Québec illustrates one of the major stages in the population and growth of the Americas during the modern and contemporary period. When Samuel de Champlain founded Québec, the capital of New France, in 1608 he chose the natural site of a steep plateau overlooking the St Laurent River. The old heart of the city was established on this promontory, Cap-aux-Diamants, which is protected by Fort St Louis.
Québec, which was a fortified city, a centre of population, and a harbour where ships delivered manufactured goods from Europe and loaded the precious pelts from the Great North, had an urban organization very early on and a zoning system which stemmed from these various functions. The cliff obviously divided the city into two districts: the district of business, barter, and the navy located in the Lower City, and the administrative and religious centre which gradually took hold in the Upper City.
Under English domination from 1759 to 1867 urban growth stayed within the limits of the site, and so the city expanded towards the west, all the way to the ramparts built in 1720 by Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry.
The construction of a citadel at the far south-east end of Cap-aux-Diamants by the engineer Elias Durnford from 1819 to 1831 and the expansion of the system of fortifications to cover the city's entire perimeter were in keeping with the original spatial organization of the city and gave Québec its current topographical features. The city is an early example of urban heritage conservation as a result of the action of Lord Dufferin, who from 1875 to 1880 took a stand against the demolition of the fortifications which, from a strategic standpoint, had become useless. He simply had new gates to the city cut into them. From the beginning of the 20th century, and so well before being classified as a historic monument in 1957, the fortified walls of Québec were maintained by Canadian government funds.
The oldest quarters are located in the Lower City in the vicinity of the Place Royale, which along with the Rue Notre Dame is lined with old 17th- and 18th-century houses. Notre-Dame des Victoires Church, which was built starting in 1688 according to Claude Baillif's plans and which was burned down during the siege of 1759, was rebuilt during the English domination. In the Upper City, the convents of the Jesuits (1625), the Recolletés (1629) and the Ursulines (1642), along with the Seminary (1663), have not retained their original form. However, despite the vicissitudes of history (the siege of 1759, great fires in the 18th and 19th centuries) they have retained some of the original elements. Of the 700 old civil or religious buildings remaining, 2% date back to the 17th century, 9% to the 18th century and 43% to the first half of the 19th century. At the same time, the city took on its present aspect, which was greatly influenced by the Baillairgés, a dynasty of architects who, for several generations, imposed an interesting interpretation of the neoclassical style.
A coherent urban ensemble, Québec's historic district, including the citadel, the Upper City defended by walls with bastions, and the Lower City with its harbour and old quarters, provides an outstanding example of a fortified colonial town, which is by far the most complete in North America.
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