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Continuously Inhabited Oldest Cities in the World

Ever since man learned to grow their own food and rear cattle, they have been living in permanent to semi-permanent settlements with certain degree of planning. Although opinions vary on whether any particular ancient settlement can be considered to be a city, there is no doubt that towns and cities have a long history.

The earliest civilizations in history were established in the region known as Mesopotamia, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran. Archaeological remains unearthed in Mesopotamia provides proof of settlements dating back to 10,000 BC. After Mesopotamia, the city culture arose in Syria and Anatolia, as shown by the city of Çatalhöyük (7500-5700BC). Mohenjodaro of the Indus Valley Civilization in present-day Pakistan existed from about 2600 BC and was one of the largest ancient cites with a population of 50,000 or more.

While it might not be too difficult to determine which is the oldest city in the world, there is fierce contention for the title of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Often the age claims are disputed and historical evidences are difficult to prove. Then there are differences in opinion as to the definitions of “city” as well as “continuously inhabited”. In any case, the following cities besides being some of the ancient in the world, they continue to grow and thrive until the present day.

Jericho, Israel

Continuously Inhabited Since: 9000 BC
A653 jericho6-

Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Continuously Inhabited Since: 5th millenium BC

A653Bcitadel-irbil-26-e1412381116725At the heart of the city of Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, lies an ancient mound of earth some 25 to 30 meters tall from the surrounding plains. On top of this mound lies one of the oldest town in the world. Known as the Citadel of Erbil, this fortified town, measuring a meager 430 by 340 meters and occupying 102,000 square meters in area has been in continuous occupation since at least the 5th millennium BC, and possibly earlier. The imposing yellow-ochre color structure with a solid perimeter wall is one of the most dramatic visual experiences in the Middle East.

The town is largely occupied by traditional courtyard houses and with few public buildings reached through a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. Before the introduction of modern building techniques, most houses on the citadel were built around a courtyard. A raised arcade overlooking the courtyard, a flat roof and a bent-access entrance to prevent views of the courtyard and the interior of the house were characteristic elements of the houses on the citadel.

Although pretty small by itself, the citadel was once divided in three districts or mahallas: the Serai, the Takya and the Topkhana. The Serai was occupied by notable families, the Takya district was named after the homes of dervishes, which are called takyas, and the Topkhana district housed craftsmen and farmers.

During the 1920s there were about 500 houses inside the citadel. The number of inhabitants gradually declined over the 20th century as the city at the foot of the citadel grew and wealthier inhabitants moved to larger, modern houses with gardens. According to a 1995 census, some 1,600 inhabitants were living in 247 houses in the citadel.

Damascus, Syria

Continuously Inhabited Since: 6300 BC

A653CDamascus6-e1412381182631Damascus is the capital and the second largest city of Syria. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant.

Damascus is often claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and evidence exists of a settlement in the wider Barada basin dating back to 9000 BC. However within the area of Damascus there is no evidence for large-scale settlement until the second millennium BC. Carbon-14 dating at Tell Ramad, on the outskirts of Damascus, suggests that the site may have been occupied since the second half of the seventh millennium BC, possibly around 6300 BC.

Byblos, Lebanon

Continuously Inhabited Since: 5000 BC

Byblos is a Mediterranean city in the Mount Lebanon Governorate of present-day Lebanon. It is believed to have been founded around 5000 BC, and according to fragments attributed to the semi-legendary pre-Trojan war Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon, it was built by Cronus as the first city in Phoenicia.

Byblos is located on the Mediterranean coast of present-day Lebanon, about 26 miles (42 kilometers) north of Beirut. It is attractive to archaeologists because of the successive layers of debris resulting from centuries of human habitation. The first settlement appeared approximately 6230 BC. During the 3rd millennium BC, the first signs of a town can be observed, with the remains of well-built houses of uniform size.

Aleppo, Syria

Continuously Inhabited Since: 5000 BC

Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. Aleppo has scarcely been touched by archaeologists, since the modern city occupies its ancient site. Therefore, it’s hard to put a precise date on how old the city is it. Excavations at Tell as-Sawda and Tell al-Ansari, just south of the old city of Aleppo, show that the area was occupied from around 5000 BC.

The city’s continuous inhabitation is due to its strategic trading position that attracted settlers of all races and beliefs who wished to take advantage of the commercial roads that met in Aleppo from as far as China and Mesopotamia to the east, Europe to the west, and the Fertile Crescent and Egypt to the south. Today, with an official population of 2,132,100 (2004 census), it is one of the largest cities in the Levant.

Athens, Greece

Continuously Inhabited Since: 5000 BC

Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world’s oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state – a centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then known European continent.

The oldest known human presence in Athens is the Cave of Schist, which has been dated to between the 11th and 7th millennium BC. Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least 7000 years. During the early Middle Ages, the city experienced a decline, then recovered under the later Byzantine Empire and was relatively prosperous during the period of the Crusades (12th and 13th centuries), benefiting from Italian trade. Following a period of sharp decline under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Athens re-emerged in the 19th century as the capital of the independent Greek state.

Argos, Greece

Continuously Inhabited Since: 5000 BC

Argos is a city and a former municipality in Argolis, Peloponnese, Greece. Argos has been continuously inhabited for the past 7,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in Greece and Europe. At a strategic location on the fertile plain of Argolis, Argos was a major stronghold during the Mycenaean era. In classical times Argos was a powerful rival of Sparta for dominance over the Peloponnese, but was eventually shunned by other Greek city-states after remaining neutral during the Greco-Persian Wars. Numerous ancient monuments can be found in the city today, the most famous of which is the renowned Heraion of Argos, though agriculture (particularly citrus production) is the mainstay of the local economy.

Faiyum, Egypt

Continuously Inhabited Since: 4000 BC

Faiyum is a city in Middle Egypt, located 130 km southwest of Cairo. Founded in around 4000 B.C., it is the oldest city in Egypt and one of the oldest cities in Africa.

The town occupies part of the ancient site of Crocodilopolis, the most significant center for the cult of Sobek, the crocodile-god. The city worshipped a sacred crocodile, named Petsuchos, that was embellished with gold and gems. The crocodile lived in a special temple, with sand, a pond and food. When the Petsuchos died, it was replaced by another.

After the city passed into the hands of the Ptolemies, the city was renamed Ptolemais Euergetis. The city was renamed Arsinoe by Ptolemy Philadelphus to honor Arsinoe II of Egypt, his sister and wife, during the 3rd century BCE.


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