14 of the Oldest Continuously Inhabited Cities in the World

Most of these are found in and around the Mediterranean Basin.

Athens, Greece
The ancient city of Athens, Greece, is not the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

Sven Hansche / EyeEm / Getty Images

Cities that have stood the test of time reveal more than just the scars of history. They show the influence—positive and negative—of human civilization. The world's oldest cities boast beautiful architecture and amazing stories, yet remarkably few ancient cities stand today. Ruins continue to be discovered, and there may be some dispute about the historical record of each place, but all of these cities have significant cultural value.

Here are 14 of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

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Jericho, West Bank

aerial view of Mount of Temptation, Jerico, West Bank

Renewer / Getty Images

Dating back to between 11,000 and 9,300 BCE, Jericho is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on Earth. Fortifications unearthed in Jericho dating back to between 9,000 and 8,000 BCE confirm it's also the earliest known walled city. Incredibly, Jericho has remained inhabited—and dry—throughout history despite its location well below sea level. This fact also makes the city the lowest permanently inhabited site on Earth. In 2017 it had a population of roughly 20,000.

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Damascus, Syria

historic building in Damascus Syria

Dawood Pierre / EyeEm / Getty Images

Damascus is widely believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with evidence of habitation dating back to around 10,000 to 8,000 BCE. Its location and persistence have made the city a nexus for civilizations come and gone. In 2018, its metropolitan area was home to about 2.3 million people, and in 2008 UNESCO named the city the Arab Capital of Culture.

When American author Mark Twain visited the city, he wrote, "To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality."

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Ray, Iran

rayy, iran

Ensie & Matthias / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Located within the Greater Tehran metropolitan area, Ray, Iran (also spelled Rayy and Rey), has evidence of habitation dating back to around 6,000 BCE, though it has likely been continuously occupied for longer. The city retains a wealth of historical monuments, such as Cheshmeh-Ali (a popular recreational area with a spring-fed water source), that date back to around 5,000 BCE, as well as the 3,000-year-old Gebri Castle. It was a deeply sacred city to the Zoroastrians.

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Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

Erbil Citadel in Iraqi Kurdistan

Luis Dafos / Getty Images

The city of Erbil, also known as Hewlêr, is located in what is now the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Continuously inhabited since about 6,000 BCE, the city is dominated by the fortified settlement surrounding Erbil Citadel. The artificial mound at the historical city center of Erbil is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The mound was slowly formed as a result of human occupation, eventually rising 100 feet tall as mud-brick structures and other debris crumbled and compacted into the ground below.

The city may be ancient, but it has a buzzing modern nightlife that's considered one of the best in the Middle East and is often compared to Beirut. It has fantastic tea shops, restaurants, a worry-bead market, and a grand main square that's full of vendors and lively entertainment.

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Aleppo, Syria

aerial view of ancient city of Aleppo, Syria

Luis Dafos / Getty Images

Evidence of habitation at Aleppo dates back to about 6,000 to 5,000 BCE. Due to its location between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia—and at the end of the Silk Road, which passed through central Asia and Mesopotamia—Aleppo was at the center of the ancient world. The city’s structures and artifacts reflect the diverse cultures of its history. The Ancient City of Aleppo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it's also on the agency's list of sites in danger as its historical monuments have been damaged or destroyed due to years of conflict in the city.

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Faiyum, Egypt

Ruined temples of Karanis, Fayoum Oasis, Faiyum, Egypt

Emad Aljumah / Getty Images

The modern Egyptian city of Faiyum occupies an area on the Nile River that has hosted human settlements for thousands of years, including the ancient city of Shedet. The people of Shedet revered a live crocodile named Petsuchos as an embodiment of the deity Sobek, inspiring Greeks to call the city "Crocodilopolis." The crocodile lived in a lake called Moeris and was worshipped there.

The area supported agrarian communities beginning around 5,000 BCE, although its population was apparently reduced for centuries by drought, eventually rebounding around 4,000 BCE. Now the climate is categorized as hot desert. It has a population of 3.8 million.

