Historically in County Durham, there were three original settlements on the site of modern-day Sunderland. On the north side of the river, Monkwearmouth was settled in 674 when Benedict Biscop founded the Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery. Opposite the monastery on the south bank, Bishopwearmouth was founded in 930. A small fishing village called Sunderland, located toward the mouth of the river (modern day East End) was granted a charter in 1179.
Over the centuries, Sunderland grew as a port, trading coal and salt. Ships began to be built on the river in the 14th century. By the 19th century, the port of Sunderland had grown to absorb Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth.
A person who is born or lives around the Sunderland area is sometimes colloquially known as a Mackem.
Much of the city is located on a low range of hills running parallel to the coast. On average, it is around 80 metres above sea level. Sunderland is divided by the River Wear which passes through the middle of the city in a deeply incised valley, part of which is known as the Hylton gorge. The two road bridges connecting the north and south portions of the city are the Queen Alexandra Bridge at Pallion and the Wearmouth Bridge just to the north of the city centre. To the west of the city, the Hylton Viaduct carries the A19 dual-carriageway over the Wear.
Most of the suburbs of Sunderland are situated towards the west of the city centre with 70% of its population living on the south side of the river and 30% on the north side. The city extends to the seafront at Hendon and Ryhope in the south and Seaburn in the north.