City and main port in southeastern South Carolina, USA, situated on a peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers, at the head of a bay 11 km/7 mi from the Atlantic Ocean; seat of Charleston County; population (2000 est) 96,700. Industries include tourism, paper, chemicals, and petrochemicals. The original settlement dates from 1670, and Charleston was incorporated as a city in 1783; there are many historic houses and fine gardens here.
Fort Sumter, in the sheltered harbour of Charleston, was bombarded by Confederate batteries from 12–13 April 1861, thus beginning the American Civil War. The city was badly damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Charleston is the seat of several colleges: the College of Charleston (1770), the Medical College of South Carolina (1824), the Citadel Military College of South Carolina (1842), Charleston Southern University (1964), and Trident Technical College (1964).
The city also has Navy and Air Force bases and a Naval Weapons Station, which are major sources of employment. Spoleto Festival USA, dating from 1977, attracts various performing-arts groups. Charleston is the setting for George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess. Ninety-three entries on the national register of historic places include Fort Sumter National Monument, a submarine, and a lighthouse.