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Umayyad mosque in Damascus / Photo: loufi

Some of today’s cities are almost as old as dirt. Here are 10 of them.

Vancouver, British Columbia: first settled by Europeans in 1862. This was my history growing up. I got married in a “historic heritage” home that dates back to the late 19th century.

When I started traveling around Europe I began to get more of a sense of the history of civilization: the ancient Roman aqueducts, cathedrals, and coliseums. Traveling in China showed me the rich history of the past millenniums through the different dynasties’ temples, fortifications, and buildings.

The farther back we go, the more abstract and difficult it is to comprehend life and civilization. But modern humans have been around for 200,000 years. And some cities that date back as far as 12,000 years ago are still inhabited today.

Plovdiv / Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis recently published an article titled Senior City-zens which features the 10 oldest cities on the planet that are still alive and kickin’.

The list includes:

1. Damascus, Syria (12,000 years)
2. Jericho, West Bank (11,000)
3. Susa, Iran (10,000)
4. Plovdiv, Bulgaria (9000)
5. Jerusalem, [Israel] (5000)
6. Tyre, Lebanon (6000)
7. Athens, Greece (3400)
8. Lisbon, Portugal (3200)
9. Varanasi, India (3000)
10. Cholula, Mexico (2200)

But even these are in dispute as many commenters have noted other still-inhabited ancient cities. The cave dwellings of Matera are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy, and Fodor’s says:

Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago.

A lack of East Asian cities and the omission of Byblos, Lebanon also raised some readers’ hackles. Some passionate Spaniards point out that Cadiz is in fact the most ancient city in Western Europe (and not Lisbon) — a claim that Wikipedia backs.

Whatever the case, it’s a fascinating list and worthy of much thought for the times these cities have seen over the years.


Unfortunate incidents can empty a place in a heartbeat or over the span of decades. These abandoned cities weren’t able to hold on to their residents like those listed above.

Old cities like these, when mixed with modern life, can offer some very interesting experiences. If you’ve had some yourself, join the discussion over at What Is Your Most Surreal Travel Experience?

About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Tim Patterson

    I would LOVE to visit Damascus.

  • Vancouver

    Interesting, I thought you were talking about vancouver in Canada.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Well, the Vancouver I mention IS the one in Canada. It’s just not on the list! :)

  • Vera Marie Badertscher

    Aren’t there some very old cities in China? Just wonderin’.

    • Carlo Alcos

      You would definitely think so! It’s part of the debate going on at that other article. I haven’t done any research myself but I can only imagine there must be one or two that would make the list.

  • Candice

    I’m determined to get to the western side of the country someday, BC and AB are at the top of my list!

  • joshywashington

    Matador Party in Damascus 2012 ?!?!

  • Joelle

    Been to Tyre, Lebanon. Beautiful city.
    Been to Damascus, Syria. Beautiful but dirty! lots of pervs too…

  • Tamara

    Just wondering why Israel is in brackets?

    • Carlo Alcos

      The author of the original article didn’t use Israel (a political statement? carelessness? I don’t know). I put it in brackets here because it’s my addition. Good eye! :)

      • Tamara

        Thank you :)

  • ned shannan

    First of all, Thanks to the author, second, you have missed few cities that are over 6000 years old, the oldest of them is Aleppo-Syria, it goes back over 17000 years, you may do the search, also Hebron in Palastine, and Mecca in Saudi Arabia, both cities are much older than Juresalem and Istanbol, the Kabba in Mecca was built by Profit Ibraham and his son Profit Ismael, Hebron, is where Profit Ibraham left his wife Sara and upon his return discovered that she delivered Profit Isahaq, his Tomb as well as that of Isahaq and Jacobs are in the city till today.
    as for Juresalem, it is in Palastine, read the old Bible and it talks about Christ in Palastine

  • emilie

    What about Erbil Iraq? Continuously inhabited some say longer than Damascus.

  • Anonymous

    Tucson Arizona

  • Anonymous

    Interesant. I visited this year Plovdiv. Beautiful city Plovdiv. But 9000 years? Mi blog para ahorrar Viajes y viajeros.

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