For thousands of years, people have come together and shaped cities as a way to ensure protection, access to food and water, and even just to fulfill our social needs. Archaeologists are constantly discovering new artifacts, temples and ancient sites in some of the world’s oldest cities. While we may not fully know the true ages of these cities, the evidence found may shed light on when people first settled in some of these cities. Either way, these locations are culturally important and an essential part of understanding human history. Here are the top 10 oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
1. Jericho, Palestine – 5000 BC.
The city of Jericho is located in the West Bank in the Middle East. Although its exact foundation is unknown, Jericho is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
Jericho started out as a Natufian hunter-gatherer camp site around 10,000 BC, but further excavations have shown that the city has been around since 12,000 BC. and was inhabited by humans. Not until around 9600 BC. people began to settle permanently in the area, with the end of the last ice age and with it the end of the cold and drought. Archaeologists have discovered that the area from 8000 BC. grew to 40 square kilometers and featured a stone wall with a tower, the earliest known protective wall in existence. Experts believe that the wall was used as a flood protection, with the tower serving for both observation and ceremonial purposes.
Archaeologists have uncovered 20 different layers of settlement in Jericho, and the city was destroyed and rebuilt more than once. It was completely abandoned at least once, from 6000 to 5000 BCE, and from there until about 1000 years later, habitation here was sparse. Urban settlements became increasingly common in the rest of present-day Syria around the fourth millennium BC, as was the case for Jericho. The city was mentioned several times in the Bible, most notably as the first place the Israelites attacked after crossing the Jordan. The city was ruled by the Arabs and the Ottomans, and it became a winter sports resort for the British after that country was mandated over Palestine. Today, Jericho is located in Palestinian territory on the West Bank.
2. Argos, Greece – 5000 BC.
Argos is considered one of the oldest cities in the world and has been around since about 5000 BC. continuously inhabited. It is located between two hills on the Greek peninsula of Peloponnese, the same peninsula where Sparta can be found. The name Argos is derived from Argus, son of Zeus and Niobe, who was known for being covered with eyes or for being all-seeing. According to Greek mythology, he was the king of the city. It was also known as the birthplace of many soldiers who fought in the Trojan War under Diomedes.
Argos was an essential Mycenaean settlement in the Late Bronze Age, from 1700 to 1100 BC, and the dominant power on this peninsula until the rise of Sparta. Historical records of the city characterize it as a center for culture in the Greek Empire, being one of the first cities to host musical competitions along with Sparta and Paros. It remained a major city after the Greeks and through the Roman Empire until the Visigoths took it in 396 BC. left in ruins. Today visitors to this Greek city will find many interesting ruins to explore, most notably the Greek Theater and Roman Baths.
3. Byblos, Lebanon – 5000 BC.
Byblos, also known as today’s Jbeil, is a port city in present-day Beirut (40 km) that has been continuously inhabited for more than 7,000 years. Archaeological excavations have shown that the city has been located since the Neolithic between 8800 and 7000 BC. and occupied by people. In the 4th millennium BC. An extensive settlement had developed, and 1,000 years later the city had grown into a prosperous city.
The Greek mythology of its origin (Byblos is the Greek name) is that the city was built by Kronos, the god of time, as the first city in Phenicia, known today as Lebanon. Byblos’ trade relationship with Egypt, coupled with its location on the Mediterranean Sea, soon made it an important trading center, particularly for cedar and other valuable timber. The Greek name actually derives from the fact that it was a papyrus trading center, so the Greeks named it after their word for books. The city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and was a crucial site in the development of the Phoenician alphabet, which is a precursor to modern Hebrew.
4. Athens, Greece – 4000 BC.
Athens is the capital of Greece and the largest city. It is known as the birthplace of western civilization and democracy. People have lived in the city of Athens for at least 7,000 years, but the oldest known human presence dates back to between the 11th and 7th millennium BC. Ancient Athens’ golden age was home to history’s greatest thinkers, such as Socrates, Aristotle, and Hippocrates. According to mythology, the city was named after the Goddess Athena, who gave the city an olive tree, a symbol of peace and prosperity in ancient Greece. Today’s Athens has over 3 million inhabitants and visitors can take in ruins from the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times.
