10 Oldest Cities in the World (Updated 2024)

The very first cities in the world developed during the Neolithic period in ancient Mesopotamia. Although many of these early cities are no longer around, there are a few that still exist and have developed into modern cities. At one point, these ancient cities were the capital of major civilizations and a few of them still are today. All of these cities have rich histories and many ruins and monuments continue to stand and are visited annually by thousands of tourists.

10. Damascus, Syria

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.3000 – 2000 BCE
Current Population: 2,079,000 (2019 estimate)
Total Area: 41 sq mi (77 km²)

Damascus, Syriaphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via UNESCO by Véronique Dauge

Damascus is another ancient city in the Middle East that was and still is an important cultural and commercial center in the region. While no one knows for sure when Damascus was settled, archaeologists mostly agree that the first settlement within the area of the city walls dates back to at least the 3rd millennium BCE.

However, people may have inhabited Damascus much earlier as there is archaeological evidence that shows people lived in the region just outside of Damascus as early as 10000 to 8000 BCE.

Regardless of when the city was first settled, Damascus became important to the various peoples that occupied the city, including the Greeks, Romans, Arab Muslims, Seljuq Turks, and the Ottoman Turks. Each of these civilizations left behind their marks in Damascus through architecture and cultural traditions that are still present throughout the city.

Today, Damascus is the capital city of Syria and the country’s largest city.

Did You Know?

In addition to all of its historical landmarks, Damascus is home to the world’s largest restaurant,  Damascus Gate Restaurant. According to Guinness World Records, the Damascus Gate Restaurant has a total 6,014 seats and covers 215,277.4 square feet (20,000 square meters).

9. Luxor, Egypt

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.3200 BCE as the ancient city of Thebes
Current Population: 1,328,429 (last count in 2020)
Total Area: 161 sq mi (416 km²)

Luxor, Egyptphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Luxor sits on the site of the ancient city of Thebes, which was the capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom. The city was established around 3200 BCE and started out as a small trading post and eventually became the center and one of the wealthiest cities of the Egyptian Empire during its peak.

Many ancient structures and ruins still exist in Luxor today, including the Karnak and Luxor temples, several monuments and statues, and the Theban Necropolis — which includes the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.

In 1979, the ancient ruins of Thebes became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thousands of tourists come to the city every year to visit the ancient monuments.

Did You Know?

After Luxor (still Thebes at the time) was sacked by the Assyrians in the 7th century BCE, the city slid into decline and much of the world had forgotten about the city until Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in the 18th century. Teams of archaeologists descended on Luxor and their finds brought the city back into prominence.

8. Athens, Greece

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.4000 BCE
Current Population: 3,781,274 (metro) (last count in 2012)
Total Area: 1,130.784 sq mi (2,928.717 km²) (metro)

Athens, Greecephoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Athens is one of the oldest and most important cities in western civilization. The city has been inhabited since Neolithic times, around the the end of the 4th millennium BCE. By the first millennium BCE, Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece.

According to Greek mythology, Athens was named for its patron goddess Athena after she won the honor against Poseidon for gifting the city an olive tree, which symbolizes peace and prosperity.

Athens reached its peak in the fifth century when it developed several cultural achievements that would lay the foundations for western civilization – this time period became known as the Golden Age of Athenian democracy.

Did You Know?

As a city with rich history, Athens is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis of Athens and the Daphni Monastery.

7. Susa, Iran (modern-day Shush, Iran)

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.4200 BCE
Current Population: 77,148 (last count in 2016)
Total Area: Unspecified

Susa, Iranphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The ancient city of Susa (modern-day Shush) was home to the Elam civilization. There is evidence that the earliest settlement was established around 4200 BCE. Evidence suggests that the city was founded around the time that nearby villages were abandoned including Chonga Mish, which was the cultural center of the region prior to Susa.

The city’s history is split up into three periods: Susa I, when the earliest inhabitants lived in the area; Susa II, which was influenced by the Uruk culture — the people of Mesopotamia prior to the Sumerians; and Susa III, when the city became the center of the Elam civilization.

Did You Know?

Susa is so old that the city was mentioned in some of the very earliest Sumerian records, which are considered some of the oldest written records in history.

6. Jerusalem

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.4500 – 3500 BCE
Current Population: 936,425 (last count in 2019)
Total Area: 48.323 sq mi (125.156 km²)

Jerusalemphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Godot13

Jerusalem is a strategically located ancient city that has been heatedly fought over by various civilizations. Unfortunately, these wars are still ongoing today as both Israel and Palestine claim Jerusalem as their capital. The ancient city is also a major religious site and is important to three major religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Archaeological evidence shows that Jerusalem has been inhabited since at least the 4th millennium BCE. The earliest known permanent settlement in Jerusalem dates back to the early Bronze Age, between 3000 – 2800 BCE.

