Civilizations come and go. A war, famine, or natural disaster can wipe out entire cities, countries, or even empires. However, in the midst of the chaos of history there are a few cities that have managed to persevere and maintain their status as central hubs for trade, government, and civilization in general. Here are 13 of the oldest consistently populated cities on Earth!
Damascus is commonly believed to be the oldest city in the world that has been consistently populated. Today, it has a population of over 2.5 million, is an Arab Capital of Culture since 2008, and is the capital of the Syrian Arab Republic. However, there is solid evidence that the city has been populated ever since its establishment nearly 11,000 years ago. That puts its earliest date of existence at around 9000 B.C. And while many cities have existed before, only this one has been consistently populated by people for this long.
Even back in the days of the Roman Empire, according to the Alexandrian philosopher Philo (who was born at around 25 century B.C.), Byblos was the oldest city in the world. Back then they didn’t have the tools or know how to do archeological excavations (or the means to travel to Damascus) to discover they were wrong, but if Byblos was old for the Romans it’s doubly so for us! There is evidence that the city was established as early as 7,000 years ago. Today the city’s population holds at around 40,000 people.
Jericho, West Bank
The first walls and fortifications of Jericho date back to around 6800 B.C. This makes Jericho the confirmed first walled city in the world. In other words – nearly 9,000 years ago people thought this city was important enough to protect with high walls (and, likely, trained militia). But the first wall does not equate to the first people who lived in a city. There is evidence that the city itself was established, like Damascus, nearly 11,000 years ago. In the community of historians it is debated whether the city was continuously inhabited for those first 2,000 years, but even if it wasn’t – 9,000 years still puts this city square in the top 10 continuously inhabited city on our planet.
Jerusalem has been around for nearly 5,000 years and has always been a thriving city. It is the most important city for many major religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), making it a city that is particularly important for billions of people worldwide. Although it has always been plagued by military and cultural conflicts, the city has been continuously populated for the entirety of its existence. The city has been completely twice, attacked more than 52 times, and captured (and recaptured) 44 times. And yet, despite all this, it is still one of the oldest, continuously populated cities on earth!
The birthplace of philosophy, democracy, and modern Western civilization – Athens have been inhabited for at least 7,000 years. That means Athens was Athens way before the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle made it (arguably) the most historically significant city of the human civilization.
Excavations slightly north of Aleppo show that the territory was inhabited 13,000 years ago. However, back in those days 15 miles is a significant distance for people to travel. The earliest excavations within the borders of Aleppo show that it has been inhabited about 8,000 years ago, and has been this way ever since. Why exactly there was a 15-mile shift in the inhabited area is still up for debate today, but its location between the Mediterranean sea and Mesopotamia make it prime real estate for the inhabitants of Aleppo of 6000 B.C.
What is now Bulgaria used to once be part of the Roman Empire. Back in those days, Plovdiv was called Philippopolis and was a major city within the empire. According to evidence discovered by archeologists in the area, it is believed that the city has been continuously inhabited for nearly 6,000 years. As of today, Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria with a population of 7 million inhabitants.
This city in Iran has likely been around for slightly over 8,000 years, but historic excavations show that its first signs of being continuously populated date at about 6,000 years. The city is now home to one of the oldest monuments on our plant – the 3,000 year old Gebri castle. Today it’s population is around 350,000.
Of course this list would not be complete without a city in Egypt! Faiyum has been continuously populated for more than 6,000 years, when it was home to farmers and agrarian communities. Droughts, war, and other disasters have caused major declines in the population of this city, but have not ever caused it to be unpopulated, making it one of the top 15 oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth and (likely) the oldest city in Egypt. Today’s population of the city is around 350,000 Egyptians.
Another city in Greece that has been continuously populated for a little over 7,000 years! It is still not 100% decided which came first – Athens or Argos, but the later has the upper edge because of it’s fertile soil, which means it’s likely that before Athens became the centre of 5000 B.C.’s “knowledge workers”, Argos has already been established as the epicenter of farming and food production. Another factor that has helped Argos be continuously populated for this long is its historically “neutral” position. Its people did not participate in many of ancient Grece’s war efforts, making it (essentially) the Switzerland of the Greek empire.
Remember, the most prosperous cities are always either where the land is fertile, or where the water is plentiful. As a city that hosted a highly trafficked port on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Sidon has likely been around for more than 6,000 years.
The oldest continuously populated city in Asia is what is currently Luoyang, in China. It has been continuously populated for over 4,000 years. As a city that is located at the intersection of two rivers (Luo and Yi), it was likely a large hub for traders in the Chinese empire for hundreds of years. Furthermore, it’s “prime real estate” made the city the geographical center of ancient China, making it one fo the Seven Great Ancient Capitals of China.
Although it is likely that Varansi existed before Luoyang (artifacts show the city to have been established over 5,000 years ago), it is only certain that the city has been continuously inhabited for just over 3,000 years. It is the oldest city in India and is considered as the holiest city in the world for all those who practice Hinduism. Today, its population is around 1.2 million people.