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Athens, Greece

View of Acropolis and Parthenon from Filopappou Hill, Athens, Greece

Malcolm P Chapman / Getty Images

The ancient home of philosophy and the birthplace of Western civilization, Athens boasts a history of habitation that goes back long before the days of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The city has been continuously inhabited since 5,000 BCE, possibly as far back as 7,000 BCE. Athens' most famous monuments are found at the Acropolis—the Parthenon, Erechtheion, and Propylaea—all were built during the fifth century BCE.

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Byblos, Lebanon

Byblos, Lebanon archaeological site, looking toward the Mediterranean Sea

Photo by Bernardo Ricci Armani / Getty Images

Though there's evidence of Phoenician settlement as far back as 7,000 BCE, Byblos has been a continuous city since about 5,000 BCE. A sarcophagus with the oldest inscription using the Phoenician alphabet was discovered in Byblos. The city has been incorporated into numerous civilizations throughout the millennia, including the Egyptian, Persian, Roman, and Ottoman empires. A coastal city along the Mediterranean Sea, located just north of Beirut, Byblos is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to many spectacular ruins.

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Shush, Iran

Darius' Palace in Susa, Iran

Mathess / Getty Images

Formerly known as the ancient city of Susa, Shush is the portion that remains of this area that has been continuously inhabited since around 5,000 to 4,000 BCE. An important city of the ancient Near East, it is mentioned in the Book of Esther in the Bible, referred to as "Shushan." The remaining artificial archeological mounds and monuments, including a palace, earned the site a spot as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, with modern Jerusalem in background

Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

Jerusalem is one of several cities that arose between 4,500 and 3,400 BCE in the thriving Levant region. It holds a unique place in history as the nexus of three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Old City is home to 220 historic monuments and a wealth of spiritual and religious sites. The city also has a long history of strife, and today, both Israel and the Palestine Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital.

The Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it's also on the agency's list of sites in danger as its historical monuments may face risks from vandalism, property damage, natural risk factors, and deterioration of the monuments.

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria

ancient theatre of Philippopolis, a historical building in the city center of Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Maya Karkalicheva / Getty Images

Plovdiv was originally a Thracian settlement known as Philippopolis to the Greeks, and it was a major city for the Romans. The beautiful city was also ruled by the Ottomans for a time, and evidence of habitation dates back to around 4,000 BCE. Today, Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria after its capital Sofia, as well as an important economic, cultural, and educational center. It was named the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

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Sidon, Lebanon

ancient ruins of Sidon Sea Castle, with city of Sidon, Lebanon in the distance

Henryk Sadura / Getty Images

Inhabited since about 4,000 BCE, Sidon’s location on a crucial port on the Mediterranean Sea made it one of the most important Phoenician cities. This locale also led to the city being conquered by many of the world's great empires, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans. It remains to this day a major fishing, market, and trade center for the region. Its population includes many Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

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Luxor, Egypt

high angle view of Temple of Luxor and Nile River

Glowimages / Getty Images

Luxor, formerly the ancient city of Thebes, the pharaohs' capital, has been continuously inhabited since about 3,200 BCE. In 1979, the huge and magnificent ruins, including Luxor Temple, Karnak, Valley of the Kings, and Valley of the Queens, were classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Luxor sits on the Nile River in southern Egypt.

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Argos, Greece

View of Mycenae ancient ruins and green hill of the city, Argos, Greece

Ankarb / Getty Images

One of the major cities of ancient Greece, Argos has been an urban settlement in the Peloponnese region since about 3,000 BCE. The city—with its commanding position in the fertile plain of Argolis—has long been powerful. Argos thrived during the Mycenaean era, and archeological remains of Greek, Roman, and Mycenaean structures have been uncovered, including Mycenaean tombs, a Greek theater, and Roman baths. Agriculture is its main industry now, supporting a population of roughly 20,000 people. Argos is one of the hottest places in Greece in the summer.

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