20 Astonishing Photographs That Show How The World Has Transformed Over Time

Isn’t it amazing how time can totally transform a landscape? Even more fascinating still is to see that change laid bare before your very eyes. Of course, photographs are an excellent way to view these contrasts and to get a real feel for the flow of history. This series of 20 pairs of photographs, then, shows how the forces of nature, human conflict and simply the passage of time can create intriguing juxtapositions to thought-provoking effect.

20. Notre Dame, Paris – 1850 and 2016

The splendidly Gothic-styled Notre-Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Here we see it in 1850, in the left-hand photo, some seven centuries after construction had started. The earlier image shows the cathedral minus its spire. This had been included in the original building but damage saw its removal in 1786. However, the spire was rebuilt in the 19th century after the 1850 photograph was taken.

19. Rysstad, Norway – 1888 and 2013

The village of Rysstad portrayed in this pair of photos separated by 125 years clearly shows the advances in Norway. From an 1888 setting that is decidedly rural, with its horse and buggy and timber buildings, the landscape has changed starkly by 2013. Now there are asphalt roads, brick buildings and cars.

18. Martin Luther Statue, Dresden, Germany – 1958 and 2014

It’s quite startling to see that Martin Luther’s statue in Dresden, Germany still surrounded by what’s left of a church as late as 1958. After all, it had been 13 years since Second World War hostilities had ended. Dresden was largely reduced to rubble by intensive Allied bombing in February 1945. In fact, reconstruction of the church didn’t get under way until 1993 and took until 2005 to complete.

17. Quai des Nations, Paris – 1900 and 2017


The Quai des Nations structures were part of the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. This event was a kind of world’s fair and featured exhibitions in purpose-built structures around the city. The earlier image shows the pavilions of Germany, Belgium and the U.S. These buildings on the bank of the River Seine were temporary and are nowhere to be seen in the 2017 shot of the same location. The Eiffel Tower, though, still stands proudly in the background.

16. Poznań, Poland – 1945 and 2017

The city of Poznań lies in central Poland. The Germans seized it in 1939. Then in 1945, the Russians swept through the country as they defeated and rolled back the Germans. Since Hitler had ordered that Poznań should be held at all costs, the city saw bitter fighting and was devastated. But careful post-war restoration saw the city center’s elegant buildings returned to their former glory.

15. Pripyat, Ukraine – 1986 and 2016


There’s a good reason why this Ukrainian city looks like a ghost town in the 2016 shot. Pripyat is located just over a mile from the nuclear power station known as Chernobyl. The plant, as you may well remember, was the scene of a catastrophic explosion and fire in 1986. Unsurprisingly, some 49,000 residents, the city’s entire population, were moved to safety in the days following the disaster.

14. Chaney Glacier, USA – 1911 and 2005

If you have any doubts about the effects of global warming in the last century, take a look at these two pictures of the Chaney Glacier in Montana. Scientists have been monitoring the state of this icy behemoth for some years now. As a result, we know that its size has reduced by nearly 30 percent in just about four decades. The loss since 1911 is quite clearly even more drastic.

13. St-Gervais-Et-St-Protais, Paris – 1918 and 2017


St-Gervais-Et-St-Protais is a church in central Paris, not far from the banks of the River Seine. Its construction extended from the late 15th to the mid-17th century and was the first Parisian church built in the Baroque fashion. In March 1918 German artillery smashed through the roof killing 88 worshippers and injuring a further 68 people. After WWI, the church was restored.

12. Cologne, Germany – 1945 and 2011

These images show the square in front of the cathedral in Cologne. The German city was the scene of fierce combat between German soldiers and Allied forces in 1945 as WWII neared its end. During the war, Allied bombing destroyed more than half of the city’s buildings. The cathedral, although badly damaged by the 14 bombs that crashed into it, stood-fast in a sea of rubble.

