Kowloon Walled City: Photos from What Once Was the Most Densely Packed Place on Earth

Urban areas are dynamic landscapes, characterized by densely packed buildings and bustling activity. However, one city stands out from the rest – Kowloon Walled City.

Located in the British territory of Hong Kong, this unique enclave, spanning just 6.4 acres (2.6 hectares), was home to thousands of residents and workers for decades.

By the 1980s, 35,000 people lived in Kowloon Walled City, creating an exceptionally compact community within its limits.

This enclave consisted of 350 buildings connected by hundreds of narrow streets. Known as the "City of Darkness", it got this name due to the severe lack of natural light.

The story of Kowloon Walled City raises interesting questions. How did this unique city come into existence and why was it ultimately destroyed?

This is the interesting story of a 'city' that was once considered the most densely populated place on Earth.

Early history of Kowloon Walled City
The history of the walled city dates back to the Song dynasty (960–1279), when a military post was established to manage the salt trade in the area.

Little happened for hundreds of years thereafter, although in 1668 30 guards were stationed there.

In 1842, during the reign of the King Daoguang Emperor, Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking.

As a result, Qing officials found it necessary to improve the fortress in order to govern the area and prevent British influence. Improvements, including a formidable defensive wall, were completed in 1847.

The Convention for the Extension of the Hong Kong Territory of 1898 ceded additional parts of Hong Kong (the New Territories) to Britain for 99 years, but excluded the walled city, which at the time had a population of about 700.

China was allowed to keep the officers there as long as they did not interfere with the defense of British Hong Kong.

For years, China has firmly occupied this small piece of land. After World War II, even though much of it was damaged, people began to come to the area to seek refuge.

They knew that they could count on the support of the Chinese government if the Hong Kong authorities tried to release them.

The Chinese protected thousands of refugees, and any attempts to expel them by force failed.

As time passed, the refugee camp began to transform into something more permanent and sustainable.

Layout and Architecture

Despite growing from a fortress to an urban enclave, the walled city retained its original layout.

The initial fort occupied a sloping area, covering a 2.6-hectare (6.4-acre) plot measuring approximately 210 by 120 meters (690 by 390 ft).

In the 1960s and 1970s, construction activities increased, turning the once low-lying city into a landscape dotted with buildings of 10 floors or more, except in central Yemen.

Many of the city's streets, often only 1–2 meters (3.3–6.6 ft) wide, lacked proper lighting and drainage.

On the upper levels a complex network of stairs and passageways emerged, allowing one to cross the entire city from north to south without touching solid ground.

Construction within the city operated without regulation, resulting in approximately 350 buildings with poor foundations and minimal utilities.

Because the apartments were so small – a typical unit was 23 m2 (250 sq ft) – space was maximized with extensive upper floors, closed balconies, and the addition of a terrace.

The rooftops of the city were filled with television antennas, clothes lines, water tanks and garbage, and could be crossed using a series of stairs.

Official census numbers estimated the population of the walled city at 10,004 in 1971 and 14,617 in 1981, but these figures were generally considered too low.

A thorough government survey in 1987 gave a clear picture: an estimated 33,000 people lived in the walled city.

Based on this survey, the population density of the Walled City in 1987 was approximately 1,255,000 inhabitants per square kilometer (3,250,000/sq mi), making it the most densely populated place in the world.

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