There are many ways to define what makes a city one of the oldest in the world. For the sake of brevity, this blog is about some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities from different parts of the world. How many have you visited? If you’d like to visit some of these places, hire a local guide to take you on a heritage-history sightseeing tour!
It’s widely believed that Damascus is the oldest city in the world, having been settled sometime between 10,000 and 8,000 BC. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to some substantial historical attractions; however, given the current situation in Syria, travelling here is not recommended at the moment. We can only hope that peace will be restored someday, and with most of the city’s treasures still intact.
Damascus’s old walled city is the most ancient-feeling part. Narrow alleys, green courtyards, and plain houses are crowded inside these walls. It’s also still the city’s spiritual centre. A must-do: peruse the Souq al-Hamidiyya, a street chock-full of tiny shops inside an old Roman temple (seriously). You’ll find everything from exotic spices to leather goods here. There’s also the Umayyad mosque, originally an Assyrian temple, and easily one of the most beautiful mosques in the world today.
Many scholars will argue that Jericho is actually the oldest city in the world, so as you can imagine, naming the oldest city in the world with absolute certainty is tricky! Jericho has signs of its earliest settlers dating back to 9,000 BC. That’s a long, long time ago, folks. Archaeologists have dug up the remains of 20 different settlements here. It’s located near the Jordan River in the West Bank, and 20,000 people still live there today.
While the West Bank isn’t exactly the safest place to visit at the moment, if you ever do make it to the city, there are a few ancient highlights worth visiting. Tell es-Sultan is the focal point of Jericho’s archaeological digs, and was a prominent place in biblical times. Between Tell es-Sultan and Hisham’s Palace you’ll also find the Shalom al Yisrael Synagogue with it’s mosaic floor dating back from the 6th century CE. It used to be the basement of a private home.
Not far from Cairo you’ll find Faiyum, a small town that has been occupied since 4000 BC. Faiyum is a part of Crocodilopolis…yes, that’s actually a place. The people here used to worship Petsuchos, a sacred crocodile.
Nowadays you can peruse Faiyum’s bazaars, mosques, and bathhouses. The Lehin and Hawara pyramids are also nearby. If you want a sense of Faiyum’s antiquity, be sure to visit the Temple of Dionysus. The waterwheels are also beautiful to see. To learn more, hop on an Egypt heritage-history tour.
Luoyang, China, is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Asia. It’s considered one of the Seven Great Ancient Capitals of China, and has been inhabited since Neolithic times, with continuous habitation for about 4,000 years. Thanks to its location on the Luo and Yi rivers, Luoyang is considered the centre of ancient China.
Luoyang was the capital city of 13 ancient dynasties between the 21st and 16th centuries BC. If you visit, seeing the Longmen Grottoes and the Shaoling Temple are absolute must-dos.
Hindu legend dictates that Varanasi is the oldest city in the world, but archaeologists so far have only been able to uncover evidence of human life from about 3,000 years ago. It’s still the oldest city in India, and the most important religious city for Hindus. Located on the Ganges River, Varanasi is a major pilgrimage site as well.
Varanasi is colourful, chaotic, and stunning. Explore the area around Malviya Bridge, or take a boat ride out on the Ganges. Stroll along the historical Ghats, and wander down some side streets. You won’t be disappointed!
Plovdiv has been settled since 4,000 BC, and is the second-largest city in Bulgaria. It was initially a Thracian settlement before turning into a large Roman city, but then fell to the Ottomans. Plovdiv is unique compared to many of the other oldest cities in the world because it’s still largely populated, and has a surprisingly cosmopolitan, modern feel. It’s filled with art galleries, bohemian neighbourhoods, and cobbled streets. The old town has been restored to its mid 19th-century appearance.
If you visit, be sure to see some of the city’s ancient ruins, like the Roman amphitheater and aqueduct. There are also Ottoman baths.
Ah, Athens. One of my favourite cities in the world! I rave about this place all the time. Most people are unforgiving towards Athens’s hectic and gritty ways. But that’s what I like about it: it’s honest, real, and it doesn’t hide its true nature. It’s been inhabited since 1,400 BC, which doesn’t seem like much compared to the previous cities, but much of the ideologies (like democracy) born in Athens have been carried over to our modern world. It’s attributed with being the birthplace of Western Civilization, after all.
If you come, you’ll find yourself quite busy with things to see and do. The Acropolis is a must-do: the Parthenon is overwhelming in size and grandeur. Also around the city you’ll find the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Ancient Agora. If you get a chance to go just beyond Athens, visit Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon found there. Go at sunset. You’ll be glad you did.
Argos and Athens are neck-to-neck for ownership of the title of oldest city in Europe. It’s been a settlement for about 7,000 years, and although it’s located on the fertile plain of Argolis, it’s always been a quiet, peaceful spot in Greece. It didn’t fight or send supplies during the Graeco-Persian Wars, despite being one of the most powerful cities in Ancient Greece. In fact, few people even know anything about Argos…and the locals seem to like it that way.
The old town with its Hellenistic theatre is worth seeing, as well as the remains of the temple of Venus. There’s also an ancient agora, and a lovely archaeological museum. You’ll even see some Neoclassical buildings, like the city hall. Argos has done a good job of thriving over the years.
Cadiz was founded by the Phoenicians as a small trading post, and it’s been inhabited since 1,100 BC. Some people say that Cadiz is actually the oldest city in Europe, but it’s debatable. It sits on the Atlantic Ocean, and has now been the home of the Spanish navy since the 18th century. It’s most famous for being the base for Hannibal’s conquest of Iberia when the Carthaginians took over around 500 BC. Then it fell to Roman and Moorish rule. As you can see, Cadiz has quite the history!
While here, visit the Roman theatre, and Cadiz Cathedral. There’s also an impressive museum filled with ancient relics. The waterfront itself makes for an idyllic stroll along the Atlantic. Stop for tapas, or just soak up the pristine views.
If you like this article, be sure to check out Six Sights Off The Beaten Track For Ancient Rome Lovers.