Being social creatures, humans have been living in settlements since the hunting gathering days. Human settlements have slowly evolved from semi-permanent unplanned dwellings to large planned cities. It is not easy to compile a list of the oldest cities in the world, as historical records become unclear and confusing the more we go back in time and some of the ancient cities have vanished in the mists of time, never to be seen again. The oldest cities in the world that exist even today have withstood the ravages of time to emerge as silent custodians of towering monuments and unique ancient cultures. Standing in front of the inspiring architecture or their picturesque ruins, one can hear the wind whispering untold stories of centuries past. This list provides a rough collation of the oldest cities in the world that are still around. So the next time you are planning a holiday, include some of these ancient cities in your itinerary and get ready to be awed by their elegance and magnificence.
Jerusalem, the holy city of Christians, Muslims and Jews, was founded during the early Bronze age in 2800-3000 BC. According to Jews, King David established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Located in Israel between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, Jerusalem is considered holy by Christians all over the world due to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in the city. Muslims regard Jerusalem as the third-holiest city after Mecca and Medina as Prophet Muhammad is said to have begun his Night Journey from the city to heaven to speak with God. Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, continues to exist even after numerous conflicts over its ownership continue even today among the religions. Jerusalem has many places sacred to the three religions-primary among them the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, Mount Zion, Mount of Olives and Via Dolorosa. The Old City in Jerusalem has been declared a World Heritage Site but its existence is threatened by constant urbanization and decay of structure.
Situated in south central Bulgaria on the banks of Maritsa River, Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in the world having a history of 6000 years. Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and has traces of Neolithic settlements dating back to 4000BC. Originally a Thracian city, Plovdiv or Philippopolis in Greek, became a Greek and later a major Roman city. It came under the rule of Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires before falling into the hands of Ottomans in the 14th century. It was later liberated by the Russian Army and became a part of Bulgaria. Plovdiv is also known as ‘The City of the Seven Hills’ due to the presence of seven syenite hills near it. It is a major cultural hub and boasts of beautiful ancient landmarks like the Roman amphitheater, a Roman stadium and Ottoman baths.
The capital and the largest city of Lebanon, Beirut has a history spanning 5000 years. It is a major cultural, administrative and economic center of Lebanon. Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman remains have been discovered in excavations in the city. Beirut is also mentioned in the letters to the Pharaoh of Egypt from as early as 14th century BC. It became a modern and lively tourist attraction after the Lebanese civil war.
Located in Palestine near the Jordan River in the West Bank, Jericho is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. It has a history of 11,000 years and evidences of human settlements have been found in excavations some of which date back to 9000BC. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Jericho is believed to be place where Joshua, successor to Moses, led the Israelis after rescuing them from their bondage in Egypt. Known as ‘City of Palm Trees’ in the Old Testament, Jericho has plenteous springs in and around the city which have made it a popular choice for human habitation over the centuries.
Located in Upper Egypt, Luxor was founded in 3200BC and was the great capital city of Thebes during the New Kingdom in Egypt. Known as the glorious city of the god Amon-Ra, Luxor was regarded in ancient Egyptian texts as the ‘city of the scepter’. The magnificent ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the city making it the world’s largest open-air museum. Other historical structures such as the Valley of Kings and The Valley of Queens lie opposite the city across the river Nile on the West Bank Necropolis making it a major tourist hub. The city attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every year.
Gaziantep, also known as Antep, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. It is located in southeast Turkey and is the sixth most populous city in Turkey. Traces of Hittite have been found which date back to almost 4000BC. It has been ruled by Turks, Ottomans, British and French people over the centuries. However the Turks won it back in 1922 and added ‘Gazi’ meaning ‘warrior of Islam’ before Antep and thus the name Gaziantep.
The third largest city in Lebanon, Sidon is located on the Mediterranean coast. It was a great Phoenician city state believed to have been inhabited since the Neolithic times during 4000-6000BC. Alexander the Great captured Sidon in 333BC. Sidon is heavily influenced by multiple cultures including Egyptian and Greek. Picturesque ruins of Sidon include the fortress church Castle of the Sea and the Shell of the Castle of St. Louis. The old town includes Mamluk and Ottoman buildings which are still well-preserved.
Byblos is a Mediterranean city located in the Mount Lebanon Governorate of Lebanon. It is believed to have been first occupied between 8800 and 7000 BC and is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It is said to have been founded as a Phoenician city known as Gebal by Kronos around 5000BC. It later derived its name from the Greek word “Byblos” meaning papyrus, which was imported by the Greeks from Sidon. Byblos now boasts of spectacular historical ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre, Egyptian and Phoenician temples, the Royal Necropolis and the Castle and church built by Crusaders.
Faiyum is a city in Middle Egypt believed to have been founded in around 4000BC. It is the oldest city in Egypt and one of the oldest cities in Africa. Faiyum occupies a part of the ancient site of Crocodilopolis, where a sacred crocodile kept in the nearby Lake Moeris was worshipped in ancient times. Modern Faiyum has many well preserved historical sites such as the Hanging Mosque built by the Ottomans, the Hawara and the Lahun pyramids.
The capital and second largest city in Syria, Damascus is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Nicknamed as the City of Jasmine, Damascus is said to have been founded in around 6000BC. It has been one of Alexander the Great’s conquests. It was the capital of the Ummayyad Caliphate and has been ruled by Romans, Arabs and Ottomans. Damascus is a major cultural and religious center and has many historical sites. The walls and gates of Damascus, churches and Islamic sites in the old city are major tourist attractions. However due to continued urbanization and decay of structure, the future of the old city and its heritage is uncertain.