Ely Cathedral, situated on a low hill and visible for miles across the surrounding flat Fen countryside, continues to provide a splendid backdrop to many views of the city as it has done throughout a period of over 800 years. Today Ely is a rapidly expanding market town with a population nearing 20,000 but the cathedral and medieval precincts of the former monastery reflect its continuity and stability. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, many business premises have remained the same but shops have changed owners and trade. There have been big changes on both sides of the River Great Ouse, and much of the open land around the northern outskirts of the city has been replaced by housing developments. However, in spite of changes most of the buildings in the old town remain relatively untouched.