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Senior City-zens 2: 10 More Of The World’s Oldest

Still-Inhabited Cities
Written by Steve on July 20th, 2009 - Topics: Abandonments, Architecture, History,
Travel, Urban, Urban Images, Urbanism

It takes a village… at first, at least. Whether that village grows into a city depends on
many factors; whether it remains inhabited through centuries, even millennia, of war,
natural disasters and environmental degradation is another thing altogether. Following
up on our original post, here are ten more ancient, still-inhabited cities that have
withstood the test of time.
Byblos, Lebanon

(images via:
Middleeast.com, Saidon and LAU)

The city of Byblos, Lebanon has been a thriving urban center for at least 7,000 years but
it really hit its stride around 3,200 years ago when it became an important player in the
papyrus trade. In fact, the word “byblos” is Greek for “papyrus”, an early form of paper
made from wetland plants that grew in Egypt’s Nile delta. From the word byblos we get
the root word biblio, as in bibliogrphy.
(image via: Lebanon
Embassy)

To the Phoenicians, master traders of the ancient world, Byblos went under the name of
Gubla and later Gebal. Today its Arabic name is Jbeil and much of the city’s ancient and
medieval glory is available for appreciation by natives and tourists alike.
Faiyum, Egypt

(images via: Westga,


East Travel and Discount Travelogue)

Cities first rose up out of Egypt’s Faiyum Depression nearly 6,000 years ago, nourished
by the life-giving water which collected in the low oasis west of the river Nile. In the
heyday of Pharaonic Egypt the city was known as Crocodilopolis, the leading center for
the cult of the crocodile-god Sobek. In the Roman era, citizens of Faiyum used a
distinctive painting technique known as encaustic. The pigmented wax used to paint the
portraits of the dead on their coffin lids has withstood the passage of time to a
remarkable degree, as can be seen in the lifelike portrait at above top left.
(image via: TIXIK)

Faiyum today has a population of several hundred thousand and both it and the
surrounding area are well watered by an effective system of canals first built around
1800 BC by the pharaoh Amenemhat I. Twelve massive waterwheels keep the flow
steady and are a popular tourist attraction.
Gaziantep, Turkey

(images via:
Kaliteliresimler, Resimle and BusinessWeek)

Gaziantep is the oldest inhabited city of Hittite origin - the Hittites were one of the great
civilizations of the fertile crescent and jostled with Ancient Egypt for centuries. The
Hittites were also the first to smelt and forge iron on a large scale, giving them a huge
advantage over their rivals. Before the rise of the Hittites, however, Gaziantep was ruled
by other civilizations including the ancient Akkadians approximately 5,000 years ago.
(image via: Hotel Club)

Gaziantep today is home to 1.5 million people and seems to be somewhat of an


international real estate hotbed - wealthy foreigners have been swooping in, buying up
old Turkish houses, and are restoring them for use as vacation homes.
Beirut, Lebanon

(images via: Habeeb and


Orpheus Tours)

Beirut first entered the historical record in the 15th century BC, making the city at least
3,500 years old though archaeological finds have extended its timeline back an
additional 1,500 years. Even the city’s name has remained remarkably consistent over
the centuries - in ancient times it was known as Berytus.
(image via: Habeeb)

Today Beirut is the capital of Lebanon, a bustling cosmopolitan center with a population
of just over 2 million. Its recent history has been as troubled as its ancient history…
many residents can recall the sound of gunfire and bombs bursting in the Lebanese civil
war and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Aleppo, Syria

(images via: SeattlePI,


Historische Alepposeife and National Geographic)
(image via: ALJV)

Situated at a strategic point between the Euphrates river and the Mediterranean Sea,
Aleppo was prominent in the ancient world as a center of trade. Archaeological work
has been difficult in Aleppo since the modern city sits directly atop a series ancient
ones. Aleppo has had a tumultuous history in more ways than one. A deadly earthquake
in the year 1138 AD killed as many as 230,000 people. The city had just begun to
recover when it was conquered by the Mongols in 1260, 1280 and finally in 1400 by
Tamerlane.

