Exploring historic towns and experiencing its appeal is a journey through time. We set out on an adventure to discover the unique allure of the world's oldest cities, from crumbling ruins to cliffside monasteries. Envision people rushing about in markets while wearing gauzy white garments and standing in front of sun-warmed stone buildings.
This blog explores 13 of the world's oldest cities, all of which are popular tourist destinations thanks to the intriguing combination of history and natural beauty. Come along as we uncover the vibrant history hidden in their very stones.
1. Athens, Greece
Athens, which was founded approximately 4000 B.C., is widely regarded as the origin of Western culture. By the beginning of the first millennium BC, it had become the most important city in all of Ancient Greece, with an unparalleled collection of artifacts. The Acropolis is the most famous, housing the world-famous Parthenon and Erechtheion as well as the one-and-only Panathenaic Stadium, built entirely of white marble.
Athens, the current capital of Greece, is home to more than three million people and draws more than five million tourists every year with its rich history and enduring attractiveness.
2. Gaziantep, Turkey
Gaziantep, like many other historic cities, has been ruled by the Byzantines, the Crusaders, and the Ottomans during its history. Now it's a thriving metropolis with a stellar reputation for its eclectic array of restaurants. The Turkish term for pistachio, “fstk,” has enormous significance in this city.
About 180 bakeries call Gaziantep home, and they're all known for making some of the best pistachio baklava in the world. This delicious dish has become a symbol of the city, making it an essential stop for gourmands exploring Turkey for the first time.
3. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv, a city in Europe, is known for its rich history and modern atmosphere. It is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the continent. With a rich history spanning 8,000 years, Bulgaria's second-largest city has become a hub for food and drink. The city's restaurant and café scene has been growing rapidly, reflecting its dynamic and changing atmosphere.
For history enthusiasts, there are plenty of treasures to discover, such as amphitheaters and delightful old towns. When visiting the city, it is highly recommended to embark on a pilgrimage to Nebet Tepe, one of the hills that surrounds the area. Plovdiv's historical legacy dates back to 4000 BC when human settlement began in the area.
4. Aleppo, Syria
Aleppo, one of the world's oldest cities, was established around the year 5000 B.C. Because of its location at the terminus of the Silk Road and its proximity to both the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, it played a pivotal role in ancient trade and commerce. Aleppo has, unfortunately, become synonymous with the horrific conflicts of the Syrian civil war since 2012.
Its Old City, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, has suffered severe damage. The official population is above 1.8 million, but due to casualties and emigration, the exact number is unknown.
5. Luxor, Egypt
Luxor, renowned as the ancient Egyptian capital Thebes, recently made headlines with the unearthing of a 1,800-year-old Roman city. This city, steeped in history, has always been a treasure trove for archaeological discoveries. Luxor doubles as an open-air museum, where history enthusiasts and casual tourists alike can explore temples, tombs, and more.
It's a captivating destination that invites you to step into the past, making it a must-visit for those with a penchant for history and adventure.
6. Byblos, Lebanon
Byblos, a favored day trip from Beirut, has more to offer than meets the eye. Inhabited since around 8800 BC, this city's heart pulsates with vitality today. From the vibrant Old Souq to the commanding Citadel, Byblos embodies a tapestry of civilizations that have left their imprint over millennia.
Its history stretches back to Neolithic times, and the bustling markets stand as a testament to the ages of commerce and dialogue that have thrived here, making it an enriching experience for all visitors.
7. Sidon, Lebanon
Sidon, where Jesus supposedly performed his first miracle by changing water into wine, has a magnetic allure for Christians. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and only 40 kilometers from the Lebanese capital of Beirut, its Old City is a well-kept maze of winding lanes, majestic arches, and historic mosques from the Umayyad era.
Originally constructed by Crusaders, the Sidon Sea Castle may be seen on a small island that is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. Despite being destroyed by the Mamluks, Fakhreddine had it rebuilt.
8. Varanasi, India
Varanasi, known as the holiest city in the world's oldest religion, has been a place of pilgrimage and contemplation for both believers and skeptics throughout history. Varanasi, known as India's spiritual epicenter, has been a thriving center of learning and culture for over 3,000 years.
Some even speculate that its origins can be traced back even further, with credit given to Shiva. Varanasi, a city in India, is a captivating blend of temples and cultural practices. The Shri Tilbhandeshwar Mahadev Mandir is one of the oldest sacred sites in the city. Despite being built in the 18th century, it still holds great significance and represents the city's spiritual heritage.
9. Susa, Iran
Susa founded approximately in 4200 BC, held a paramount position as one of the oldest and most vital cities in the Ancient Near East. Nestled amidst the lower Zagros Mountains, it witnessed the ebb and flow of empires, from the Elamite and Persian to the Seleucid and Sasanian in Iran.
Susa was a repository of ancient treasures, including the grandeur of Darius the Great's Palace, though much of it now lies in ruins. Today, Susa has evolved into Shush, a modern city hosting around 65,000 inhabitants.
10. Damascus, Syria
Syria's crown jewel, Damascus, may have been founded as early as 10,000 BC, though this is hotly contested. This historic metropolis has seen many civilizations come and go, including those of Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Arabs, and the Ottomans. The Mesopotamian Aramaeans played a crucial contribution by laying the groundwork for the canal networks that supply today's municipal water systems.
The Umayyad Mosque is a well-known monument because it houses Saladin's tomb and is expected to play a pivotal role in the Second Coming of Christ, according to Muslims.
11. Jericho, Palestinian Territories
Jericho, visible like a distant jewel from the River Jordan's banks, is widely considered the world's oldest city. Archaeological excavations have unveiled traces of 20 successive settlements, spanning a remarkable 11,000-year history. Notably, Jericho faced abandonment during extended periods. The city's history includes Jordanian occupation from 1949 to 1967, followed by Israeli control since 1967.
In a groundbreaking development, Jericho achieved administrative autonomy in 1994, marking the first Arab town in the West Bank to do so, through an accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
12. Hanoi, Vietnam
Founded by An Dng Vng, monarch of the U Lc kingdom in 257 BC, Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, has a long and storied history. However, people have lived here since the Paleolithic era. Attractions in modern-day Hanoi include the city's pulsating nightlife, mouthwatering cuisine, and historical landmarks.
The renowned One Pillar Pagoda was built in 1049 and is just one of many historical marvels that can be found throughout this country.
13. Jerusalem, Israel
Jerusalem, with roots dating back 4,000 to 5,000 years, holds a unique position in human history. It stands as the birthplace of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, making it a treasure trove of religious significance. Yet, it's also a city marked by conflict, enduring countless sieges, attacks, and captures, as historian Eric H. Cline notes.
Today, Jerusalem serves as Israel's capital, housing over 900,000 residents, and remains a magnet for over 3 million tourists annually, drawn by its profound historical and spiritual resonance.
13 Ancient Cities With Much History
These 13 ancient cities, steeped in history and culture, offer a captivating journey through time for curious travelers. From Jericho's millennia-old roots to Varanasi's spiritual allure, they showcase the enduring human spirit across ages. These destinations, frequented by tourists, embody the rich blend of our world's heritage.
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I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.