An old town, or historic district, is a town, district, or neighborhood with many preserved buildings from a bygone era.
They often have a nostalgic feel and are considered one of the best ways to get a feel for what life was like long ago.
The oldest towns have existed since before the beginning of the common era. Several old towns are recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
An old town is inhabited, in contrast to archaeological sites, ghost towns, and living history museums.
The old towns that exist today are not necessarily the first settlements built at the location. Many of them have been destroyed by fire, war or disasters, and rebuilt several times.
Some old towns, such as Düsseldorf, have been restored to their former appearance in recent times.
There is no universal definition for how old an old town has to be. In many cases, it is implied that the settlement has been there at least since the mid-19th century before steam power brought railroads and large-scale urban planning.
This varies between parts of the world. For instance, a late 19th-century district might be seen as an old town in the New World, but not in Europe or Asia.
Get around on Altstadt
Old towns usually have narrow streets and even narrower alleys, where pedestrians move more quickly than automobiles.
Most towns were built in an era when people had to walk everywhere, so having houses be very far from each other would have seemed utterly pointless to those who built them.
Pre-modern cities typically had less than 100,000 inhabitants (with a few exceptions, such as Rome, Constantinople, Tenochtitlan, and Beijing). They were densely populated, so they are usually less than 1 km across. Due to grade separation, staircases, and cobblestone, travelers with disabilities might have difficulties getting through some points. Wheeled suitcases, strollers, and bicycles can also be hard to get through.
Riding a bike is further complicated by the often dense pedestrian traffic and getting off and pushing it is often the more intelligent choice if you have to get your bike from one end of the old town to the other.
Entering an old town by automobile can be physically impossible, illegal, or at least very difficult. Even if the road is wide enough for a motorcar, some old cities (particularly Quebec City) are built on steep slopes. A cliff-top or hillside location made the town historically easier to defend against a ground or sea attack.
You can also have difficulty and pay a high price for parking your car outside a historic district. Citizens who have a car at all usually have a compact model.
Some old towns have gotten some connections to public transport, though in many cases they are rather radial lines bypassing the (narrow) historic core, and even long-distance transport infrastructure such as train stations have often been constructed outside the old town.
Where stations were constructed inside the city walls, it was often the determining factor in (at least partially) tearing them down to make room for the rails. Shortly after that, the Napoleonic wars and the railway boom are some of the main reasons, so many European old towns have no walls anymore.
Those city walls that survived this double blow were often razed by bombing in the second world war or torn down to make room for cars. In the latter case, the former city wall may still be evident in the name and orientation of some city streets.