“Earth is old. Our miraculous rock hasn’t been inhabited by humans from the beginning, but the planet is filled with brilliant cities boasting thousands of years of history. It took a while for our charming species to settle down, but when we did? Magic. Many of humanity’s earliest settlements have been lost to the ruthless apathy of history, but the planet’s oldest cities showcase a broad range of cultures and civilisations,” TimeOut Magazine wrote.
Jericho, West Bank
Whenever the world’s oldest cities are discussed, Jericho is never far from the conversation. Located in the West Bank and not too far from the Jordan River, Jericho has been continuously inhabited for over 11,000 years, has been a significant trading post for much of its existence and is even mentioned in the Old Testament. History continues to be made here; Jericho was the first city given to Palestine after the 1994 Oslo Accords.
Jericho is claimed to be the oldest city in the world, and it is also the city with the oldest known protective wall. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back 11,000 years (to 9000 BCE), almost to the very beginning of the Holocene epoch of the Earth’s history. Copious springs in and around the city have attracted human habitation for thousands of years. Jericho is described in the Bible as the “city of palm trees”.
China has plenty of cities that date way, way back, but few carry as much weight as Xi’an. Formerly known as Chang’an, Xi’an has been inhabited for more than 3,000 years and also served as the capital for 13 dynasties (a total of 73 emperors, if you’re counting). They don’t call it the birthplace of Chinese civilisation without good reason.
Chinese archeologists assume that the city of Xi’an was founded in the 2nd century BC. The first emperor of the united China, Qin Shi Huang made it the capital of the new state. The Silk Road started from there. Caravans loaded mostly with fine Chinese silk, porcelain or teas, moved to Europe through Samarkand and Bukhara. The city became the world’s trade centre, and a great number of merchants, travelers from various countries of the world settled there.
For over thousand years Xi’an remained capital of Celestial Empire. The real blossoming of Xi’an occurred under Tang dynasty in the 4th – 9th centuries AD. Tang emperors gave the city its refined shine which caused envy of many powerful monarchs of Europe and Asia. After the fall of Tang dynasty Xi’an gradually fell into decay, the capital’s luster was lost forever.
Luxor has been in the news recently after archaeologists discovered the complete remains of a Roman city dating back 1,800 years. Luxor is no stranger to significant historical discoveries, this being the site of the Ancient Egyptian capital Thebes after all, and don’t rule out more being found in the years to come. Luxor is an archaeologist’s dream, but there is plenty for casual tourists to love.
The history of Luxor shows us that the city had a deeply religious nature as it was known to be the city of Amun and later in Egypt new kingdom as the city of the gods where the Karnak temple is the official place for worship as each god had a shrine-like Amun-Re, Mut and many more. The importance of the city grows in the beginning on the 11th dynasty during the early middle kingdom leading to the new kingdom where the city became the capital and a universal hub for all the political, religious, and military aspects in Ancient Egypt.
Cholula is a dizzying mixture of the old and the new, themselves a Russian doll of sorts inside the very new and the very, very old. Cholula was founded around 500 BC in the form of two villages near water sources in the east, developing into the modern marvel of 150,000 (give or take) people that we know and love today. Cholula is famous for its many churches, along with the busy markets and striking colonial architecture. Oh, and the whole ‘world’s largest pyramid’ thing. Mexico’s two most famous volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, provide a dramatic backdrop to the whole thing.
History lovers have been flocking to Greece since people flocked anywhere, so it shouldn’t be a great surprise to find Europe’s oldest city here. Argos takes the prize, a beauty in Peloponnese that was once the most powerful of all Greek cities. You must travel back to 1200 BC for those times, and Argos today is a darling regional centre with plenty to engage all types of visitors. History is king, of course.
Hanoi has seen plenty over the course of its history. The Vietnamese capital was founded in 257 BC by An Duong Vuong (ruler of the Au Lac kingdom, if you were wondering), but humans have been setting up camp here since the Palaeolithic times. Hanoi today is beloved for its food, bustling streets and cultural venues, and history plays a major role in any self-respecting exploration of this thrilling city.
Founded over 1000 years ago, Vietnam’s capital city is rich in history, with the streets of its rambling Old Quarter dating back to the 14th century. Wandering these tree-lined lanes past crumbling colonial facades will transport you back in time. However, today’s Hanoi is about much more than the past. The ancient city is being invigorated with modern cafes, world-class restaurants, and cool art galleries. When the sun goes down, you have your pick of watering holes, from sophisticated rooftop bars to buzzing Bia Hoi.
The One Pillar Pagoda dates back to 1049 and is one of the most iconic attractions in a country packed with them.
Okay, it might seem somewhat strange to include a city established in 1788 on this list, let alone one on a continent inhabited by humans for at least 65,000 years, but the world is a strange place. Sydney was the first city established in modern Australia when a ship of prisoners and soldiers led by Arthur Phillip completed a hellish journey from the other side of the world. The city’s founding date (January 26) is also celebrated as Australia Day, further cementing the importance of Harbour City in Australia’s history.
Be sure to check out the Old Government House. Constructed at the beginning of the 19th century, this is the oldest public building in Australia.
List of 15 oldest cities in the world
Jericho, West Bank