Oldest Cities in the World
There are cities around the world that go back thousands of years, many of which still pulsate with life that's palpable and magnetic.
The world is a changed place from when these cities were first inhabited. While some are a mere shadow of their former selves, others continue to flourish despite the vagaries of nature and time. If only the walls and stones could speak, stories would come forth like a storm.
Here are 15 of the world's oldest cities that have stood the test of time, ranked from newest to oldest.
15. Gaziantep, Turkey
Founded: 500 BC
Population: 2.1 million
Region: Gaziantep Province
Gaziantep is an ancient city, with the first inhabitants having settled here in the fifth century BC.
Also known as Antep, the city has a number of historical sites such as the Gaziantep Fortress, the Ravanda Citadel and the ruins of Rumkale.
Known for its deletable pistachio baklava and vibrant cafe culture, Antep is a popular destination for national tourism.
The Zeugma Mosaic Museum houses a large collection of Roman mosaics excavated from the region, is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
14. Varanasi, India
Founded: 1200 BC
Population: 1.2 million
Region: Uttar Pradesh
Located on the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi is also known as Benaras or Kashi. It is said to have been created by the Hindu god, Lord Shiva.
The old parts of the city rise up from the banks of the river or the ghats, extending inwards, in a complicated network of narrow streets and tiny lanes, where chaos reigns supreme. The ghats are an integral part of Benaras and are the best place to experience life as it has unfolded here for over centuries.
In Benaras, life and death are equally celebrated.
People from around India come to Benaras and hope to live out their last days in the holy city. Dying here is believed to liberate the soul from the Hindu karmic cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
13. Luoyang, China
Founded: 1600 BC
Population: 6.6 million
Region: Henan Province
The ancient city of Luoyang, located in the northwestern province of Henan, China, is said to be the starting place of the Chinese civilization. It served as the capital for 13 dynasties, till the 10th century.
Luoyang is also home to China's first Buddhist temple.
The Longman Grottoes situated close by, spreading out on either side of the Yi River, are considered to be the finest examples of Chinese stone carving.
The pièce de résistance is a series of Buddhist artwork encompassing 2,300 caves and niches, carved across a long limestone cliff, belonging to the Northern Wei and Tang dynasties.
12. Jerusalem, Israel
Founded: 1800 BC
Region: Jerusalem District
Jerusalem has been fiercely fought over, captured, destroyed and rebuilt multiple times.
For Christians, this was the place of Jesus's Last Supper, his trial, crucifixion and burial. For Jews, the Western Wall is part of the place from where the world was created. Muslims believe that the al-Aqsa mosque, is the place from where Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Considered to be sacred by Muslims, Christians and Jews, pilgrims in thousands descend here to pay their respects and experience the magic of the place where their beliefs are rooted.
While the world debates Jerusalem's status, inside the old city, life goes on as usual, and unflinching faith is the only constant.
11. Balkh, Afghanistan
Founded: 2000 BC
Region: Balkh Province
Located on the route of the ancient Silk Road, Balkh, was popularly referred to as Umm-al-belad or the "Mother of Cities."
Wedged between the Hindu Kush mountains and the Amu Darya river, the city prospered between 2500 BC and 1500 BC, until Ghengis Khan invaded. Faced with wide spread destruction, Balkh never fully recovered.
In its peak, Balkh was popular for grapes, oranges, sugarcane and camels. An important centre of trade and crafts, the city was very rich but not powerful enough to protect itself from attackers.
Agriculture continues to be the city's main industry, with fruits, almonds and cotton being produced.
Sadly, the war has not been kind to this once prosperous city. Archaeological treasures and art can still be found at the Balkh Museum, though looters have stolen several precious pieces.
10. Luxor, Egypt
Founded: 2150 BC
Population: 1.3 million
Region: Southern Egypt
The ancient town of Thebes, part of Luxor, was the capital of Egypt in the 12th century, and is a perfect ode to the glorious years of the Egyptian civilization.
Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death and their pharaohs and queens were buried in grand structures filled with everything they would need in their next life.
One look at Luxor and even the most jaded traveller will turn a believer. The sprawling Karnak complex was one of the largest religious sites in the world.
While many tombs were raided over the years, the tomb of Tutankhamun found here, was discovered largely intact in 1922. Close by, the Luxor Temple with the statues of Ramses II is equally awe inspiring.
9. Sidon, Lebanon
Founded: 4000 BC
Region: South Governorate
Sidon, a city that has said to have been visited by Jesus, St. Paul and Alexander the Great is steeped in history and lore.
Lying on the coast, Sidon flourished as an important trading port. Murex, a mollusk, from which an expensive purple dye was made, was widely traded from here. The city was also popular for glass-making and later ship building. In 1837, a major earthquake destroyed most of the city.
Today, much of Sidon's history lies buried underneath modern architecture, but a few sites serve as a testament to its rich past, such as the Sea Castle in Saida.
Built in 1228 by the Crusaders, the castle is located on a narrow island and is joined to the mainland by a stone causeway.
5. Aleppo, Syria (Tie)
Founded: 5000 BC
Population: 1.9 million
Region: Aleppo Governorate
Ruled by the Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamelukes and Ottomans, Aleppo was a major trading hub along the Silk Route, from the second millennium BCE.
