Have you ever wondered which are the oldest cities in the world? Cities that stood the test of time and reveal the both, positive and negative aspects of human civilization. Most of these cities saw entire civilizations and empires come and go, were important hubs at one point in time, and some of them still are.
Officially, the oldest city in the world was Göbekli Tepe in today’s Turkey. However, this ancient site doesn’t qualify as a city because there aren’t any people living in it. With that being said, let’s see which are the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world!
28. Lisbon, Portugal- 3,200 years old
We all know that Lisbon has a rich history but did you know that it’s, in fact, older than Rome? That’s right- Lisbon is 4 centuries older than Rome and is the second oldest capital city in Europe. The first settlers were the Phoenicians that settled in Lisbon around 1200 B.C. It’s believed that the city got its name as a combination of the words “Allis” and “Ubbo” meaning “safe harbor” in Phoenician.
27. Larnaca, Cyprus- 3,400 years old
Larnaca is another beautiful, Mediterranean, coastal town, located on the southern coast of Cyprus. This multiethnic, multicultural city is the oldest and third-largest city in Cyprus today. Larnaca was formerly known as the city-kingdom of Kition and was founded in 1300 B.C. The city was later conquered by the Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Egyptians but it remained constantly inhabited throughout the years.
26. Balkh, Afghanistan- 3,500 years old
Balkh is a town in Northern Afghanistan that is known as the birthplace of Zoroastrianism. This was the city in which Zoroaster was first preaching and later on passed away. Balkh is also the birthplace of many famous Persians such as the poet Rumi and the scientist Avicenna. Even though it was much larger in the past, today Balkh has a population of only 77,000 people.
25. Hebron, Palestine- 3,500 years old
Surrounded by the Judean Mountains, lying on the south of West Bank, Hebron is a holy city for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The city is located at the Cave of the Patriarch, which was the burial site of Abraham and his family. Hebron was almost burnt to the ground in 167 B.C. but was eventually resurrected and witnessed the Roman (and later Byzantine) empire, the Muslim invasion, the Crusader Rule, and the Ottoman Rule, to finally become a part of Israel today.
24. Chania, Greece- 3,700 years old
Chania is one of the most touristy cities in Crete but many people don’t know just how old it is. This city was a cradle of the Minoan civilization during the Bronze Age and was later under Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Venetian, and Ottoman occupation. Today, the island is a famous tourist destination with a beautiful old town, and a modern, beautifully-designed city.
Talking about Greece, check out my guide to unusual things to do in Santorini.
23. Prayagraj (Allahabad), India- 3,800 years old
Allahabad (ancient Prayag) is one of the cradles of Hindu scripture. The city played a vital role in multiple different empires throughout the years, including the Mauryan, Gupta, and the Mughal Empire. In fact, excavations have revealed iron implements dating back to 1800 B.C. Today, Allahabad was recently renamed to Prayagraj and is one of the biggest cities in Northern India with a population of 1.2 million.
22. Gaziantep, Turkey – 3,900 years old
Gaziantep was initially built as a part of the Yamhad Kingdom in 1900 B.C. and is today one of the biggest cities in Turkey. However, there is evidence that shows ancient human settlements in the region, dating back to 3650 B.C. Yes, it actually is a lot older than Istanbul (Constantinople).
21. Yanshi, China- 3,900 years old
Lying on the Luo River in Central China, Yanshi is one of the oldest cities in China. This is where the legendary battle of Yanshi took place and today this county-city is home to two ancient archeological sites that prove humans have been living here for more than 3900 years. The first one is the Erlitou archeological site, which is living proof of the Erlitou culture and dates back to 1900 B.C. and the second is Yanshi Shang, dating back to 1600 B.C.
20. Jaffa, Israel- 3,900 years old
Located right next to Tel Aviv, the legendary city of Jaffa is famous for the biblical stories of Johan, St. Peter and Solomon. The city was also mentioned in several ancient Greek myths, such as Andromeda and Perseus. Even though, technically Jaffa is a part of Tel Aviv today, it still deserves a special mention on this list.
19. Luoyang, China- 4,000 years old
Luoyang is arguably the oldest continuously inhabited city in Asia. There will be older cities on this list but most of them went through a period in which they weren’t inhabited due to different reasons. Luoyang is also the oldest city in China and one of the Seven Great Ancient Capitals. The city is located at the intersection of the Luo and Yi rivers, which made it the geographical center of ancient China.
18. Kirkuk, Iraq- 4,200 years old
Kirkuk has been a crossroad of cultures for more than four millenniums. It has been conquered by Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, and Turkmen and all of these ethnicities are represented in the city today. Kirkuk has been described as a cultural capital for both, the Turkmen and the Kurds and was recently named the capital of Iraqi culture as well. The city features some incredible archeological sites, including the tomb of Daniel a prophet known in both Christianity and Islam.
17. Jerusalem, Israel- 4,500 years old
There’s not too much I can tell you about Jerusalem, the nexus of the three major religions. The city has suffered 118 separate conflicts in the last 4,000 years, it was besieged 23 times, attacked 52 additional times, and recaptured in 44 different occasions. Jerusalem was completely destroyed in two of these occasions but it still remains one of the most important historic cities on Earth.
16. Tyre, Lebanon- 4,700 years old
This (today) small town in the South of Lebanon was built in 2750 B.C. and eventually became one of the most powerful cities in Phoenicia and one of the main harbors of the Phoenician Empire. The city saw Phoenician, Persian, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, Mamluk, and Ottoman invaders throughout the years. Interestingly, the closest Tyre ever got to complete destruction was the 1982 Lebanon War between Israel and the PLO.
