8 Cities and the Artforms They Gave to The World

From the history of Hollywood to Paris' knack for fashion 

Whether it’s because of a particular landscape, a rich resource, or a funny quirk of history, many kinds of art and crafts are forever linked to one particular place. Here are the unique local art forms to look out for on your travels.

1. Masters of Glassblowing
Venice, Italy

The fine art of Venetian glassblowing has been respected by foreigners since at least 982 CE. Over the centuries, glassblowers working in the region developed novel sculpting, dying, and decorative techniques that continue to fascinate tourists.

In about the year 1000, Venice’s government ordered that all glassblowing workshops be moved to the nearby island of Murano. Not only were officials afraid of starting a fire in Venice’s city center, they also wanted to help the city’s glassblowing geniuses keep their secrets from prying foreign rivals.

Lavorazione (From the collection of Unioncamere)

To this day, glassblowing secrets in Murano are passed down from artisan to apprentice. Tourists can, however, tour many glassmaking factories if they’re willing to take the boat ride into Murano.

Murano, Venice

2. Masters of Murals
Mexico City, Mexico

During the start of the 20th century, Mexico’s finest artists were encouraged by the government to paint murals throughout the capital city. Not only were these murals intended to beautify Mexico City, they were also a means of inspiring patriotism following the Mexican Revolution between 1910 an

Diego Rivera working on the "Nightmare of War, Dream of Peace" mural, Juan Guzmán (From the collection of Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa)

Diego Rivera was one of the leading artists to use muralism to express complex ideas related to Mexican history, politics, and identity. His most famous mural, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, is located in Mexico City’s Diego Rivera Mural Museum. Measuring 15m-long, this 1947 mural shows iconic figures from Mexico City’s past...as well as Rivera himself!

Diego Rivera Mural Museum, Mexico City

The tradition of muralism in modern Mexican art has only grown since Rivera’s time. Mexican artists both in Mexico City and beyond continue to use this traditional art-form to promote dialogue about Mexican history, identity, and politics.

Painting the Importance of Life, Mictlan Murals (From the collection of The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles)

3. Masters of Sword Making
Solingen, Germany

People interested in swordsmanship, or even kitchen cutlery, have most likely heard the name Solingen before. In case you were wondering, Solingen doesn’t refer to a brand name. It’s actually a German city near Düsseldorf that has a long history of making the world’s best blades.

Hunting sword (From the collection of The Victoria and Albert Museum)

Dubbed the “City of Blades,” Solingen has been hailed since the Middle Ages for the high quality of its swords, daggers, and knives. Believe it or not, this tiny city still produces about 70 percent of Germany’s cutlery.

Sabel met schede officieren lichte cavalerie model nr. 1, afkomstig van J.A. de Vos van Steenwijk, Peter Knecht (From the collection of Rijksmuseum)

Tourists walking around Soligen will find evidence of the city’s famed sword making industry everywhere they look. In addition to old stone grinding wheels, there are plenty of statues, and even graffiti, of swords throughout the city’s center.

Forging a Sword (The Smith of Solingen), Wilhelm Albermann (From the collection of Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Solingen now has numerous museums where guests can learn about the city’s swordsmith heritage. The most popular museums include the Deutches Klingenmuseum, which tells the story of the region’s sword-making tradition, and the Balkhauser Kotten, where guests can make their own knives on an authentic stone wheel.

Lachlan Macquarie's sword and scabbard, John Justus Runkel, Sword Cutler and Merchant, Early 1800s (From the collection of National Museum of Australia)

4. Masters of the Ballet
St. Petersburg, Russia

Although ballet has its origins in France and Italy, it has become one of Russia’s dominant art forms since at least the 17th century. Russian dancers were the first to formally separate opera and ballet, stressing the beauty of dancing technique over the importance of telling a coherent story. Today, ballet is as popular as ever in Russia and continues to be heavily sponsored by the government.

Mariinsky Ballet in “The Sleeping Beauty”, Natasha Razina, 2010-02-09 (From the collection of John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)

When the Mariinsky Theatre was built in the 1860s, St. Petersburg became the go-to place for classical ballet. It was in this theatre that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky premiered two of his most famous ballets: Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892). Tchaikovsky also presented his celebrated revival of Swan Lake (1895) at the Mariinsky Theatre after his initial 1877 version flopped in Moscow.