Due to its long history and significance, it is estimated that Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and attacked 52 times.

Did You Know?

As an important holy city, Jerusalem has more synagogues per capita than any other city in the world.

5. Argos, Greece

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.5000 BCE
Current Population: 22,085 (last count in 2011)
Total Area: 53.34 sq mi (138.138 km²)

Argos, Greecephoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Argos has been continuously inhabited for the past 7,000 years and was used as a major stronghold during the Mycenaean era. The city was the dominant power of the Peloponnese until the rise of Spartan power. The two city-states battled for control of the Peloponnese, but sided with each other to fight common enemies.

Under Roman rule Argos became important again and flourished during the Byzantine era. At one point the Greek government considered moving the capital to Argos, but eventually chose Athens in 1834. The city of Argos is featured throughout several Greek myths and is believed to be the birthplace of Perseus, the son of the god Zeus.

Did You Know?

The primary economic activity in Argos is agriculture and the city is known for its olives, apricots, and local melon variety Argetiko (Argos melons).

4. Aleppo, Syria

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.5000 BCE
Current Population: 1.85 million (2018 estimate)
Total Area: 70 sq mi (190 km²)

Aleppo, Syriaphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

In recent history, the city of Aleppo has become known as being the center of the Syrian Civil War; the city has seen massive destruction and is the worst hit by the war. Today, the damaged parts of Aleppo are still undergoing reconstruction.

Despite its current circumstances, Aleppo is a great city of antiquity with a rich heritage — it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

Although the city’s exact age is unknown, the area has mostly likely been inhabited since 5000 BCE; due to the city’s continuous occupation, it has been hard for archaeologists to excavate the region. The first recorded mention of Aleppo comes from the Ebla tablets, which date to 3000 BCE. 

Did You Know?

Aleppo rose to prominence in the ancient world because it was a trading center halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).

3. Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.6000 – 5000 BCE
Current Population: 346,893 (last count in 2018)
Total Area: 39.37 sq mi (101.98 km²)

Plovdiv, Bulgariaphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Plovdiv, which is often cited as one of the oldest cities in Europe, was first settled during the Neolithic era around 6000 BCE. Throughout the city’s long history, it has been conquered by several different peoples including the Thracians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, and Ottoman Turks — all of these conquests have led to the city’s diverse culture and historical heritage.

Plovdiv has always served as an important center to its various inhabitants: it was a Greek and Thracian polis; the pride of Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great); a cultural center for the Byzantine Empire; the capital city of Thrace under the Romans; and a Bulgarian stronghold.

Did You Know?

As such an old city, Plovdiv has more than 200 archaeological sites, including two ancient theaters, remains of medieval walls and towers, and Ottoman baths and mosques.

2. Byblos, Lebanon

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.8800 – 7000 BCE
Current Population: ~140,000
Total Area: 2 sq mi (5 km²)

Byblos, Lebanonphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

According to archaeological research, Byblos has been occupied since the Neolithic Period between 8800 – 7000 BCE and its oldest settlement developed around the 4th millennium BCE – Byblos has been continuously occupied since this first settlement. According to myth, Byblos was built by Cronus as the first city of Phoenicia.

During the ancient Egpytian period, Byblos became a major trading hub as the city was the main exporter of cedar and valuable wood to Egypt. The Phoenician Alphabet was developed Byblos and almost all of the known early Phoenician inscriptions come from the area.

Byblos was first excavated by Pierre Montet in 1921 and it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Did You Know?

After being negatively affected by the 2006 Lebanon War, Byblos has bounced back and become a highly rated tourist destination.

1. Jericho, West Bank

Year Founded or First Inhabited: c.9600 – 9000 BCE
Current Population: ~20,300 (last count in 2006)
Total Area: 22.665 sq mi (58.701 km²)

Jericho, West Bankphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Although the exact date of Jericho’s founding is unknown, it is believed to be the oldest city in the world. Evidence, through extensive archaeological excavations, show that the earliest settlement in the area dates back sometime between 9600 – 9000 BCE, or even earlier.

The Wall of Jericho is one of the greatest archaeological finds in the city and is considered to be the oldest city wall in the world as it was built around 8000 BCE.

Throughout its history, Jericho has been occupied and settled by several different groups of people and it is even talked about in the Bible.

In recent history, control of Jericho has been passed back and forth between Israel and Palestine as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on. However, Jericho has been occupied by Israeli forces since 1967, along with the rest of the West Bank.

Did You Know?

One of the biggest reasons that Jericho has been settled by humans for so long is that the city is surrounded by numerous natural springs, providing a fresh source of water for thousands of years.


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