What’s the Oldest Surviving City in the World?

There are dozens of cities across the world that have been lived in by humans for thousands upon thousands of years. However, when it comes to pinpointing the oldest continuously inhabited city, there is no straightforward answer. The conundrum is a bit like the Ship of Theseus thought experiment: if a city is knocked down, restored, moved slightly, 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 lay in the Middle East.

The city of Jericho, known for an infamous war in the Old Testament that probably didn’t happen, is often credited with being the earliest city that’s still standing. Archaeological evidence has suggested the area has been the site of numerous successive settlements over the past millennia. Parts of the city and its famous walls are believed to have been first constructed around 9,000 BCE. 

However, these structures should not be confused with modern-day Jericho, the Palestinian city in the West Bank. The ancient part of Jericho is actually known as Tell es-Sultan, around 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) north of the present-day city centre. There is some debate about whether it can be considered continuously inhabited, but if you’re asked what the oldest city is during a quiz, then it’s likely they will be expecting the answer “Jericho.” 

Syria also contains some strong contenders for the crown. Damascus was previously considered an undisputed champion for oldest city, with archaeological remains indicating that humans had been there as early as 9,000 BCE. Unfortunately, one current view is that people didn’t continually settle in present-day Damascus until around 6,000 years later. 

Aleppo might, in fact, be a safe option. This city has become synonymous with the ongoing Syrian Civil War, but this is just a tragic blip in the long life of this settlement. Archaeological remains suggest Aleppo may have been inhabited since the sixth millennium BCE. It truly began to flourish during the Golden Age of the Silk Road from the 12th to early 15th century CE.  

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 named it “Crocodilopolis.” Located some 130 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of the modern capital Cairo, pottery and structures near the city suggest humans had been here since approximately 5,500 BCE, making it the oldest city in Egypt and one of the oldest settlements in Africa. 


IFL Science
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