12 Oldest Cities in the World for Travelling Back in Time

12 Oldest Cities in the World for Travelling Back in Time

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One of the best ways to explore the roots of human history is through travelling! Across the world, countless destinations and attractions stand tall amidst the march of modernity. Each one holds stories that stretch back hundreds, if not thousands of years into our past. If you’re ready for a historical odyssey across the globe, here’s a list of the oldest cities in the world to visit.

Also read: 10 Youngest Countries in the World Every History Buff Should See!

World’s oldest cities to visit for a historic walk through time

1. Xi’An, China

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China has plenty of cities with prominent footholds in human history, but few hold as much significance as Xi’An. In the past, it was known as Chang’an, and the city has been inhabited for more than 3,000 years. This makes it one of the oldest cities in the world. It also served as the capital for 13 dynasties throughout China’s illustrious history. That’s the reign of 73 emperors in total. For this and many other reasons, Xi’An is often known as the birthplace of Chinese civilization.

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The city’s claim to fame is the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, an underground chamber filled with thousands of terracotta sculptures. Emperor Qin Shi Huang was China’s first emperor, and the statues that are meant to serve as a life-size representation of the armies he commanded in life.

2. Luxor, Egypt

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Modern-day Luxor is a city of many names and is one of the world’s oldest cities. The ancient Greeks knew it as Thebes, and the ancient Egyptians called it Waset. Luxor was once the capital of Upper Egypt (Southern Egypt) and was an important centre for worship. Visiting Luxor today means getting to explore plenty of different ancient temples and monuments. 

Karnak Temple is one of the largest temple complexes in the world, with architectural additions made over 2,000 years by 30 different pharaohs. Besides that, there’s also the Colossi of Memnon and the ancient tombs in the Valley of the Kings, including the resting place of Tutankhamun.

Also read: How to Spend 6 Days in Egypt, According to This Writer From Manila

3. Cholula, Mexico

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With a current population of roughly 150,000, you wouldn’t guess that Cholula’s story began around the year 500 BCE as one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also home to the largest man-made pyramid in the world: The Great Pyramid of Tepanapa. This titanic structure served as an important cultural centre for several pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Aztecs.

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Atop the Great Pyramid sits a church called the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies Church). It was built there because when the Spaniards first arrived in Cholula, the pyramid was so overgrown with foliage and dirt that they mistook it for a large hill. In addition, Cholula is also known for two volcanos, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl.

Also read: 14 Beautiful Places in Mexico for an Unforgettable Tour

4. Argos, Greece

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Greece is full of ancient sites and one of them is Argos, the oldest city in Europe and one of the world’s oldest cities. Once upon a time, Argos was the jewel of the Peloponnese and the most powerful city in Ancient Greece. During this time, this city hosted the Nemean Games, one of four spring festivals that made up the Ancient Olympic Games. Although Argos was sacked by invaders later on, the city was never entirely abandoned.

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Today, visitors can explore the remains of the Ancient Theatre of Argos, which was built partially into the rock that surrounds it. Events and performances are still held at the theatre, more than 2,000 years after it was first built.

5. Lisbon, Portugal

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From modern museums to ancient castles, there’s plenty to see and do in modern-day Lisbon. It’s a popular destination in Europe, with a long history that makes it one of the world’s oldest cities. Until the 16th century, European explorers considered Lisbon to be the edge of the known world. In 1755, the city was rocked by a devastating earthquake that destroyed most of its major architecture.

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Plenty of historical sites remain, however, such as the Jeronimos Monastery, which houses the tomb of the famous explorer Vasco de Gama. Be sure to also check out the Praça do Comércio, a stunning plaza that used to house the Royal Palace before the 1755 earthquake. Another historical destination in Lisbon is the São Jorge Castle, which was built in the 11th century by the Moors. The castle became a royal domain after Dom Afonso Henriques was crowned the first king of Portugal in 1147.