11. Hôtel De Ville, Paris – 1871 and 2014


Hôtel De Ville is the town hall of Paris, France. Originally built in the 16th century, it was much added to in the following years. But the building you see in the 2014 photograph is a complete reconstruction of the original hall. Fire destroyed the first Hôtel De Ville in 1871 when a revolutionary movement moved in and subsequently set it ablaze. The rebuilding started in 1873 and wasn’t completed until 1892.

10. New York, USA 1932 and London, U.K. 2011

The left-hand photograph showing steelworkers taking lunch almost 900 feet above street level has to be one of the best-known images of the 20th century. Charles C. Ebbets took the photo in 1932 during the construction of New York’s Rockefeller Center. The 2011 tribute to the original shows workers in London wearing noticeably more safety gear.

9. Eiffel Tower, Paris – 1910 and 1916


The Eiffel Tower straddles the foreground of both the 1910 and 2016 shots and it hasn’t changed at all in the 106 years between the two photographs. But what has certainly changed is the shape of the skyline in the backgrounds of the two shots. In the 1910 photo’s background is the Trocadero Palace, built for the 1878 World’s Fair and demolished in 1936.

8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – 1941 and 2016

This structure is today called the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and it’s in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. Built in the 1890s, it was originally the British colonial headquarters in the country. The Japanese seized Malaysia from the British in 1942. However, the Brits once again controlled the state after WWII, up until 1957, when Malaysia achieved independence. Today the building is home to various government ministries.

7. Notre-Dame, Paris – 1944 and 2017


We saw Notre Dame earlier on, but the left-hand picture here tells another story altogether. This 1944 shot is taken not long after the Allied armies and the French Resistance had evicted the occupying Germans from Paris. Now an Allied tank squats in front of the venerable cathedral, a symbol of liberty regained.

6. The Eiffel Tower, Paris – 1888 and 2017

Here we’re back at the Eiffel Tower. But this time it’s 1888 in the older picture, and construction of the famous Parisian landmarks is not yet complete. Its characteristic shape is already easily recognizable but strangely truncated. Gustave Eiffel started building his tower in 1887 but it was not until 1889 that he completed its 1,063 feet, in time to serve as the grand entrance of the World’s Fair of that year.

5. Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin – 1961 and 2009


During the 1960s the Cold War between the western powers and the Soviet Union was at its height. One of the hot-spots at that time was the divided city of Berlin. And it was during 1961that the Russians and East Germans erected the Berlin Wall to physically separate the two powers. Checkpoint Charlie was one of the only gateways between western and eastern parts of the city until 1989, when the wall came down.

4. Moulin Rouge, Paris – 1900 and 2016

Its façade has been redesigned but a Parisian of 1900 would have little difficulty recognizing the Moulin Rouge of 2016. Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler opened the night-spot in 1889, although their original premises burnt to the ground in 1915. The venue is said to be the very place where the flamboyant dance, known as the can-can, was born.

3. The Place Des Victoires, Paris – 1914 and 2017


The Place Des Victoires is another central Paris location and these two images illustrate just how much this city has changed in the last century. Six roads meet at this circular plaza with its typically Parisian elegance. In the earlier picture we have an old-fashioned bar, replaced today with something oozing contemporary chic. The fur emporium is gone. Motor vehicles have replaced the horses. The buildings remain, but nothing is quite the same.

2. St. Louis, Missouri – 1865 and 2015

Although the Old Courthouse in St. Louis , Missouri, opened in 1828, the building was much altered and added to during the course of the 19th century. The property has been the scene of some significant historic moments. It was 1861 when the Old Courthouse ended the auctioning of slaves. Today, the federal Park Service runs the place as a museum and events venue.

1. Berlin, Germany – 1976 and 2005


King Frederick William II of Prussia ordered the construction of Berlin’s splendidly neoclassical Brandenburg Gate. Completed in 1791, the gate was built as a symbol of peace after a time of conflict in Europe. In the 1976 photo a section of the Cold War era Berlin Wall is clearly visible, closing the passage between East and West Berlin. By the time of the 2005 photo, the gate had been reopened for 16 years, since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.