What is the oldest surviving city in the world?

Around the world there are dozens of cities that have been inhabited by people for millennia. However, when it comes to determining the oldest continuously inhabited city, there is no definite answer.

The puzzle is a bit like the Theseus ship thought experiment: if a city is demolished, restored, moved slightly, built on top of it, demolished again, and rebuilt, is it the same city or a new entity?

Without getting too bogged down in philosophical circles, there are a number of places that could potentially claim the crown of the oldest city in the world – and almost all of them are in the Middle East.

Known in the Old Testament for an infamous war that probably never happened, the city of Jericho is often considered to be the oldest city still in existence. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been the site of numerous successive settlements over the past few millennia. It is believed that parts of the city and its famous walls were first discovered around 9,000 BC. were built.

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 and is about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) north of what is now the city center. There’s some debate as to whether it can be considered continuously inhabited, but if you’re asked in a quiz about the oldest city, you’ll probably expect the answer “Jericho”.

Panoramic view of Aleppo before the Syrian civil war.

Photo credit: Benedikt Saxler/

Syria also has some strong contenders for the crown. Damascus used to be the undisputed champion of the oldest city. Archaeological remains indicate that there was as early as 9,000 BC. BC people have found. Unfortunately, a current view is that people did not settle permanently in what is now Damascus until about 6,000 years later.

Aleppo might actually be a safe option. This city has become synonymous with the ongoing Syrian civil war, but this is just one tragic incident in the long life of this settlement. Archaeological remains suggest that Aleppo may have been inhabited since the sixth millennium BC. was inhabited. During the Golden Age of the Silk Road from the 12th to the early 15th century AD, its true heyday began.

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 “Crocodilopolis”. Located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the modern capital of Cairo, pottery and structures near the city suggest that ancient settlements existed here from about 5,500 BC. BC people lived, making it the oldest city in Egypt and one of the oldest settlements in Africa.


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