Mixed cities were once common in the Mediterranean, particularly in the Ottoman Empire. Their characteristics included multiple races, religions and languages; the importance of ambassadors, consuls and commerce; modernity; and vulnerability. Constantinople, Aleppo, Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut were mixed Ottoman cities. They are both precursors of, and warnings to, today’s mixed ciities.
For in the end mixed cities depend on the state which protects them. When the state weakens or turns hostile, they do not survive. The hinterland always bites back. In the last hundred years all Ottoman mixed cities have suffered from civil wars and nationalism. The hinterland always bites back. Smyrna was burnt, and lost its Greeks and Armenians in 1922, Constantinople was Turkified after 1922, and Alexandria Egyptianised after 1952. Since 2012 Aleppo has been gutted by civil war . Most refugees from this formerly tolerant half-Christian city hesitate to return. Gibraltar is, with Marseille, one of the last historic mixed cities of the Mediterranean.
Elsewhere, however, mixed cities are, thanks to globalization, again increasingly normal. From New York to Hong Kong, more and more cities contain an increasing proportion of people from foreign countries. 800 languages are spoken in New York, 300 in London.
London, according to David Cameron, is ‘the most diverse city in the world’. The latest figures show that the population of 8.2 million is 45% white British. In Dubai immigrants far outnumber the original inhabitants. Hong Kong tries to maintain its identity against the pressures of the Chinese state. In a rapidly globalising world, perhaps the future belongs to mixed cities, rather than national states.