The World's Most Ancient Cities That Are Still Standing

Most ancient cities that are still around today blend old and new, attesting to the longevity and continued importance of the site. Cities in the ancient world took shape along important travel routes and trade networks, often where practical and useful geographic features best served human needs. Ancient cities in Greece, for example, pepper the peninsula as it juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. In India, ancient cities sit along rivers and coasts, ideal places for agriculture and civilization to thrive. 

The cities presented below serve as a reminder of history and change alike. The world's oldest cities span the globe and, while the oldest inhabited city on each continent varies in age, the wonder and history of each location holds a unique beauty. The list is an inexact science, since what technically constitutes a 'city' is inexact, but the examples are meant to provide a breadth of different glimpses into an ancient world that still exists in various forms to this day.

  • Standing For: 3,500 Years

    Previously known as Waset and Thebes, Luxor sits atop ruins that date to roughly 1500 BCE. Once the capital of Egypt, Luxor is located on the Nile River and is associated with the god Amun. Luxor is often referred to as "The City of A Hundred Gates," and is made up of three distinct sections: the main city along the east bank of the Nile, the ancient city on the west bank, and the temple area known as Karnak to the north.

    In 2021, archaeologists presented findings of a "lost golden city" that dates to the reign of Amenhotep III (c 1386-1353 BCE). The find has been called, "second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun."

  • Jericho, West Bank

    Standing For: 11,000 Years

    Sometimes called "The Oldest City in the World," Jericho the site of Biblical and modern significance alike. Occupied as early as 9000 BCE, Jericho serves as one of the earliest settlements on the planet. Archeological evidence indicates walls around the site were built roughly 8000 BCE as cultivation and communities took shape. Governed by groups such as the Persians, Romans, and Ottomans throughout its long history, Jericho is now under the authority of Palestine.

  • Standing For: 5,600 Years

    Strategically located between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia, Aleppo, Syria, is believed to have been inhabited during the Bronze Age, perhaps as early as 3600 BCE. High ground and access to the Quwayq River made Aleppo an ideal settlement, one that was ruled by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans through the early 20th century. Damascus, the capital of modern-day Syria, is also one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in existence, with its founding dating back to the third millennium BCE.

  • Byblos, Lebanon

    Byblos, Lebanon
    Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Standing For: 10,000 Years

    As a port city, Byblos was called Gebal by its Phoenician occupants. Occupied during the Neolithic Period (c. 8000-c. 4000 BCE), Byblos grew from a fishing village to a thriving hub of trade, largely thanks to Greek and Egyptian merchant activity. The name Byblos derives from the Greek word for papyrus - byblos - one of the main exports that came out of the port. Home to religious and military buildings built over thousands of years, Byblos is now called Jbail.

  • Standing For: 3,500 Years

    Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, has been under the authority of some of the most prolific leaders in history. Mentioned in Hindu scripture, Kabul was established by 1500 BCE, conquered by Persian ruler Darius I (r. 521-486 BCE) during the fifth century BCE, and became part of Alexander the Great's empire during the fourth century BCE. Kabul was later seized by Mongols, and Kabul served as the capital of the Mughal dynasty in India for a time in the early 16th century CE. 

    Near constant warfare over the past century and a half has led to concerted efforts to protect the archeology, history, and culture of Kabul by Afghani officials and global agencies. 

  • Standing For: 5,000 Years

    Rivaled only by Argos, a city that has existed for as many as 7000 years, the first mention of Athens in history dates from roughly 1600 BCE. Holding distinction as the oldest capital city in Europe, Athens is considered home to Western intellectualism and artistic culture. Once the dominant city-state in Greece, Athens declined after the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) and fell to the Macedonians in 338 BCE.