The old city holds some of the most impressive examples of medieval Islamic architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, much of the ancient city lies hidden underneath, well away from the reach of archaeologists. A few key historical sites such as The Citadel, the 12th-century Great Mosque, madrasas, residences, and public baths, blend in with the urban sprawl of present day Aleppo.
Recent fighting in Syria has taken a toll on the city, with many of its ancient treasures severely damaged.
5. Athens, Greece (Tie)
Founded: 5000 BC
Population: 3.2 million
The Acropolis, dating back to the fifth century BC looms over the city, from its perch high above a rocky outcrop. Scattered around it are many historical structures from the Greek, Roman and Ottoman periods.
The Panathenaic stadium, built entirely of Pentelic marble, is perhaps the most fitting reminder of Greece's many contributions to the world as we know it today. It was here that the first modern Olympics was held more than 100 years ago.
Mired in economic crisis, Athens, the capital city of Greece, has lost none of its sheen. Considered to be the birthplace of modern democracy, a visit to Athens is a spellbinding history lesson.
Besides its ubiquitous ruins and museums, Athens is also a modern city with a great restaurant and nightlife scene.
5. Beirut, Lebanon (Tie)
Founded: 5000 BC
Population: 2.4 million
Region: Beirut Governorate
Beirut was one of the most important ancient cities, even finding finds mention in Egyptian texts from the second millennium BC.
Its strategic geographic location in the Mediterranean Sea, right in between Egypt and Turkey made it a crossroads of commerce and culture. Archaeological remains have revealed influences from numerous civilizations like the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ancient Greeks and the Ottomans.
Surrounded by modern office blocks and designer boutiques, downtown Beirut might seem anything but old. A short walk around the area reveals ruins that trace the city's past, going way back in time.
Completely flattened by war, it took years to build downtown Beirut as we see it today, and it was during this rebuilding process that valuable excavations were unearthed. Archaeologists chanced upon pieces of pottery from the Bronze Age, which led to further studies and investigations.
As layer by layer of the city's foundations were removed, Beirut's rich past revealed itself.
5. Byblos, Lebanon (Tie)
Founded: 5000 BC
Said to be inhabited from the Neolithic times, the city played a vital role in the growth of the region over thousands of years. The city was an important centre of trade, with cedar wood being exported to Egypt in return for papyrus and other goods.
Records show that the Phoenician alphabet originated and spread from Byblos. Ruins scattered around the area date back to the Bronze Age, the Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras.
Flanked by the shimmering Mediterranean Sea and filled with quaint cafes and quirky souvenir shops, Byblos is a popular day trip for tourists and locals from Lebanon's capital city, Beirut.
Tear away from the open air souk and explore the remains of one of the oldest Phoenician cities of the world.
3. Plodiv, Bulgaria (Tie)
Founded: 7000 BC
Region: Plovdiv Province
Plodiv, Bulgaria's second largest city, developed as an important centre of commerce and trade during Roman times, owing to its strategic location at the foothills of three mountains.
During its peak, several architectural and infrastructure improvements were made to the city, including the laying of a water and sewage system. Later, the city came under Ottoman and Byzantine rule, till it eventually became a part of Bulgaria.
Old Plodiv, is filled with historical ruins, such as a Roman amphitheater, Ottoman baths, monasteries and a stadium.
3. Susa, Iran (Tie)
Founded: 7000 BC
Region: Khuzestan Province
Ancient Susa, now part of the modern city of Shush in Iran, goes back to the fifth century BC but grew out of an older community that existed 2,000 years before that.
Located in the lower Zagros mountains and close to the Tigris River, Susa was an important religious, commercial and administrative hub of the region. It was capital of the Elamite Empire, before being captured by the Assyrians and later, by the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great.
Susa continued to be the capital of the Persian Empire, under Darius the Great, and grew into a prominent city.
Only an overview of The Palace of Darius, the ruler's grand palace is visible today from the ruins excavated in the area.
2. Jericho, Palestine
Founded: 9000 BC
Region: West Bank
Archaeological evidence suggests that 20 successive settlements have inhabited Jericho, going back 11,000 years.
Close proximity to the Jordan River and the presence of a large number of springs have attracted people, mostly hunting tribes, to settle here. The abundance of water eventually led to the establishment of a thriving agrarian community.
Jericho is home to a small community of 20,000 people today
In the Bible, Jericho is referred to as the "City of Palm Trees." The Mount of Temptation Monastery and the archaeological ruins of Tell es-Sultan are particularly worth a visit.
1. Damascus, Syria
Founded: 10,000 BC
Population: 1.3 million
Region: State of Damascus
Set up in the third millennium BC, Damascus, situated in the middle of trade routes from the east to west, played a pivotal role in world trade. Different parts of the city specialized in a variety of crafts, and the most notable of these were swords and lace.
Damascus is often identified as the oldest city in the world, though the claim is, unsurprisingly, heavily disputed due to differences in definitions and the spottiness of archaeological findings.
Damascus, the capital of present-day war torn, Syria, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.
Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic influences can be seen across the city, particularly in the 125 monuments scattered around. Of these the Umayyad Mosque, also known as the great mosque, one of the oldest in the world, is particularly spectacular.