin was a battleground during the Battle of Berlin of 1945, as we can see in the photo below. The Soviet Union shelled the city center which started fires inside buildings. In this photo, the fire was still in its early stages, but soon enough the building would be reduced to nothing more than a pile of rubble and ash.

The armed army tank in the top photo has been replaced by benches and an outdoor dining space. But as we can see, the corner building that went up in flames has been replaced with a building in the shape of a ten-sided polygon. As one Reddit user poignantly put it, “I wonder if the people sunning themselves and sipping their coffee understand what happened there 75 years ago? Probably not.”

Moscow’s Tverskoy Overpass That Was Once Dominated by Army Tanks Is Today Ruled by Cars

Moscow, the country’s capital and the largest Soviet city, was under threat from the German Army in 1941. Pictured below, Germany’s T-34 and T-76 tanks were fast approaching Russia’s cosmopolitan capital by crossing over the Tverskoy overpass. As the black and white photo shows, these intimidating tanks dominated the streets.

The Tverskoy overpass looks completely different today. The buildings in the distance have not only remained intact after almost 80 years but they’ve been improved upon and expanded. On the road where there once stood soldiers and tanks, there are now thousands of cars passing through each day.

Dresden’s Church Ruins Were Once Just a Backdrop for Grazing Sheep, but Now People Flock To See the Grand Restoration

The bombing of Dresden began in 1945 destroyed the Frauenkirche Lutheran church in Dresden. It had put up a good fight and stayed standing for two whole days of attacks, before being driven into the ground by the heat of 650,000 incendiary bombs. It had been exposed to temperatures of around 1,830 °F, and the walls came crumbling down.

After the war, the people of the town expressed their desire to rebuild the church – it had supported the evacuation of around 300 people during the war before it came crashing down. In the end, rebuilding the great church took a deal of time and money and wasn’t completed until 2005. In total, its reconstruction cost around $198 million. But today, the city is making its money back through its booming tourist industry.

Marcin Street in Poznan, Poland, Underwent a Ton of Reconstruction Work From the 1960s Onwards

The Battle of Poznan during World War Two saw the Soviet Union attempt to take the Polish city out of Nazi Germany’s hands. It was 1945 and the Soviet Union succeeded in claiming the city, but it came at an expense. We can see in the photo below just how much damage was done to the city center. But the difference between Marcin Street from 1945 to 2017 is almost incomprehensible.

Take a look at how far the city of Poznan has come since the war. The riverside city has a population of more than half a million people today and is famous for its old town, Renaissance-style buildings, and universities. Despite all the destruction it had been exposed to in 1945, the locals worked hard in the years following the war to rebuild and reconstruct all that had been damaged. We’re happy to see that all their hard work paid off.

The People of Paris Worked Hard for Their Liberation and Are Reaping the Rewards of It to This Day

In the photo below, we can see what was happening in Paris circa August 1944, where people formed a barricade on the Pont Neuf at the intersection with the Quai de Conti. Paris had been under German occupation since 1940, but the locals met their new leadership with resistance. All around Paris people worked together to form these barricades, and today photos like this one symbolize the local Parisians’ undefeatable spirit.

It’s a joy to see the exact same street looks very similar to how it did back in 1944, meaning that the city managed to maintain its famous historic buildings. Except for the barricades, the general structure it had before still remains to this day, only now the Parisian people aren’t fighting for their lives.

St Petersburg’s Peterhof Palace Now Welcomes Tons of Visitors Despite Still Undergoing Restoration Work

The Peterhof Palace in St Petersburg, Russia, was a series of palaces that had been captured by German troops between the years of 1941-44. The nazi’s largely destroyed the palaces that had been commissioned by Peter the Great, which were so ornate that they were commonly referred to as “The Russian Versailles.” We can see in the photo below just how much the buildings had to contend with during their occupation.

Unusually, the restoration work for the Peterhof palaces and gardens began almost immediately after WWII had come to an end. And the crazy part is, the restoration work continues even to this day. Luckily, the Palace and Gardens are open to the public despite reconstruction work still taking place.