Europe is home to some of the most important historical sites in the world and it’s no surprise that millions of history-loving travelers visit Europe every year. Europe’s earliest history dates back to 20,000 BC and even today, some of the oldest cities are still inhabited. You’re probably well familiar with some of the cities on this list, others might come as a surprise, and for some, you might not even know they exist but here are the oldest cities in Europe.
1. Argos, Greece- 5,000 BC
As we mentioned in our post about the oldest cities in the world, Argos is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. The town has been cycling between the status of a town and a village for the past few hundred years but the first remnants of civilization date back to around 5,000 B.C. According to archaeologists, people who inhabited this area built the settlement on two large hills (Larissa and Aspis). Throughout history, Argos was an important city but I can’t help but feel its fame faded throughout the years.
The main reason why the city survived for so long probably has to do with its neutrality. It never took sides when the other major polises in Greece had war and it didn’t even participate in the Greco-Persian Wars. Today, some of the town’s main sights feature remains of ancient Mycenaean tombs and theaters, the Larissa Castle (one of the oldest in Europe), the old town hall, and dozens of ancient buildings that are still in surprisingly good shape.
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2. Athens, Greece – 5,000 BC
With an earliest recorded history dating back to the mid-3,000s B.C. Athens is the second oldest city in Europe. However, the first settlements of Athens date back to 2,000 years before that and there are traces of organized human life as early as 11,000 BC. The first settlement in what will later become the capital of Greek civilization was built on the rock of Acropolis. The polis was founded by King Theseus and was named after the Greek goddess of Wisdom, Athena.
Throughout the years, the city grew exponentially and kept its status as an important regional city throughout the years. Today, Athens is a bustling city that’s home to close to 700,000 people and countless important historical landmarks.
If you’re in Athens, here are a few fascinating historic tours you should consider taking.
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3. Plovdiv, Bulgaria- 4,000 BC
There are some conflicting theories about how old Plovdiv actually is. According to many Bulgarians, Plovdiv is the oldest city in Europe with a history stretching more than 8 millennia. However, many civilizations left their trace on the city and there were interruptions but even despite them, it’s almost certain that Plovdiv has been continuously inhabited since as early as 4,000 BC. Plovdiv was founded on the hills of Nebet Tepe and was first fortified by the ancient Thracians during the Iron Age.
The city was significantly expanded during the rule of King Evmolp (who renamed the city to Evmolpia), during the rule of Philip II (father of Alexander the Great) who renamed the city to Philippolis, and its last expansion took place during the rule of Philip the Arab (who as you might be guessing, renamed the city to Pulpudeva, meaning Philip’s city in Latin). The name Plovdiv is likely just a Slavic variant of its last known name before the Slavic migrations to the Balkan. Today, Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second-largest city and was recently proclaimed as Europe’s capital of culture in 2019.
If you would like to visit and get to know the city and its surroundings, here are some of the most exciting historic tours of Plovdiv.
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4. Larisa, Greece- 4,000 BC
Larisa is an important historical city in Greece’s Thessaly region and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe. Officially, the area covering the territory of Larisa has been continuously inhabited for at least 6,000 years but there are historical sources that point to remnants of organized life dating back to as early as the 6th millennium BC which if true, would make Larisa even older than Athens.
According to Greek legends, Larisa was the birthplace of Achilles and the place where the father of Medicine, Hippocrates spent the last days of his life. Today, Larisa is the fifth largest city in Greece and an important cultural and economic hub and many of its ancient buildings and landmarks are well-preserved, making this city a must-see for all history lovers traveling to Greece.
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5. Genoa, Italy- 4,000 BC
Most people think that Rome is the oldest city in Italy but this list will show you that this isn’t the case. The oldest continuously inhabited city in Italy is actually Genoa. The first traces of organized life around the area that is today Genoa date back to 4 (or according to certain historical sources, 5) millennia BC. The first inhabitants of the city were the ancient Ligures who named the city and created the initial boundaries of Genoa.
