Founded in 1670 by a group of English aristocrats as a money-making venture, Charles Towne swiftly boomed as the port serving the rice and cotton plantations.
The Civil War started on Charleston's very doorstep at Fort Sumter, which lies on an island in the harbor. Fire swept through the city in 1861, destroying large areas; additional damage was inflicted by the Union bombardment that lasted 587 days. The slump in cotton prices and decline of the plantations led to an economic crash after the war. The final blow to the city was a catastrophic earthquake in 1886. When the rest of the state became industrialized, Charleston was the exception. With the arrival of World War II the city regained importance as a port and naval base.
Since then a steady program of preservation and restoration has made tourism one of Charleston's main industries. Despite its great popularity as a tourist destination, the city has managed to retain its quaint atmosphere while remaining an energetic and real working town. Charleston is a compelling place to visit; the historic district features tall, narrow houses of multi-colored stucco adorned with wooden shutters and ironwork balconies. Hidden gardens, leafy patios, palm trees, a semitropical climate and an easy going atmosphere complete the picture of one of the most beloved cities of the south.
Charleston is equally acclaimed for its contributions to the arts and humanities and is often viewed as a "living museum." No wonder it was chosen as the place for the renowned Spoleto Festival U.S.A., the world's most comprehensive arts festival. It inspired Gershwin to compose his classic opera, Porgy and Bess.
For the past 21 years Charleston has been named among the top ten most livable cities in America, achieving first place four times. She was recently acclaimed the most courteous city in the U.S. Charleston's port is one of the largest and most active in the United States and ranks 17th in the world.