In every city, age brings with it a lot of character. Here are some of the oldest cities on earth that have epic stories to tell. Some you can visit, some you probably shouldn’t, but all stand as testaments to our collective history.
1. Jerusalem – 2,800 BC
Jerusalem is very important to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic people as a holy city, and for thousands of consecutive years, people have performed an annual pilgrimage to the city for religious observances.
There are several structures of epic historical significance, such as the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Although a holy city, it has not been a peaceful one. It’s been attacked 52 times, captured 44 times, and destroyed twice.
Jerusalem as a whole is a living artifact of the old world and is well-worth seeing for any history buffs, religious or otherwise. But do be careful if you choose to go.
2. Tyre, Lebanon – 2,750 BC
Once described in the Bible as “the crowning city, whose merchants are princes,” Tyre was indeed the birthplace of some noteworthy historical (or mythical) figures such as Europa and Dido.
Also noteworthy is the fact that that this gem of Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC and eventually became a Roman province in 64 BC.
It now houses a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its own Hippodrome, a massive stadium for horse and chariot racing. Tyre is rich with ruins left by the Romans and others.
3. Erbil, Iraq – 2,300 BC
Erbil has changed hands many times between the Ottomans, Arabs, Sasanians, Persians, and Assyrians, and likely due to its prime position on the Silk Road.
One of most interesting features of the city is its 26-meter tall citadel that has been a fixture in Erbil for thousands of years. Unfortunately, since it’s in Iraq, it’s unlikely any of us will get to see Erbil any time in the foreseeable future.
4. Kirkuk, Iraq – 2,200 BC
The city of Kirkuk, over 100 miles north of Baghdad and just south of Erbil, once held much strategic significance to the Babylonians and Medes, and it’s remained important to this day for its vast wealth in petroleum.
It’s become the bonafide base of operations for Iraq’s oil industry, and while it’s changed greatly since ancient times, Kirkuk also still boasts ruins that are 5,000 years old.
Again, alas, like so much history, its beauty and value has been obscured by modern extremism and conflict.
5. Balkh, Afghanistan – 1,500 BC
Known as the “Mother of Cities” by Arabs and Bactra to the Greeks, Balkh is located in northern Afghanistan. It was a center of worship for faiths like Islam, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism and in modern times, it’s become the main producer of cotton in the region.
Due to its religious history, landmarks like the Green Mosque and Khost Mosque tend to be the most frequented stops for tourists. Although, again, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan means that tourists will likely be in short supply for a long, long time.
6. Athens, Greece – 1,400 BC
Athens has maintained a relatively large tourist base due to its legacy as the birth of democracy. The Acropolis, Parthenon, Temples of Olympian, Zeus, Athens, and other monuments make Athens a popular destination for history buffs who love seeing the ancient ruins and artifacts associated with the ideological founders of the West.
Athens has been continuously inhabited for roughly 5,000 years. In the past few decades, the city has undergone significant efforts to modernize, with a new airport and metro system. These two factors were significant in winning the bid to host the 2004 Olympic Games, an event that was by all accounts a huge success for the city.
7. Larnaca, Cyprus – 1,400 BC
Larnaca was first known as Citium to the Phoenicians. The famous Stoic philosopher Zeno was born in Larnaca, and education has continued to be a prominent industry in the city, with many reputable institutions of learning.
With a population over 140,000, Larnaca has alsothrived as a seaport for neighboring regions, and boasts a beautiful palm-tree laden seafront.
Tourism is a big part of the city’s economy, and landmarks like Larnaca Castle, Kamares Aqueduct, Hala Sultan Tekke, and the Church of Saint Lazarus tend to be the most visited destinations.
Larnaca International Airport is Cyrprus’ main airport, which means you’ll land on the island in style!
8. Thebes, Greece – 1,400 BC
Athens deadly rival in the era of Ancient Greece, Thebes has struggled to maintain its relevance in modern times. The city mainly exists as a little market town nowadays, but it’s history included lending support to Xerxes in 480 BC during the Persian invasion. Indeed, it was one of the great city states of the old world.
It might not be worthwhile to spend a lengthy time in Thebes, but it does have the Thebes Bridge and the Archaeological Museum of Thebes that are worth seeing. Plus it’s not as busy as Athens.
Thebes is only an hour drive away from Athens, so a stay in the capital with a day-trip to Thebes might be sensible for your itinerary.
9. Varanasi, India – 1,000 BC
Varanasi holds an important place in history for Hindus and Buddhists due to its holy roots.
The stories have it that Lord Shiva, a Hindu deity, birthed the city over 5,000 years ago. While modern-day scholars dispute that and say that it’s only 3,000 years old, Varanasi, or Benares as it’s also known, still holds a special place in the hearts of religious folk. It remains a place of pilgrimage; seeing religious devotees bathe at sunrise in the sacred River Ganges is really quite moving.
If you’re a student of history and want to see the remains of the most ancient places in the world, these cities should shoot straight to the top of your travel bucket list! (At least the ones you can visit without risking your life.)