Cities with millennial history can offer you much more than just beautiful architecture and unique artifacts. They bear the signs of previous epochs and civilizations, and display both the positive and negative developments of mankind. These cities are full of amazing stories and legends, and are the biggest lures for seasoned explorers. Let’s talk a little bit about the cities that are nearly as old as the hills on which they were built.
10. Damascus, Syria
The capital of Syria, Damascus is also the second largest city of the country with the population of about 2.5 million people. The history of the city goes back to the 10,000-8,000 BC, though the exact time is still debated. Damascus is recognized as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Situated between Africa and Asia, the city has an advantageous geographical location at the crossroads of the East and the West.
From time immemorial, Damascus was a significant cultural, commercial, and administrative center. It was a destination of local and overseas traders and craftsmen. The city is marked by several civilizations that had created it: Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic. The old-walled city amazes with ancient architecture, narrow alleys, green courtyards, and white houses. However, the age-old architecture somewhat contrasts with the flood of tourists who come from all over the world to see this breathtaking place.
9. Athens, Greece
The cradle of Western civilization, Athens is the capital of Greece with the population of about three million people. It’s been inhabited for more than 7,000 years, and the design of the city is marked by Ottoman, Byzantine, and Roman civilizations. It’s a birthplace of outstanding philosophers, writers, dramatists, artists, and the classical style that they gave rise to.
Modern Athens is a cosmopolitan city. It’s the cultural, media, educational, political, and industrial center of Greece. The historical center of the city is composed of Acropolis (“high city”), a huge hill with the remnants of ancient buildings, and Parthenon. Since Athens is acknowledged to be a tremendous archeological research center, it’s full of historical museums, including the National Archaeological Museum, the Byzantine and Christian Museum, and the New Acropolis Museum.
When visiting Athens, you shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the Port of Piraeus, which has been the most important port of the Mediterranean for centuries due to its geo-strategic location.
8. Byblos, Lebanon
Byblos is another cradle of many ancient civilizations. It’s one of the oldest cities of Phoenicia and has been continually inhabited for about 5,000 years, even though the first signs of settlement go back to earlier periods. Byblos is directly related to the development of Phoenician alphabet, which is in use even now. Interestingly, the English word Bible is derived from the name of the town, since Byblos was an important port through which the papyrus was imported.
Byblos is a popular tourist destination these days thanks to how much it has to offer, including ancient citadels and temples, picturesque views overlooking the Mediterranean, antique ruins, and the port. It’s become a modern city over the years, but you can easily see the touch of antiquity. It’s got a strong combination of tradition and sophistication, and is still driven by its ancient heart.
7. Jerusalem, Israel
Jerusalem is one of the most-visited cities in the Middle East and is also the most important religious destination in the world. Jerusalem is known to be a holy place for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. According to the Bible, Jerusalem was founded as the capital city of the united kingdom of Israel by David. Nowadays Jerusalem is inhabited by 800,000 residents, 60% of whom are of the Jewish faith.
Over the years Jerusalem has experienced multiple tragic events, including numerous attacks, sieges, and destructions. The Old City was established four thousand years ago, divided into four quadrants that are known today as the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Jewish Quarter.
In 1981, the Old Town was added to the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. Modernization has spread far beyond the boundaries of the ancient center. Jerusalem bears an incredibly symbolic meaning for Jewish people from all over the world, as it signifies their desire to come back home.
6. Varanasi, India
India is a world-famous birthplace of ancient civilizations, religions, and spirituality. The holy city of India, Varanasi, is located on the banks of the river Ganges, and the Hindus believe it was established by Shiva. The history of the city goes back to the 12th century BC.
Varanasi, also known as Benares, has been a destination for pilgrims and wanderers. Mark Twain once said of the city, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Varanasi is an outstanding cultural and religious center with many celebrated poets, writers, and musicians concentrated in the city.
Varanasi had a great industrial potential due to its high-end fabrics, perfumes, sculpture, and ivory, and now is the center of arts and crafts. It can offer just about everything you could imagine, including brocade silk, carpet weaving, toys, glass and ivory works, perfumes, and various accessories and jewelry. Varanasi seems to be a true Eden for some.
5. Cholula, Mexico
Over 2,500 years ago, the city of Cholula developed from numerous scattered villages. It had been a residence of various Latin-American cultures, like the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs. The name of the town means “place of flight” in Nahuatl, and it was former called Acholollan. When the town was conquered by the Spanish, it began flourishing. Cortez once called Cholula “the most beautiful city outside Spain.”
These days, it’s a small colonial town with the population of 60,000. The most prominent attraction of the city is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, with a sanctuary on the top. It’s known to be the largest man-made monument ever built. It consists of multiple tunnels and caves, though only a fraction of these tunnels have been transformed into passages and are open to the public.
4. Jericho, Palestine
These days, Jericho is a small city with the population of 20,000 people. In the Hebrew Bible it is called the City of Palm Trees. Archeological digs have attested to the evidence of human habitation dating back almost 11,000 years, with at least 20 settlements.
Jericho is located in the center of Palestine, making it an ideal place for routes and trade. Moreover, Jericho’s natural beauty and resources became the cause of numerous invasions to an ancient Palestine. In the first century it was destroyed by the Romans, rebuilt by the Byzantines, and destroyed again before eventually becoming deserted for centuries. Over the 20th century, the territory of Jericho has been occupied by Jordan and Israel before becoming part of Palestine in 1994. Jericho’s most famous sites include Tell es-Sultan, Hisham’s Palace, and Shalom al Yisrael Synagogue Mosaic Floor.
3. Aleppo, Syria
The city of Aleppo is the largest in Syria, inhabited by more than two million residents. Aleppo has an incredibly advantageous geographical location, being situated in the center of the Silk Road that connected Asia and the Mediterranean world. The city has been inhabited for more than 8,000 years but archeological digs have found the evidence of habitation that dates back to nearly 13,000 years ago. At various epochs, Aleppo was controlled by the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and as a result has mixed architectural styles.
The old city is filled with caravanserais, schools, hammams, and churches of 13th and 14th centuries. Aleppo is also defined by narrow alleys and big estates, though the modern part is characterized by broad roads and large squares. Interestingly, Aleppo consists of cell-like segments, which are socially and economically independent. Over the years, it’d been subjected to invasions and instability, and the residents were compelled to fortify the city. Aleppo is often called “the soul of Syria”.
2. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv’s history goes back to the 4,000 BC, a fact we know thanks to Neolithic excavations. Over the centuries Plovdiv has been ruled by many empires, though originally it was a Thracian city. Later, it was conquered by the Romans. In the Middle Ages, Plovdiv was an alluring territory for the Bulgarian, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. In 1885, the city became the part of Bulgaria and now it’s the second largest city in the country, and is a significant economic, educational, and cultural center.
The Old Town is definitely worth seeing. It’s become overwhelmed with restaurants, workshops, and museums that were previously famous houses. Archeological sites, museums, churches and temples are also must-see places in Plovdiv.
1. Luoyang, China
While most old cities are located in the Mediterranean, Luoyang stands out as the oldest continually inhabited city in Asia. It’s included in the Seven Great Ancient Capitals of China, and is also considered to be the geographical center of China and the cradle of Chinese culture and history. No other city in China has survived through as many dynasties and emperors as Luoyang, which has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years and now boasts a population of nearly 7,000,000.
With such a long and exciting history, Luoyang has become a spectacular tourist destination. The Longmen Grottoes and numerous historic Buddhist temples are real attractions, and it also features the famed White Horse Temple, the first temple established in China.