Throughout its existence, Genoa was always a major port city and an important cultural and trading hub. The city became the capital of the Medieval Republic of Genoa in the 11th century and by the 17th century, it was one of the most advanced cities in the western hemisphere. Today, Genoa is still one of the most beautiful and most important cities in Italy and of Europe’s main ports.
Here are some of the most popular historic tours of Genoa.
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6. Chania, Greece – 1,700 BC
First inhabited around 1,700 BC, Chania is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the island of Crete and one of the oldest cities in Europe. The city was founded during the Minoan Era and existed as a city-state for centuries. Its first foreign settlers were the Dorian Greeks that migrated around 1,100 BC and after this, the city saw many civilizations coming and going, including the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. All this gave the city a unique appearance, worthy of a city that was a crossroad of civilizations for centuries.
Today, Chania is a beautiful coastal town that’s home to 110,000 people and is one of the main cultural, trading, and economic hubs of Crete.
If you’d like to explore the city and learn about its history, here are a few interesting historic tours.
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7. Thebes, Greece- 1,500 BC
After Athens and Sparta, Thebes was arguably the most important Greek polis. The city was founded atop a low ridge that divided the surrounding plains. Thebes was the largest city of the ancient region of Boeotia and a major rival of ancient Athens. Archaeological excavations have revealed that Thebes was one of the first settlements of the ancient Myceneans and one of the most important settlements in the region during the Bronze Age.
Today, it seems like Thebes glory days are long forgotten. Thebes is home to only 20,000 people and many of its ancient buildings didn’t survive the test of time but there are still a handful of interesting museums and landmarks that are worth visiting.
8. Larnaca, Cyprus- 1,300 BC
Larnaca is a port town in the southeastern part of Cyprus that was founded by the Mycenaeans in the 13th century BC. Back then, the city was known as the city-kingdom of Kition. The first foreign settlers to come to Kition were the Achaeans and Phoenicians who started their colony of the island around the 10th century BC. Throughout the years, the city was also a part of the Assyrian Empire and the Egyptian Empire.
Larnaca was first rebuilt and expanded by the Phoenicians and (a few hundred years later) by the Byzantines. The city suffered a terrible earthquake in 322 and 344 that destroyed most of the city, so there isn’t a lot of ancient landmarks but technically, Larnaca is still one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Here are some of the most popular (and best-rated) historic tours in Larisa.
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9. Lisbon, Portugal- 1,200 BC
Many people don’t know this but Lisbon is actually 400 years older than Rome. Portugal’s capital got its first town-like settlement around 1,200 BC when it was first colonized by the Phoenicians. The settlement that’s written down in history books as Ulissipo was later conquered by the Greeks and eventually the Carthaginians who in the end lost the city to the Romans. In the following years, the city was conquered by Germanic tribes, was briefly a part of the Suebi Kingdom, and later, a part of the Moorish Kingdom.
During the Middle Ages, Lisbon was turned into a large port city and it became the center of Portugal’s medieval maritime empire. The city kept growing and expanding throughout the years, and today, it’s the capital of Portugal and one of the most visited cities in Europe.
If you’re looking for some interesting historic tours of Lisbon, here are a few choices that might interest you.
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10. Trikala, Greece- 1,200 BC
Trikala is one of my favorite hidden gems in Greece. Oldest recorded history in Trikala (formerly known as Trikke) begins around 1,200 BC but the earliest indications of permanent settlement in the area have been uncovered in the cave of Theopetra, and date back to approx. 50,000 BC!
Throughout the years, Trikala was a part of the Macedonian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. Since 1881, with the Treaty of Constantinople Trikala became a part of Greece again. Unfortunately, most of the city’s old buildings during the city’s 20th-century reconstruction but its colorful street, interesting museums, and vibrant atmosphere still attract tourists from different parts of the world.
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11. Chalcis, Greece- 1,200 BC
Located at the island of Euboea in Central Greece at the narrowest point of the Euripus channel, the small city of Challis is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The earliest mention of Chalcis is in Homer’s Iliad where it’s mentioned as a rival of the neighboring polis, Eretria. It’s likely that the city had a Greco-Jewish presence since antiquity which may very likely be Europe’s oldest Jewish community.
