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History Behind New York City

Anatomy Of the Big Apple

We take a look at the history behind our favourite city and make some recommendations along the way…

To say that New York City is a complex town would be an understatement. The result of centuries of innumerable cultures layering on top of one another and millions of people meshing together, all confined in a single area – the Big Apple is like nowhere else on Earth.  

Sometimes NYC can seem so big, however, that it becomes difficult to leave the borough one is in (when visiting or even whilst living there) and even more so to take the time to learn a bit more about the city’s history. 

To help you out, we have made a short history of each borough and listed the most crucial thing you cannot miss whilst there, enjoy:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, aka "the Met"
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, aka “the Met”

Manhattan

The epicenter of NYC life, Manhattan’s famous skyscraping skyline is a powerful reminder of this thriving international hub for business, art and culture. The island takes its name from Munsees, the American Indians who lived there before the Europeans arrived.

The origin of the name itself has been disputed widely as either meaning mentay ‘island of many hills’, ‘manaactanienk: place of inebriation’ or ‘manahatouh: place where timber’. Either way, from 1609 it began to appear on maps as Manna-Hatta and the name stuck.

Manhattan is also the first place to take the name New York; when the English took the island colony of New Amsterdam in 1664 from the Dutch they renamed it New York in honour of the Duke of York, 

Best place to visit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art… one the top cultural and art centres on the planet. And when you’re done with sightseeing, grab a drink al fresco on its panoramic roof terrace. 


The famous Brooklyn Bridge view from Brooklyn overlooking the Manhattan skyline
The famous Brooklyn Bridge view from Brooklyn overlooking the Manhattan skyline

Brooklyn

It’s hard to imagine now but in the 17th century, Brooklyn, was a tiny town built on the marshland formed on the East River shore of Long Island called Breuckelen. Today, it boasts almost three million inhabitants and over the past 20 years has become the avant-garde capital of the five boroughs. 

Have a pizza and a drink at: Di Fara Pizza a classic pizza joint that has survived for 50 years and stays family-owned by the DeMarco family, to this day. Enjoy the perfect slice as Mr DeMarco himself whips up a pie with ingredients brought over from Italy. 


Yankee Stadium - Home of the NY Yankees
Yankee Stadium – Home of the NY Yankees

Bronx

Somewhat incredibly, the Bronx was settled by a Swedish sea captain called Jonas Bronck was back in 1639. Bronck was a wealthy man and built a successful farm on the land (in the residential area we now know as Mott Haven) that bordered the ‘Broncks River’. 

Almost 200 years later, the area grew in numbers and the City of New York decided to annex the former farmland (1985) – renaming the area and the river ‘Bronx’. 

Check out a ball game: The Bronx is home of the ‘pinstripe bombers’, the famous NY Yankees baseball team. Catch a game or go to the stadium on an off day for a drive in movie


Sculpture at the Socrates Sculpture Park
Sculpture at the Socrates Sculpture Park

Queens

Originally populated by both Dutch and English colonies – the Netherlands finally handed over the land to the English in 1664. The British named the resultant area West of the East River as Queens – after the Portuguese Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II. Interestingly – the Braganza crown also ruled as ‘Emperors of Brazil’ until 1889 which is curious as Queens now holds a large Brazilian immigrant population. The area officially became a borough in 1898. 

Explore a melting pot of cultures: Whether you are lucky enough to be there in February for the Brazilian Carnival, in the summer for the US Open or anytime to visit the many museums and sculpture parks – Queens is chock full of amazing things to do. 


The Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island

Often called the ‘forgotten borough’ – the island was named Staten Eylandt by the Dutch after the governing body of the Netherlands, the States-General. In 1664 it was renamed by the British to Richmond Count after the Duke of Richmond (Charles Lennox – from whence we get the name Lennox Hill also). Becoming an official borough in 1898 it remained the Borough of Richmond all the way until 1975 when the City Council changed its name back to Staten Island.

Go back in time: Check out the Historic Town of Richmond for a perfectly preserved colonial era town in the middle of NYC complete with reenactments and museums. 


UP NEXT: We bet you didn’t know this about what you just ate…