10 of the Oldest Cities in the World

January 7, 2024

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The Acropolis in Athens

Many places have laid claim to being the world’s oldest city, but it’s difficult to say which one actually holds the title. Some cities have moved location over time, whilst others have been repeatedly damaged, which can affect the evaluation of the city’s age.

New excavations are being conducted all the time, which can help archaeologists to discover more evidence of ancient human civilizations.

We’ve made this list of 10 of the oldest cities in the world to shed some light on how these cities have been shaped and changed over thousands of years.

Damascus, Syria

The Umayyad Mosque (also known as the Great Mosque) in the old city of Damascus, Syria. The mosque was built in 715 AD.
The Umayyad Mosque (also known as the Great Mosque) in the old city of Damascus, Syria.

The capital city of Syria, Damascus, was founded in the 3rd millennium BCE, which makes it one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. The city is often referred to as the โ€œPearl of the East” due to its stunning architecture or the “City of Jasmine” due to the abundance of the scented plant.

Damascus features evidence of the various civilisations that have inhabited it over thousands of years, including the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic empires. The city currently has a population of over two million people.

Did you know?

During the Middle Ages, Damascus was known for its craft industries. The city specialized in lace and swords.

Beirut, Lebanon

The Martyrs' Monument, which shows two men standing on a rock and another man lying on his side. The statue is in front of a mosque and several skyscrapers.
The Martyrs’ Monument, in front of the Mohammad al-Amin mosque, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Often called the “Paris of the Middle East”, Beirut in Lebanon is known for its vibrant fusion of East and Western cultures following its French occupation in the 20th century. Lebonon’s capital city is also referred to as the “Phoenix City” as it has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times over its 5,000-year history.

The city was first referenced in the 14th century BCE in the Ancient Egyptian Tell el Amarna letters. However, the city didn’t come to real prominence until it became a Roman colony and was named Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus in the reign of Herod the Great.

Did you know?

Beirut was famous for its school of law between the 3rd and 6th centuries. Students travelled from all over the Roman Empire to study law in the city, which earned the city the title “Mother of Laws”.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

he ancient Roman Theatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. There are stone benches in a half circle facing a stage and the remains of a stone wall with columns and doors.
The Roman Theatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

The ancient city of Plovdiv in Bulgaria is the oldest city in Europe. It’s believed that the city is around 8,000 years old and has seen several different civilisations, including the Thracians, Romans and Visconti.

Archaeologists have discovered Neolithic settlements, which was the final period of the Stone Age. The mounds from these settlements revealed tools and religious and everyday artefacts from the 6th millennium.

Did you know?

The main shopping street in Plovdiv is one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe at 1.75km long.

Jericho, West Bank

A landscape picture of the city of Jericho, with a road running through the image and desert in the background.
The Palestinian city of Jericho, located in the West Bank in the Jordan Valley.

Jericho is believed to be one of the longest-continuously inhabited cities in the world. Evidence has been found that suggests humans inhabited the area around 9,000 BCE. It is mentioned several times in the Bible and was where Herod the Great died in 4 BCE.

The physical site of Jericho has moved numerous times throughout its 14,000-year history. The New Testament Jericho is approximately 1.6 km south of the Jericho mentioned in the Old Testament, whilst the modern city is located on a third site, located just over a mile east of the Old Testament site.

Did you know?

Not only is Jericho one of the oldest cities in the world, but it is also the world’s lowest city. It is located 258 metres (846 ft) below sea level in the Jordan Valley.

Byblos, Lebanon

A courtyard in Byblos, Lebanon, with a cafe, tables and chairs underneath overhanging tree branches.
A souk (traditional Arab marketplace) in the ancient city of Byblos in Lebanon.

The city of Byblos has been inhabited since between 8,800 and 7,000 BCE. It was famous for its production of papyrus, so much so that the word ‘Byblos’ came to mean ‘papyrus’ in Greek. In turn, this influenced the English word ‘Bible’, which means ‘papyrus book’.

Byblos, also known as Jbeil or Jubayl, is approximately 30km away from Beirut, Lebanon. The coastal town has an active harbour which has been continuously used for thousands of years.

