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Well before the Revolutionary War, Charles Towne (named for Charles II) was one of the busiest ports on the eastern seaboard, the center of a prosperous rice-growing and trading colony. With influences from the West Indies and Africa, France and other European countries, it became a cosmopolitan city often compared to New Orleans.

The first shots of the Civil War rang out at Fort Sumter, in Charleston’s harbor. After the war, as the labor-intensive rice plantations became uneconomical without slave labor, the city’s importance declined. Natural disasters wrought more damage, with a major earthquake in 1886, several fires and storms, and devastating Hurricane Hugo in 1989. But much of the town’s historic fabric remains, to the delight of four million tourists every year.