The Lower Manhattan skyline defines New York City. The history, conflicts, and identity of the city are visible in its skyline. New York certainly has multiple skylines, but the Lower Manhattan view is arguably the original and the most enduring. From the first anchored ships to after the tragedy of 9/11, hundreds of millions have viewed New York from Brooklyn Heights, whether in person or through paintings, propagandistic panoramas, postcards, television, and new media.
The earliest images of the skyline that survive date from the 1600s when Europeans sailed to the shores of Manhattan Island. Ship masts and low houses dominated the skyline as seen from Brooklyn Heights or an arriving European vessel. For the next 100 years artists created panoramas for mapping and publicity. Then, as the 19th century unfolded, panoramas of skylines took on new qualities as the material for exciting entertainment and virtual travel.
As Lower Manhattan grew, the very foundations of the city changed. This change allowed for the upward growth that began at the end of the 19th century, as the first skyscraper was built and the very idea of the “skyline” emerged. The early 20th century marked the emergence of individual architects and designers who imposed their visions of the skyline onto the city, with a heavy influence from the capitalist market in which they functioned. The skyline recovered from the tragic destruction of 9/11, and New York emerged into the 21st century. Today, the view of the skyline of Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights has become a pilgrimage for tourists from around the world, as they seek to find the defining view of New York City.