The 20 oldest inhabited cities in the world

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Alep, Syrie

The world’s oldest cities

These cities, which are the 20 oldest continuously inhabited places on the planet, are a real opportunity to travel back in time. While few ancient cities have managed to stand the test of time, some are still standing – better still, they’re still alive. Here are the 20 oldest cities in the world, where life has never stopped (in brackets, you’ll find the date when the first inhabitants settled).

20. Varanasi, India (1000 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Varanasi, Inde

Flickr – Ken Wieland

Located on the west bank of the Ganges, Varanasi, also known as Benares, is an important holy city for both Hindus and Buddhists. According to legend, it was founded by the Hindu god Shiva 5,000 years ago, although modern researchers believe it to be almost 3,000 years old.

19. Cadiz, Spain (1100 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Cadix, Espagne

Pixabay – wopfl

Nestling on a narrow spit of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, Cadiz has been the cradle of the Spanish navy since the 18th century. It was founded by the Phoenicians as a trading post and fell into the hands of the Carthaginians around 500 BC, becoming a base for Hannibal’s conquest of Iberia.

18. Thebes, Greece (1400 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Thèbes, Grèce

Alamy – Hercules Milas

A great rival of ancient Athens, Thebes dominated the Boeotian confederation and even assisted Xerxes during the Persian invasion of 480 BC. Archaeological excavations have revealed Mycenaean settlements dating back even further. Today, Thebes is no more than a simple market town.

17. Larnaca, Cyprus (1400 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Lanarca, Chypre

Flickr – Martin Belam

Founded by the Phoenicians under the name of Cition, Larnaca is well known for its pretty palm-fringed waterfront. Archaeological sites and numerous beaches attract visitors today.

16. Athens, Greece

Acropole Parthénon Athenes

Flickr – Loic Pinseel

Berceau de la civilisation occidentale et berceau de la démocratie, l’héritage d’Athènes est encore très évident. La ville est remplie de monuments romains, grecs, byzantins et ottomans et reste une destination touristique très populaire. Alexandre le Grand a un jour dit : « Grands sont les dangers auxquels je fais face pour gagner une renommée à Athènes. »

15. Balkh, Afghanistan (1500 avant JC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Balkh, Afghanistan

Wikimedia – bluuurgh

Known as Bactres (or Bactra) in ancient times, Balkh lies in northern Afghanistan and is described as « the mother of cities » by the Arabs. It reached its apogee between 2500 and 1900 BC, before the rise of the Persian and Mede empires. Modern Balkh is home to the region’s cotton industry.

14. Kirkuk, Iraq (2200 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Kirkouk, Irak

Flickr – jan Sefti

Located some 240 km from Baghdad, Kirkuk stands on the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Arrapha. Its strategic importance was recognized by the Babylonians and the Medes, who also controlled the city. The ruins of a 5,000-year-old citadel are still visible, while today the city is the headquarters of Iraq’s oil industry.

13. Erbil, Iraq (2300 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Erbil, Irak

Flickr – jan Sefti

To the north of Kirkuk lies Erbil, which was dominated on several occasions by the Assyrians, Persians, Sassanids, Arabs and Ottomans. It was a major stopover on the Silk Road, and its ancient citadel, 26 meters high, still dominates the skyline.

12. Tyre, Lebanon (2750 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Tyr, Liban

Flickr – upyernoz

The legendary birthplace of Europa and Dido, Tyre was founded around 2750 BC, according to Herodotus. It was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC after a seven-month siege, and became a Roman province in 64 BC. Today, tourism is the mainstay of the ancient Roman city: Tyre’s racecourse is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the Bible, it is written: « Tyre, she who distributed crowns, she whose merchants were princes. »

11. Jerusalem, Israel (2800 BC)

Skyline Jérusalem

Flickr – Ingmar Zahorsky

The spiritual center of the Jewish people and Islam’s third holiest city, Jerusalem is home to several major religious sites, including the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the al-Aqsa Mosque. In the course of its history, the city has been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured 44 times and destroyed twice.

