Philadelphia (/ˌfɪləˈdɛlfiə/) is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the fifth-most populous in the United States, with an estimated population in 2014 of 1,560,297. In the Northeastern United States, at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, Philadelphia is the economic and cultural anchor of the Delaware Valley, a metropolitan area home to 7.2 million people and the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.
In 1682, William Penn founded the city to serve as capital of the Pennsylvania Colony. Philadelphia played an instrumental role in the American Revolution as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. Philadelphia was one of the nation’s capitals in the Revolutionary War, and served as temporary U.S. capital while Washington, D.C., was under construction. In the 19th century, Philadelphia became a major industrial center and railroad hub that grew from an influx of European immigrants. It became a prime destination for African-Americans in the Great Migration and surpassed two million occupants by 1950.
I admit to feeling that as U.S. cities go, New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C. are hard to beat. But I have learned through traveling in the U.S. in recent decades that some of the “lesser” cities have enough charm to entice me to want to revisit them. A nephew’s wedding brought us to Philadelphia this past weekend. We first visited Philly with our young children about 25-30 years ago. I have very vague memories of seeing the Liberty Bell and a village-like concentration of historical buildings. With half a day to ourselves before the actual wedding event, we set out to reacquaint ourselves with the city.
Our first stop was Reading Terminal Market, a food mecca; our mission was to get breakfast at the Pennsylvania Dutch nook. As we stepped into the market, we joined a crush of humanity and soon found our destination.
After a short wait on line, lovely, wholesome-looking young ladies dressed in Amish headgear and aprons served us heaping platters of eggs and turkey bacon, and their specialty, cinnamon french toast. For four people breakfast was $35…a bargain by NYC standards. We left smiling and well fortified for our walk through the city.
My first glimpse of the city as we emerged from the hotel was City Hall with a statue of William Penn atop its dome. Penn and other statues appear to be almost black, in sharp contrast to the whiteness of the building. They loom over the city in Gothic splendor.
We then walked along Chestnut St. to the Old City. Our plan was nothing more than to take in the sights and sounds of a city that is relatively unknown to us. Almost everywhere we looked, buildings were embellished with lovely architectural details of a bygone era. One had only to look above the street level of most shops to find exquisite statuary, intricately carved mantels and cornices, and even elegantly crafted fire escapes. Philly has somehow managed to preserve these details that have become more and more difficult to find in NY. As for the new, I especially loved the bus stops; each one unique in its theme of wrought iron and stained glass. A city that takes the trouble to make the lives of its daily commuters more pleasurable is a city I could love.
We did not visit the actual Liberty Bell; the line was much too long. But we did go to the Visitor Center at Independence National Historical Park and stayed to watch two short films about the history of the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as the American Revolution. Every American is advised to take the time and trouble to revisit the birthplace of our nation in this welcoming city. Jaded by the year-long catastrophe that has been our Presidential campaign, it was refreshing to be reminded of the higher principles that govern our nation and the enlightened people who supported them.
Wandering around the Old City, we soaked up the loveliness of the original buildings of that era and appreciated how, within an area of several square blocks, so much of our history is anchored here and is still so well preserved. The neighborhood reminded us of our walks around Georgetown, D.C. for its loveliness and as a welcoming space to stroll and ponder our past in the heart of this great city.
Having taken ill after the wedding, I missed out on the bagel breakfast the next morning, followed by a walk my family members took in the Rittenhouse Square District and along the banks of the Schuylkill River near the University of Pennsylvania. My husband told me that he, again, felt a similarity to Georgetown walking through these neighborhoods.
As in many cities experiencing a renaissance in America, there is a lot of construction going on in downtown Philadelphia. And, yes, that is mostly for new residential towers and skyscrapers. There is definitely a hum of energy and revitalization throughout the city. There is also a wonderful melange of ethnicities on the streets and in the popular venues of Philadelphia. I know that the city is not without its own racial issues; but in the shared streets of City Centre, diversity is present and only adds to the cache of the city. Oh, and did I mention that Philly appears to be packed with younger people, lending it a vitality that will ensure its continued growth and prosperity.
As we left the city midday on Sunday, each of us shared our mostly favorable impressions of Philadelphia, and as well as the desire to return to discover more. With the young newlyweds, both of whom are beginning their lives as attorneys, putting down roots in this historical city, there are now many reasons to return and learn more about the birthplace of our nation which appears to be enjoying its own remarkable rebirth.