There are dozens of cities all over the world that people have lived in for thousands and thousands of years. But when it comes to pinpointing the oldest continuously inhabited city, there is no straightforward answer.
The conundrum is a bit like the Theseus thought experiment: if a city is knocked down, restored, moved a bit, built on top of, knocked down again and reconstructed, is it the same city or a new entity?
Without getting too bogged down in philosophical roundabouts, there are a number of places that could possibly take the crown of the world’s longest standing city – almost all of which were located in the Middle East.
The city of Jericho, known for an infamous war in the Old Testament that probably did not take place, is often credited with being the earliest city still standing. Archaeological evidence has suggested that the area has been the site of several successive settlements over the past millennia. Parts of the city and its famous walls are believed to have first been built around 9,000 BCE.
However, these structures should not be confused with today’s Jericho, the Palestinian city in the West Bank. The ancient part of Jericho is actually known as Tell es-Sultan, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) north of the present city center. There is some debate as to whether it can be considered continuously inhabited, but if you are asked what the oldest city is during a quiz, it is likely that they will expect the answer “Jericho.”
Panoramic view of Aleppo before the Syrian Civil War.
Image credit: Benedikt Saxler/Shutterstock.com
Syria also has some strong contenders for the crown. Damascus was previously considered an undisputed contender for the oldest city, with archaeological remains indicating that humans had been there as early as 9,000 BCE. Unfortunately, a current view is that people did not permanently settle in present-day Damascus until about 6,000 years later.
Aleppo may actually be a safe option. This city has become synonymous with the ongoing Syrian civil war, but this is just one tragic outbreak in this settlement’s long life. Archaeological remains suggest that Aleppo may have been inhabited since the sixth millennium BCE. It really began to flourish during the Golden Age of the Silk Road from the 12th to the early 15th century AD.
Last but not least, the city of Faiyum in Egypt deserves a mention. It was originally founded by the ancient Egyptians as Shedet. Due to the settlement’s obsession with the crocodile god Sobek, the Greeks called it “Krokodilopolis”. Located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the modern capital Cairo, pottery and structures near the city indicate that humans had been here since approximately 5,500 BC, making it the oldest city in Egypt and one of the oldest settlements in Africa.