10. Beirut, Lebanon (3000 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Beyrouth, Liban

Flickr – Mohannad Khatib

As Lebanon’s capital and cultural, administrative and economic center, Beirut’s history dates back some 5,000 years. Excavations in the city have uncovered Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman remains, while the city is mentioned in letters to the Pharaoh of Egypt as early as the 14th century BC. Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, Beirut has become a lively, modern tourist center.

9. Gaziantep, Turkey (3650 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Gaziantep, Turquie

Flickr – Adam Jones

In southern Turkey, close to the border with Syria, Gaziantep’s history stretches as far back as the Hittites. The Ravanda citadel, restored by the Byzantines in the 6th century, stands in the city center, while Roman mosaics have also been discovered here.

8. Plovdiv, Bulgaria (4000 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Plovdiv, Bulgarie

Flickr – Dennis Jarvis

Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv was originally a fortified Thracian town, before becoming a major Roman city. It later fell into Byzantine and Ottoman hands, before becoming part of Bulgaria. The city is an important cultural center and home to numerous ancient remains, including a Roman amphitheater and aqueduct, as well as Ottoman baths.

7. Sidon, Lebanon (4000 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Sidon, Liban

Wikimedia – SidonNewCity

Around 40 km south of Beirut lies Sidon, one of the most important, and perhaps the oldest, of the Phoenician cities. It was the base from which the great Phoenician Mediterranean empire grew. Both Jesus and Saint Paul are said to have visited Sidon, as did Alexander the Great, who captured the city in 333 BC.

6. Medinet el-Fayoum, Egypt (4000 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Fayoum, Egypte

Wikimedia – Hussain92

Southwest of Cairo, Fayoum occupies part of Crocodilopolis, an ancient Egyptian city that worshipped Petsuchos, a sacred crocodile. The modern town of Fayoum features several large bazaars, mosques and baths, while the pyramids of Lehin and Hawara are nearby.

5. Susa, Iran (4200 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Suse, Iran

Credit – historicaliran.blogspot.com

Susa was the capital of the Elamite Empire before being captured by the Assyrians. It was then taken by the Achaemenids under Cyrus the Great. It is the setting for Aeschylus’ play The Persians, an Athenian tragedy that is the oldest play in the history of theater. The modern city of Shushan has a population of around 65,000.

4. Damascus, Syria (4300 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Damas, Syrie

Flickr – James Gordon

Cited by some sources as the oldest inhabited city in the world, Damascus may have been inhabited as early as 10,000 BC, but the debate remains open to this day. It became an important center after the arrival of the Arameans, who established a network of canals that still form the basis of its modern hydrological networks. Another conquest of Alexander the Great, Damascus has since been in the possession of Romans, Arabs and Ottomans. Its wealth of historic sites made it a popular tourist destination, until recent unrest struck.

3. Aleppo, Syria (4300 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Alep, Syrie

Flickr – Lazhar Neftien

Syria’s most populous city, with almost 4.4 million inhabitants, Aleppo was founded under the name ofHalab around 4300 BC. While the ancient site is now occupied by the modern city, it has barely been touched by archaeologists. The city was under Hittite control until around 800 BC, before passing through Assyrian, Greek and Persian hands. It was then occupied by the Romans, Byzantines and Arabs, besieged by the Crusaders, then recaptured by the Mongols and Ottomans.

2. Byblos, Lebanon (5000 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Byblos, Liban

Flickr – Serge Melki

Founded  » Gebal  » by the Phoenicians, Byblos received its name from the Greeks, who imported papyrus from the city. The word Bible is derived from Byblos. The city’s main sights include ancient Phoenician temples, Byblos Castle and the Church of St. John Mark, built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, as well as the medieval old city walls. A more modern attraction is the Byblos International Music Festival.

1. Jericho, West Bank (9000 BC)

Villes les plus vieilles du monde, Jéricho, Cysjordanie

Flickr – hanming_huang

The oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of 20 successive settlements in Jericho, dating back more than 11,000 years. The city lies on the banks of the Jordan River in the West Bank and is home to some 20,000 inhabitants.

For information, the other oldest European cities are Lisbon (approx. 1000 BC), Rome (753 BC), Corfu (approx. 700 BC) and Mantua (approx. 500 BC).