Today, Chalcis is one of the most important historical cities in the region and home to more than 120,000 people. Many of the city’s medieval buildings are very well preserved and there’s a lot to see in Chalcis if you’re a history buff.
If you’re looking for a great deals on accommodation in Chalcis, try using our Booking discount code to get up to 15% off on your stay in Chalcis.
12. Padua, Italy- 1,183 BC
Padua is a real gem of a city in Northern Italy that many tourists don’t know about and even fewer know that the city was actually founded before Rome. The city was founded in 1183 BC by the Trojan prince Antenor after the fall of Troy. Padua was one of the principal centers of the Veneti and by the 5th century BC, the city stretched all the way to the banks of the Brenta River.
With the Roman expansions, the city of Padua eventually was assimilated into the Roman Republic and was made a Roman municipium. Throughout its history, Padua was known for its excellent breed of horses and the wool of its sheep and by the end of the 1st century BC, Padua was one of the richest cities on the Apennine Peninsula outside of Rome. Today, Padua is a modern, developed city in the north of Italy and one of the most fascinating destinations in the country for travelers interested in history.
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13. Cadiz, Spain- 1,100 BC
We all know that Spain has a rich history but only a handful of people know that Cadiz is actually the oldest continuously inhabited city in the country. Cadiz is a beautiful coastal city located in the south of Spain that was founded around 13 centuries ago by the Phoenicians from Tyre and back then, the city was called Gadir. A few centuries later, the city was conquered by the Carthaginians and after the First Punic War, it became a part of the Roman Empire and for centuries, it was the westernmost city of the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was briefly ruled by the Visigoths and Byzantines before falling under the Moorish invasions.
However, the city of Cadiz had its glory days during the Age of Discovery when the city became one of the most important port cities in Europe. Even Christopher Columbus sailed from Cadiz on his second and fourth expeditions. But with this, the city also became a target of Spain’s enemies. Cadiz was attacked by the British several times during the Anglo-Spanish Wars, and during Napoleon’s rule, it was one of the last strongholds of resistance that never fell under French rule. Today, Cadiz is one of the most beautiful cities on the southern coast of Spain. The city has undergone major reconstruction and many of its old landmarks were cleaned and restored.
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14. Patras, Greece- 1,100 BC
The first traces of settlement around the territory of today’s Patras date back to three millennia ago but there’s no doubt that the city has been continuously inhabited since 1,100 BC, making Patras one of the oldest cities in Europe. The city was created with the unification of three Mycenaean villages in the region of Aroi.
With time, the city was colonized by the Dorians and later conquered by the Romans. During the Middle Ages, Patras was one of the most important cities in the Byzantine Empire until the fall of Constantinople. After this, Patras was a part of the principality of Achaea and was also briefly ruled by the Venetians before falling to the Ottomans. Today, Patras is a modern city with many historic landmarks, and with more than 160,000 residents, it’s the third-largest city in Greece.
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15. Chios, Greece- 1,100 BC
The town of Chios is the main town on the island of Chios in the North Aegean. The town was originally founded on top of a site of an ancient settlement. Throughout the years, it was never a major city but because of its geolocation, it also didn’t suffer as many conquests as some of the other oldest cities in Europe.
Chios experienced a devastating earthquake in 1881 that destroyed most of the town’s ancient heritage. After this, the town was rebuilt in neoclassical style that changed the appearance of the city and took away some of its authenticity.
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16. Nicosia, Cyprus- 1,100 BC
Located at the heart of the Mesaoria Plain, on the banks of the Pedieos River, Nicosia is the capital of Cyprus and one of the oldest cities in Europe that’s continuously inhabited to this day. The first traces of human life in the area of today’s Nicosia date back to 2,500 BC but it’s likely that these settlements were abandoned and re-inhabited in the 1,100s BC. The city was likely founded by the Mycenaeans and later conquered by the Assyrians before becoming a city-state known as Ledra.