Did you know?

The Phoenician alphabet, which is still commonly used today, was developed in Byblos in around the 11th century BCE

Athens, Greece

The Acropolis in Athens, with the Parthenon on top of the hill.
The Acropolis of Athens in Greece. The Parthenon, which was opened in 432 BCE, stands on top of the hill.

The heart of Ancient Greece, Athens is known as the birthplace of democracy and many of civilisationโ€™s intellectual and artistic ideas. The city was founded in 508 BCE, although there has been a human presence in the area since between the 11th and 7th millennia BCE.

The city, which was named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1458. The city experienced a decline until the 19th century when the Greeks won their independence from the Turks in 1821. As part of their scheme to regain their national identity, the government sought to restore and preserve monuments, such as the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis.

Did you know?

Athens is Europe’s oldest capital city. However, between 1821โ€“1834 (during and after the War of Independence), Greece’s capital city was Nafplio.

Faiyum, Egypt

The Faiyum Oasis, with two people walking up the slopes away from the water.
The Faiyum Oasis, approximately 100 kilometres south of Cairo.

The city of Faiyum in Middle Egypt was founded in around 4,000 BCE, which makes it one of the oldest cities in Africa. The Ancient Greeks called the city Crocodilopolis, whilst the Romans called it Arsinoรซ.

Faiyum is located 22 meters above sea level by the banks of the Bahr Yusef canal (โ€œJoseph’s Riverโ€). The canal is named after the prophet Joseph, who appears in the Quran and who has a biblical counterpart in the book of Genesis.

Did you know?

In Ancient Egypt, Faiym was believed to be the chief sanctuary for the god of crocodiles, Sobek.

Argos, Greece

Larisa Castle on top of a hill, surrounded by empty fields.
Larisa Castle in Argos, Greece

There is evidence of human settlements in Argos, Greece, from around 4,000 to 3,500 BCE. Ancient Argos was a major settlement during the Bronze Age in around 1700-1100 BCE, although it experienced a decline following the fall of the Mycenaean civilization in around 11,000 BCE.

Argos had a population of approximately 5,000 people in 700 BCE. By the fourth century, it’s estimated there were 30,000 people in the city. Modern Argos has a population of approximately 22,000 people.

Did you know?

According to Homer’s Iliad, Argos was famous for its horse rearing. The city was also home to Polykleitos, one of the most famous sculptors in Ancient Greece.

Susa, Iran

The Zagros Mountains in Iran
Zagros Mountains in Iran, near the ancient city of Susa and the modern city of Shush.

The ancient city of Susa was founded around 4,400 BCE, although it’s believed that there were settlers as early as 7,000 BCE. The city was located at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. The modern town of Shush in the Khuzestan Province in Iran lies adjacent to the ancient city.

Susa was the capital of Elam, an ancient civilization in Iran during the start of the 4th millennium. The civilisation stretched from the far west to the southwest of modern-day Iran.

Did you know?

The city of Susa was mentioned in the Bible in the books of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Book of Esther. Susa was said to be the home of Daniel and Nehemiah.

Aleppo, Syria

Aleppo in Syria, with old stone buildings. The building in the foreground is damaged and partially collapsing
A street in Aleppo, Syria, showing stone buildings partially collapsing and piles of rubble on the ground.

Ancient Aleppo was founded in around 5,000 BCE and witnessed the rise and fall of several civilizations, such as the Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, as well as the Greeks, Romans and Ottomans. The continuous occupation of the city has made excavations difficult, and therefore, little is known about the early history of the site.

The city is located on several major commercial routes and lies approximately 100 km from the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates River.

Did you know?

Aleppo is Syria’s second-largest city, with a population of just over two million people. In 1950, the population of the city was just under 380,000 people.

Summary

Many of the world’s oldest cities were built thousands of years ago and have stayed continuously populated. The cities are mostly found in the Middle East in areas such as Syria, Iran and Lebanon. The only European cities to make the list were Athens in Greece and Plovdiv in Bulgaria.

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