Marinsky Theater

Today, the Mariinsky Ballet is considered one of the finest troupes in the world and is recognized as an official ambassador for Russian culture. Mariinsky’s dancers perform at least 200 shows per year to packed houses.

Autumn Trilogy: The Mariinskij Theatre in Ravenna SWAN LAKE )From the Ravenna Festival)

5. Masters of Flamenco
Madrid, Spain

Originating around the 18th century in Spain’s Andalusia region, flamenco has grown from an art-form mainly used by Romani peasantry into one of the defining features of Spanish identity. Indeed, flamenco is so central to Spanish culture that UNESCO awarded it the status of an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

The best place today to see this passionate art-form (which combines dance, guitar, and singing) is in the capital of Madrid. Some of Spain’s oldest and most respected flamenco clubs, most notably the Corral de la Moreía, are still thriving in the capital city.

Dancer Maria Albaicin, dancing flamenco at Corral de la Moreria, Loomis Dean, 1960-08. (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

In addition to performances at Madrid’s clubs, locals share their passion for flamenco every year with a city-wide festival. It features some of the world’s best flamenco artists dancing around Madrid’s most beautiful sites.

6. Masters of Classical Music
Vienna, Austria

Vienna’s reputation as the “City of Music” was cemented in the 19th century. During this era, often referred to as the “Viennese Classical Period,” masters like Beethoven, Schubert, and Johann Strauss were hard at work in Vienna composing their masterpieces.

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Sydney Opera House (From the collection of Sydney Opera House)

The 19th century was also the era in which the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was formed, performing its first concert in 1842. Nowadays, the Vienna Philharmonic is the most lauded classical orchestra in the world.

Musikverein Wien

Every year in May, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra invites the world to a massive outdoor concert in front of the Schonbrunn Palace. This “Summer Night Concert” attracts at least 100,000 spectators per year, making it one of Europe’s most popular classical music events.

7. Masters of Fashion
Paris, France

Why do we always turn to Parisians for all things fashion? Well, most historians believe Paris owes its status as the premiere fashion capital to King Louis XIV (1638 – 1715). To suit his lavish tastes in fashion design, Louis invested heavily in fine fabrics and textile industries during his reign. Serious fashion designers relocated to Paris simply because it was easier to get the fabrics they needed there.

Louis XIV Portrait, Hyacinthe Rigaud, 18th century (From the collection of The J. Paul Getty Museum)

Parisian fashion blossomed in the 19th century thanks in large part to the Englishman Charles Frederick Worth who, while working in Paris, invented haute couture. In the 20th century, Coco Chanel opened her famous studio and forever changed female fashion industry, particularly by abandoning the fashion for corsets.

Coco Chanel, AFP Photo, 1969 (From the collection of Fonds de Dotation Francoise Giroud)

After World War II, Christian Dior further invigorated the Parisian fashion scene with his “new look.” Yves Saint Laurent again revolutionized global fashion in the 1960s with his ready-to-wear lines.

The Dior Allure, ‘Esprit Dior’, Christian Dior for Christian Dior SE (From the collection of DDP)

Although cities like Milan and New York have emerged as significant rivals, high fashion has become an indelible part of French identity. Ever since it began in 1976, Paris Fashion Week remains one of the most popular fashion shows in the industry.

8. Masters of Filmmaking
Hollywood, California

When we think of innovation in the artistry of film, Hollywood instantly comes to mind. Whether it’s the first film to use sound, the first use of Technicolor, or the animation innovations of Walt Disney’s studios, almost every groundbreaking film had its start in a Hollywood studio.

Walt Disney, Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1950 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

Before 1886, what we now know as Hollywood was little more than an agricultural community. After real estate investor H. J. Whitley visited this area, however, he immediately purchased the land and began transforming it into America’s movie capital.

Hollywood Boulevard overlooking Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the Premiere of Hell’s Angels, University of Southern California and California Historical Society, 1929 (From the collection of Italian American Museum of Los Angeles)

Although the natural scenery was a major draw for young filmmakers, one of the more interesting reasons Hollywood attracted so much talent had to do with Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931). While he was alive, Edison held numerous patents for filmmaking equipment. This made it nearly impossible to create movies on the East Coast without getting Edison’s approval. Filmmakers who wanted freedom of expression decided to flee to California mainly because the cross-continental time lag disrupted Edison’s monopoly.

Hollywood sign
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