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In early 2003, the universities of Essen and the nearby city of Duisburg (both established in 1972) were merged into the University of Duisburg-Essen with campuses in both cities and a university hospital in Essen.

Essen is located in the centre of the Ruhr area, one of the largest urban areas in Europe (see also: megalopolis), comprising eleven independent cities and four districts with some 5.3 million inhabitants.

The Ruhr forms the Lake Baldeney reservoir in the boroughs of Fischlaken, Kupferdreh, Heisingen and Werden.

The lake, a popular recreational area, dates from 1931 to 1933, when some thousands of unemployed coal miners dredged it with primitive tools .

The city limits of Essen itself are 87 km (54 mi) long and border ten cities, five independent and five kreisangehörig (i.e., belonging to a district), with a total population of approximately 1.4 million.

The city extends over 21 km (13 mi) from north to south and 17 km (11 mi) from west to east, mainly north of the River Ruhr.

It is the central city of the northern (Ruhr) part of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area and seat to several of the region's authorities.

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