15. Rey, Iran- 5,000 years old
With evidence of habitation dating back to 5000 years, Rey is the second oldest city in Iran. The city was built as a stronghold of the Parthian Empire and saw numerous conquerors through the years. Today, Rey has been absorbed by the Tehran Metro but it’s still the go-to choice for history lovers that visit Iran. Rey has an abundance of historical monuments, including the 5,000-year-old Chesmeh Ali Hill and the 3,000-year-old Gebri Castle.
14. Trikala, Greece- 5,000 years old
Archeological excavations show that Trikala has Neolithic settlements that date back to 5000 B.C. The ancient city of Trika, however, was built around 3000 B.C. and it quickly became an important cultural center and it was considered to be the birthplace of the healing god Asclepius.
Related: the best-hidden gems in Greece
13. Jericho, Palestine- 5,000 years old
Jericho has been around since 3000 B.C. but just like Trikala, there is evidence of human settlements dating back to 8000 B.C. The city was destroyed on several different occasions and rebuilt multiple times throughout the years. Today, Jericho is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Palestine. This legendary city houses the tomb of Moses, it’s where Jesus’s baptism took place and where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
12. Faiyum, Egypt- 5,000 years old
The modern city of Faiyum was known throughout history as Shedet or Crocodilopolis. Faiyum occupies an area on the Nile River that has been hosting human settlements for thousands of years. Interestingly, Faiyum was an arid desert basin until the Nile River silted up and diverted water to the area turning it into an oasis. This drew human beings to start occupying this ancient city at some point prior to 7200 B.C. Faiyum today has around 350,000 residents.
11. Varanasi, India- 5,000 years old
Varanasi is the oldest city in India and the birthplace of the oldest religion in the world- Hinduism. There are arguments that Varanasi was inhabited more than 8000 years but the more conservative estimation is widely accepted today. Nevertheless, Varanasi keeps opposing modernization through the years, unlike most of the cities on this list and visiting it gives travelers an idea of how time travel looks like. As Mark Twain said, “Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.
10. Luxor, Egypt- 5,200 years old
Also known as the ancient city of Thebes, this Egyptian town dates back to 3200 B.C. Luxor today is often referred as the largest open-air museum in the world because of its abundance of temple ruins, tombs, and other ancient monuments. However, Luxor is also a modern city and has been undergoing a renewal in recent years in order to make it more convenient for the increasing number of tourists.
9. Plovdiv, Bulgaria- 6,000 years old
The history of Plovdiv spans across more than six millenniums, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe. Excavations show that people have been inhabiting the ancient town on the Nebet Tepe Hill since 4000.C. The city was an important Persian, Thracian, Macedonian, and Ottoman hub. Today, Plovdiv is the second biggest city in Bulgaria and an up-and-coming tourist hub.
8. Sidon, Lebanon- 6,000 years old
Sidon has been one of the most important centers of the Phoenician Empire as a crucial Mediterranean port. That’s why the city was conquered by a revolving door of the world’s greatest empires such as the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Macedonians, Romans, and Ottomans. Today, Sidon is a part of Lebanon and is home to 200,000 people.
7. Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan- 6,000 years old
Erbil is home to an ancient citadel that boasts evidence of human inhabitants dating back to 4000 B.C. It’s estimated that the city was built by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia and was later a part of many other great empires. However, the city became an important hub during the Old Assyrian Empire. Today, Erbil is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a home to more than 800,000 people.
6. Susa, Iran- 6,300 years old
Susa or Shushan is one of the oldest cities in human history. Its location close to the Tigris River made it one of the most important cities in the ancient world. You’ll come across the name Susa (Shushan) in several occasions in the Bible and in the oldest existing Jewish religious texts. The city was once completely destroyed by the Assyrians but was quickly rebuilt and saw its most glorious days during the Persian Empire.
5. Athens, Greece- 7,000 years old
Athens is the birthplace of Western civilization and philosophy and a city that has been inhabited for at least 7000 years. However, the oldest traces of human presence around Athens date back to 11,000 B.C. The city was a subject of complete destruction on two different occasions, following the Dorian and Persian invasions. Today, Athens is a sprawling metropolis and the oldest capital in Europe.
4. Argos, Greece- 7,000 years old
Argos is probably the only town that can challenge Athens as the oldest living city in Europe. It has been an urban settlement for the last 7,000 years mainly because of its fertile soil. The city also remained neutral throughout history, which is perhaps the main reason why it’s still around today. Argos didn’t even participate in the Greco-Persian Wars. Even though not nearly as powerful as it once was, Argos is still alive and it hosts 22,000 residents today.
3. Byblos, Lebanon- 7,000 years old
Located around 42 kilometers north of Beirut, Byblos is the oldest city in Lebanon. The city was first inhabited around 7,000 years ago and according to the ancient writer Philo, Byblos was the oldest city in the world. Many believe that the Bible got its name from Byblos because this is where the first import of papyrus in Greece took place in this city.
2. Aleppo, Syria- 8,000 years old
There haven’t been any major archeological excavations in Aleppo because the modern city still occupies most of the ancient site. The city has been continuously inhabited for more than 8,000 years and there are remnants of human settlements that date back to 11,000 B.C. Aleppo is located at the end of the Silk Road between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia, which made it an important hub during the ancient era. Unfortunately, the city that survived multiple conquests in the past has been almost destroyed by the recent war in Syria.
1. Damascus, Syria- 9,000 years old
Damascus is widely accepted as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. The city was first inhabited in the second half of the seventh millennia B.C. It also recently became the largest city in Syria after thousands of people fled from Aleppo. Damascus is a city that stood the test of time and saw many great civilizations rise and fall. Damascus was also recently named as the capital of Arab Culture.
How many cities from this list did you know about? Did you ever visit some of them? Let me know in the comments! Finally, if you liked this article, check out this article to find out how you can become a better travel writer.