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The original capital of the nation, PHILADELPHIA was laid out by William Penn Jr. in 1682, on a grid system that was to provide the pattern for most American cities. It was envisaged as a "greene countrie towne" and today, for all its historical and cultural significance, it still manages to retain a certain quaintness. Just a few blocks away from the noise, crowds, heat and dust of downtown, shady cobbled alleys stand lined with red-brick colonial houses, while the peace and quiet of huge Fairmount Park make it easy to forget you're in a major metropolis.

Settled by Quakers, Philadelphia prospered swiftly on the back of trade and commerce, and by the 1750s had become the second largest city in the British Empire. Economic power fueled strong revolutionary feeling, and the city was the capital during the War of Independence (except for nine months under British occupation in 1777–78). It also served as the US capital until 1800, while Washington, DC was being built. The Declaration of Independence was written, signed and first publicly read here in 1776, as was the US Constitution ten years later. Philadelphia was also a hotbed of new ideas in the arts and sciences, as epitomized by the scientist, philosopher, statesman, inventor and printer Benjamin Franklin.

Philadelphia, which translated from Greek means "City of Brotherly Love," is in fact one of the most ethnically mixed US cities, with substantial communities of Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans and Asians living side by side among the majority black population. Many of the city's black residents are descendants of the migrants who flocked here after the Civil War when, like Chicago, Philadelphia was seen as a place of tolerance and liberalism. More recently, it voted in the nation's first black mayor, and has the country's best museum dedi-cated to African-American history and culture. On the downside, Philadelphia is also the place where, as part of a huge police effort to dislodge the black separatist group MOVE, a bomb dropped from a helicopter set fire to entire city blocks, killing women and children and leaving many hundreds homeless.

Once known as "Filthydelphia," and the butt of endless derision from W.C. Fields in the 1930s (as in his famous epitaph: "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia"), the city underwent a remarkable resurgence preparing for the nation's bicentennial celebrations in 1976. Philadelphia's strength today is its great energy – fueled by history, strong cultural institutions, and a new influx of income due to its new downtown convention center – grounded in its many staunchly traditional neighborhoods, especially Italian South Philadelphia. An impressive amount of new construction and revitalization is currently being undertaken in the downtown area, further testimony of the city's economic boom.
 

 

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