During Medieval times Nicosia was conquered by the Crusaders, Franks, Genoans, Venetians, and Ottomans before becoming the capital of what we know today as Cyprus. As you may or may not know, Cyprus is divided into two parts, the Republic of Cyprus (predominately inhabited by Greeks) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (predominately inhabited by Turks). Nicosia is also divided into two parts (one inhabited by Turks and one inhabited by Greeks) and both parts of Nicosia serve as the capital of both republics, making Nicosia the only such city in the world (to be the capital of two republics at the same time).
If you’re planning to do some exploring in Nicosia, here are some interesting tours you might consider taking.
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17. Zadar, Croatia- 1,000 BC
Situated in the northwestern part of the Ravni Kotari region along the Adriatic Coast, Zadar is the oldest city in Croatia. The city was founded around 3,000 years ago by the Liburnians, an ancient tribe that inhabited the northeastern Adriatic region between the rivers of Arsia (Rasha) and Titus (Krka). The city of Zadar traces its earliest remains of human life back to the Neolithic period even though there are theories about the first settlements in the region dating back to as early as the late Stone Age.
During Roman times, the city became a prominent Roman municipium (and was renamed to Iadera). After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was sacked by the Avars and Croats before eventually becoming a part of the Byzantine Empire and later, the Venetian Kingdom. After the fall of Venice, Zadar fell under Austrian rule, and with the Treaty of Rapallo (1920), the city was given to the Kingdom of Italy but after WWII, the city was reunited with SR Croatia (which was at the time, a part of Yugoslavia).
Today, Zadar is a beautiful historic city with a lot of fascinating historic landmarks and the fifth largest city in Croatia.
Planning to explore Zadar and discover more of the city’s history? Here are some great tour suggestions.
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18. Mtskheta, Georgia- 1,000 BC
Without a doubt, Mtskheta is the most important historic city in Georgia. There are traces of human life dating back to 4,000 years ago but the first remains of an organized city life date back to 1,000 BC. The city as we know it today was founded by Mtskhetos, son of Kartlos, the eponymous ancestor of the Georgians. For years, Mtshketa was the capital of the early Georgian kingdom of Iberia.
Throughout the years, the city was conquered by Alexander the Great and by the Persians and later, one of the most important centers of Christianity in Georgia that played a key role in the Christianization of Georgia. The city was also used as a burial ground for all Georgian kings until the 19th century. Today, the entire city is a protected UNESCO Heritage City and was proclaimed as a Holy City by the Georgian Government in 2014.
If you’re looking for some interesting tours of Mtskheta, you might want to consider…
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19. Mytilene, Greece- 1,000 BC
Initially, Mytilene was created as a small town lying off Greece’s east coast but throughout the years the city expanded so much that it covered two harbors (one in the south and one in the north) that were linked by a channel that was 700 meters long and 30 meters wide, an extraordinary architectural achievement for that era.
Just like most other Greek cities, Mytilene was a part of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman Empire throughout the years. Today, Mytilene is the administrative center of the North Aegean Region and the capital of Lesbos, one of the most popular islands in Greece.
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20. Vani, Georgia- 850 B.C.
Compared to some of the other oldest cities in Europe featured on this list, the parts of history books that mention Vani are quite short. All we know is that the area surrounding the city of Vani in Western Georgia was home to an ancient city that was erected somewhere around 850 B.C. There are many archaeological findings that point that the city was very likely a regional cultural hub but the exact name of this ancient city is yet to be discovered.
It’s likely that the city was a political-administrative unit of the kingdom of Colchis between the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. Between the 3rd and 1st century B.C. the city was surrounded by high defensive walls and there were a handful of sanctuaries and cultic buildings which might mean that around this time, Vani was a temple-city. After the 1st century B.C. the city started declining and was reduced to merely a few small village-like settlements. It wasn’t until 1981 that Vani regained its town status. Today, Vani is a small but interesting town in the west of Georgia that’s home to around 4,000 residents.