5. Susa, Iran – 4200 BC.
Susa began as a small settlement around 7000 BC. and became an urban center around 4200 BC. It was an important city because of its location along the trade routes. Susa, located at the foot of the Zagros Mountains and east of the Tigris River, was the capital of the Elamite Empire until the Assyrians conquered it. Alexander the Great hosted the Susa weddings here in 324 BC, a major event that saw 10,000 Macedonians and Persians married in an attempt to unite the two cultures. It was also inhabited by the Persian and Parthian empires. A UNESCO World Heritage Site for its storied history and cultural significance, Susa actually contains layers of superimposed settlements, much of which has still not been explored by archaeologists. Today, the Iranian city of Shush occupies part of the old city.
6. Gaziantep, Turkey – 3650 BC.
Gaziantep, also known as Antep, is located in the south of Turkey near the Syrian border. The city is one of the oldest cities in the world, with its earliest inhabitants dating back to 3650 BC. settled in the area. With such a long history dating back to the Hittites, an empire that ruled modern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon from about 1600 to 1179 BC, Gaziantep offers many historical sites. Visitors can explore Gaziantep Castle and Ravanda Citadel, both restored by the Byzantines in the 6th century. Roman mosaics have also been found in this city, and it is also home to the largest mosaic museum in the world.
7. Luxor, Egypt – 3200 BC.
Luxor has been around since about 3200 BC. inhabited and located on the ancient city of Thebes, which was called Waset by the Egyptians. To add to the confusion, there are two cities that have been referred to Thebes: this city and one in Greece. This city, in Egypt, started out as a small trading post and grew into one of the richest cities in the Egyptian Empire. Many ancient structures and ruins are still present, with some temples dating back to 2000 BC. It was ruled by some important figures in history, such as Tutankhamun, Ramesses II and Ramesses III. The historical sites that remain include the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the Colossi of Memnon and the Theban Necropolis. The ancient ruins of Thebes were listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
8. Ray, Iran – 3000 BC.
Ray is located in the Greater Tehran metropolitan area in Iran. The town, also known as Rey, has evidence of inhabitants dating back some 8,000 years and having been occupied continuously for perhaps 5,000 or 6,000 years. Ray is home to several historical monuments, and visitors can explore the 5,000-year-old Cheshmeh-Ali (Shahr-e-Rey) and the 3,000-year-old Gebri Castle. The city was sacred to the Zoroastrians. The city has a long history of destruction: it was conquered by the Arab Muslims in 641 BC. and nearly destroyed by the Mongols in 1220.
9. Beirut, Lebanon – 3000 BC.
Beirut is Lebanon’s cultural, administrative and economic capital. The earliest inhabitants of the city settled around 3000 BC, which means that the history of the city dates back some 5,000 years. Beirut has a varied history, with excavations revealing Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Ottoman, and Arabian remains. It was even mentioned in letters to the Egyptian ruler up to 1400 BC. Beirut was also the site of the most prominent law school in the Roman Empire, but an earthquake destroyed it in AD 551.
10. Damascus, Syria – 3000 BC.
Some sources cite Damascus as the world’s oldest inhabited city, with settlers dating as far back as 10,000 BC. lived in the area, but this fact is heavily debated. However, archaeologists have determined through excavations that there were only between 10000 and 8000 BC. people living in the area.
After the arrival of the Arameans in Damascus in the first century BC, the city became an important settlement. The Arameans created a network of canals that still form the basis of the modern water networks of the city. It was conquered by Alexander the Great as well as the Romans, Arabs and Ottomans. Its location on the Mediterranean Sea at the crossroads of three different continents meant it was an important city for these civilizations that have come and gone. The Umayyad Mosque is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world, built between 705 and 715 BC. In 2008 it was named the Arab Capital of Culture.