(image via: KRAFT)

Modern Aleppo from the air is one of the world’s most striking cities - the 13th century
AD moated central citadel rising 150 feet into the sky resembles a meteor crater in
reverse. The area of the Citadel shows evidence of human occupation going back 7,000
years though ancient Aleppo gradually grew into what we consider to be a city.
Asmara, Eritrea

(images via: Intl


Listings, City Of Sound and J Watson)

Though Asmara’s recorded history only goes by 700 years, recent excavations in the
city’s suburbs have uncovered an extensive urban settlement dating back as much as
3,000 years. According to a BBC report on what city life in ancient Asmara would have
been like, “The settlement’s inhabitants lived in stone houses, ate cows and goats,
drank beer, farmed fertile land and wore animal skins.” The more things change, the
more they stay the same!
(image via: Asmera.nl)

Asmara looks like a typical modern city today, thanks (or no thanks) to Italian occupiers
who revamped the city to a European plan following its conquest by Italy in 1889.
Cadiz, Spain

(images via: MSA


Cultural Tours)

Gadir, Gades, Cadiz! That’s what a presumed sign on the immense city walls found 7
meters (roughly 21 feet) deep under Cadiz’ city center might read to, successively,
Phoenician, Roman and Spanish visitors. Roman sources praised the beauty of Gades’
dancing girls but much earlier, like Lisbon, Gadir (meaning “The Fortress”) was a
stopover for Phoenician ships plying the long tin route to and from the British Isles.
(image via: MSA
Cultural Tours)

Though the recently discovered walls date back to the 8th century BC, most
archaeologists agree the site on southern Spain’s Atlantic coast was a fully functioning
city as long as 3,000 years ago, if not longer.
Xi’an, China

(images via: China


Tourist, Theodora and Topren)

Over the past 3,000-odd years Xi’an has been the capital of 13 different imperial
dynasties. The most striking reminder of Xi’an’s ancient glory comes in the form of the
Terracotta Army, buried in the year 210 BC along with Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor
of China. Though most of the lifesized figurines have not been excavated, it’s estimated
that the army consists of over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots pulled by 520 horses, and 150
cavalry horses.
(image via: National
Geographic Traveler)

Notice the rather large and obtrusive KFC billboard in the view of downtown Xi’an
above? Not to worry, it’s not long for this world - as are 190 other designated
“eyesores” due to be removed from Xi’an’s city center when their current contracts
expire, after which time no new advertising contracts will be accepted. That’s one sign
of the times we can all appreciate!
Rome, Italy

(images via: Saint


Mary’s and Viator Travel Blog)

“The Eternal City”, Roman legends state that the city was founded in the year 753 BC
by co-kings Romulus and Remus - who were raised by a she-wolf. Regardless of the
fine details, Rome can trace its history back to those times. The city reached the height
of its glory following the decline of Classical Greece and after the Roman army’s final
victory over Carthage in the battle of Zama. By the time of Julius Caesar and the
establishment of the Roman Empire, it could be said with certainty that “all roads lead
to Rome”.
(image via:
Innovawood)

Rome and Romans endured difficult times following the Empire’s last gasp in the year
476 AD but with the growth of Christianity it once again rose to pre-eminence. Much of
Rome’s ancient glory has been lost but much still remains.
Istanbul, Turkey

(images via:
MarvaoGuide and ERP-KIM Archive)

Rome’s successor after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Constantinople was
founded by the Roman emperor Constantine in the year 330 AD and remained one of
the world’s greatest and wealthiest cities throughout the medieval era. It was built on the
site of an existing city named Byzantium which was founded by early Greek colonists
in the early 7th century BC. After shining brightly for over 1,000 years, Constantinople
finally succumbed to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and a new era in the city’s life began,
this time under the name of Istanbul.
(image via: Kaletour)

The Blue Mosque, built between 1609 and 1616, is one of Istanbul’s most popular
tourist attractions. In its awe-inspiring size, interior decoration and above all beauty, it
ranks with Constantinople’s magnificent Hagia Sophia basilica (now a museum)
commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the early 6th century AD.

Life attracts life, a pull made stronger with the passage of time. Those who have had the
privilege and the pleasure of visiting an ancient city say they can feel the city’s lifeblood
flowing down well-worn streets and pulsing through centuries-old marketplaces. Time
passes; our lives flicker by like moths to a flame yet our eternal cities remain, burning
bright, into the future.