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21. Seville, Spain- 800 B.C.
The heart of the city of Seville (present-day Cuesta del Rosario) dates back to the 8th century BC, which makes Seville one of the oldest cities in Europe. According to historical sources, around this time, Seville was located on an island in the Guadalquivir. Many people draw lines between Seville and the semi-mythical harbor city that was founded by the Phoenicians (or Hercules, according to Greek mythology).
During Roman times, the city was rebuilt and renamed to Hispal and later as Hispalis. After the fall of Rome, the city saw successive conquests by Germanic Vandals. The Middle Ages saw many conquerors come and go; Seville was a part of three different Muslim empires (the Umayyad Caliphate, the Taifa, and the Almohad Caliphate) and was also sacked by the Vikings in the 9th century. Seville was finally reunited with the rest of Spain with the Castilian conquest in 1248 and today, Seville is the third-largest city in Spain that’s home to three UNESCO Heritage sites and the only river port in Spain.
Looking for some fun historic tours in Seville? Here are a few recommendations.
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22. Malaga, Spain- 800 B.C.
When we talk about the oldest cities in Europe, most people forget about Malaga. The city was founded around 2,800 years ago by the Phoenicians who named the city Malaka. Throughout the years, Malaka was first a part of Carthage and then Rome. After the fall of Rome, the city was briefly a part of the Byzantine Empire before being conquered by the Umayyad Caliphate.
In the 13th century, Malaga was annexed to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada and was seized by Christian forces in 1487 in what was one of the bloodiest episodes of the Granada War. A couple of centuries later, the city hosted another legendary battle- the Battle of Malaga (1704) which was the largest naval battle of the War of the Spanish Succession. Today, Malaga is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain and many of its historic buildings and landmarks are still in great shape.
Here are a few of my personal favorite history-related tours in Malaga.
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23. Mdina, Malta- 800 B.C.
The city of Mdina, also known as Melite was founded by the Phoenicians around 1,000 years ago and it served as the capital of Malta from antiquity to the medieval period. The city was conquered by the Romans who renamed the city to Melite. After the fall of Rome, Melite was conquered by the Arabs who changed the city’s name to Mdina (likely deriving from the Arabic word ‘medina’).
Mdina remained the capital of Malta until the 1530s and the arrival of the Order of St. John when the capital was moved to Birgu. After this, the city never managed to regain the importance it had prior to the 16th century and to make things worse, Mdina suffered severe damage during the 1693 Sicily earthquake. Today, Mdina is a small town of 300 people but as long as people still stay there, Mdina will be one of the oldest cities in Europe that’s continuously inhabited.
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24. Cagliari, Italy- 800 B.C.
There is evidence of the area around the city of Cagliari being inhabited as early as the Neolithic period but officially, the city has been continuously inhabited since the 8th century B.C. Cagliari was founded by the Phoenicians as a part of their Sardinian colonies. Around the 6th century B.C. the city was conquered by Carthage and after the First Punic War, it became a part of the Roman Empire.
After the fall of Rome, Cagliari had many conquerors, including the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, and the Republic of Pisa. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, Cagliari was under Aragon rule and was also briefly a part of the Habsburg Monarchy before becoming a part of modern-day Italy.
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25. Derbent, Russia- 800 B.C.
Finally, we round up this list of the oldest cities in Europe with Derbent. Derbent is a city in Dagestan (Russia) that was likely founded by Nomadic tribes in the 8th century BC. After the sixth century B.C. the city was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire and was a part of it for a very long time.
The city’s strategic location between the Eurasian Steppe to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south made it a target throughout history and that’s why the city changed ownership several times throughout the years. During Medieval times, Derbent was an important part of Caucasian Albania, a few different caliphates and the Shirvanshah, before becoming a part of Russia. Today, Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia and the second-largest city in Dagestan with 120,000 residents.
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Did you ever visit any of the oldest cities in Europe? Which one is your favorite and which one would you like to visit first? Feel free toshare your thoughts ain the comments below.
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