Like all living things, cities have lifespans. London started as a small Roman settlement along the Thames River. Initially encompassing just a few families, today, more than 8.6 million people call the place home. So take a moment to take a journey. Here are is a series of maps, paintings, and old-time photographs that show the journey of the British capital from the past to today.

Two recent archaeological excavations, in 1999 and 2010, suggest that there were settlements near London’s Thames River as early as 4500 BC. The area saw a widespread adoption of agriculture in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

A 1974 painting of a Bronze Age farming settlement. Alan Sorrell/Museum of London Image (Source: British History Online)

The Romans founded Londinium (now called London) in 43 AD. This artist’s illustration of Londinium in 200 AD shows the city’s first bridge over the Thames River.

Image Source: Imgur

From the 7th to 11th centuries, Anglo-Saxons moved into Londinium. Their settlement was laid out in a grid pattern and grew to contain between 10,000 and 12,000 people.

An artist’s reconstruction of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum. Image Source: Sue White/University of Nottingham

Westminster Abbey, built in the 10th century, is a World Heritage Site and one of London’s oldest and most important buildings. Here it is in a 1749 painting.

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England there on Christmas Day, 1066 — just after it was completed. By the 11th century, London had the largest port in England. In the 12th century, the English royal court began to grow in size and sophistication and settled in Westminster, a neighborhood in central London.

The Old Palace at Westminster. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

In 1176, King Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge. Finished in 1284, the original London Bridge would stand for over 600 years. It supported homes and shops — which weighed down its arches over time.

“View of London Bridge,” a 1632 oil painting by Claude de Jongh. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

The development of the printing press in the early 15th century made news available to the entire city and improved literacy levels. Coffeehouses also became popular spots for friendly debates.

A London coffee house, circa 1660s. Image Source: Public Domain

In the 17th century, London suffered from the Great Plague, which killed about 100,000 people. In 1666, the Great Fire broke out; it took the city a decade to rebuild.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The city became a major hub for trade throughout the 1700s, and the Port of London expanded downstream.

London Bridge, circa 1750. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

During the Georgian era (from 1714 to 1830), new districts like Mayfair formed, and new bridges over the Thames encouraged development in South London.

London’s Trafalgar Square in 1814. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

In the mid-19th century, London overtook Amsterdam as the Europe’s leading financial center…and the Royal Navy became the world’s leading military fleet.

London in the 19th century. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

London was the largest city in the world from 1831 until 1925, when New York City superseded it. The growing population and increased traffic led to the creation of the world’s first local, underground urban rail network in the late 1860s. An extensive sewage system was also constructed.

London Sewage system being built in 1860. Source: WikiMedia

WWII devastated London starting in 1941. As seen below, civilians hid in underground train stations to get away from air raids, which killed approximately 30,000 Londoners by the war’s end. The city then slowly began to rebuild itself.

Bomb-damaged commercial buildings line London’s Cannon Street in 1941. Source: Getty Images

The city has maintained its place as a center of global power …

Piccadilly Circus in London, circa 1950s. Image Source: Transpressnz

… and today, over 8.6 million people reside there.

Aerial panoramic cityscape view of London and the River Thames in the 2000s. Source: Getty Images.