Also read: 14 Best Things to Do in Lisbon for First-Timers

6. Cádiz, Spain

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Cádiz is a walled city in Spain that straddles a long, narrow peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean. The Phoenicians founded it in the 7th century BC as a trading post called Gadir. After that, the city changed hands multiple times throughout history, held by the Romans, the Moors, and finally by the Spanish. It’s no surprise that Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in the world.

To truly appreciate the history of this ancient city, consider visiting the Cadiz Archeological Museum. Here, you’ll see two sarcophagi that serve as evidence of the city’s Phoenician history. There’s also the Catedral de Santa Cruz de Cádiz, which offers a stunning panoramic view of the city from atop its tallest tower.

7. Djenne, Mali

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At first glance, Djenne might look like a city from another planet. Most of the buildings in Djenne are constructed from mud in the Adobe style of architecture. This results in a truly unique aesthetic that doesn’t show up in a lot of places around the world. Located on the banks of the Bani and Niger Rivers, this city and the general area has been inhabited since around 2,000 BC. 

Of course, plenty of people have come and gone since then. Djenne is home to the largest mud building in the world, known simply as the Great Mosque. This magnificent structure was constructed rather recently in 1907. However, mosques have been built on that site throughout the years since the 13th century.

Also read: 15 Awe-inspiring Mosques Around the World Worth Visiting

8. Quito, Ecuador

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Quito might just be the oldest continuously populated city in all of South America. It was the first city alongside Krakow in Poland, to be placed on the original UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978. Visit Quito’s Old Town and discover narrow streets lined with buildings that are centuries old, some dating back to the 1600s. 

In Quito’s Plaza de San Francisco (Saint Francis Square) lies the oldest building in the city, the Church and Convent of St Francis. It was built on ruins from the Incan civilization, which originally occupied the land in the 15th century.

9. Varanasi, India

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Hindu mythology says that the holy city of Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva himself when the world was younger. Historically speaking, this city has shown signs of human habitation since 1,800 BC. Situated by the Ganges River in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is India’s most prominent spiritual site and home to some of the most stunning temples you’ll ever see, like the Kashi Vishwanath Temple

The oldest standing temple in Varanasi however, is the Shri Tilbhandeshwar Mahadev Mandir Temple, built in the 18th century. Besides centres of worship, Varanasi is a city filled with art galleries and delicious local cuisine waiting to be explored.

10. Byblos, Lebanon

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Byblos is a place that was ancient even to the ancients, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. In the past, the city traded so much papyrus, an antiquated form of paper, that the Greeks took the name Byblos and adapted it into their word for a book: biblos. The development of the Phoenician alphabet, which is the precursor to most Western alphabets, is also tied to Byblos.

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There are plenty of historical spots to check out in this city, including the Byblos Fortress, which was built by Crusaders in the 12th century. You can also stroll through the Old Souks (Old Markets) of Byblos, admire scenic views at the Byblos Port, or feast your eyes on fascinating fossils at the Memory of Time Museum

11. Plovdiv, Bulgaria

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Next up: Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria after the capital, Sofia, and one of the oldest cities in the world. It was first established as a Thracian settlement by the name of Philippopolis. The settlement was founded by Philip II of Macedon in the fourth century BCE before being absorbed into the Roman Empire in the first century. After that, the First Bulgarian Empire claimed the city in the ninth century.

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Exploring the Old Town of Plovdiv today shows that it’s still full of ancient ruins, ranging from theatres to monasteries, and the ancient Theatre of Philippopolis.

Also read: 10 Best European Countries That Won’t Break the Bank

12. Hanoi, Vietnam

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The capital of Vietnam was founded in the year 257 BCE by An Dương Vương, ruler of the Âu Lạc kingdom. Hanoi is filled with dozens of ancient temples and structures, including the famous One Pillar Pagoda which dates back to the year 1049. Besides that, visitors can also check out the Old Quarter of Hanoi and the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

Hanoi is also home to plenty of museums that serve an important role in helping people understand the city’s culture and history. The ones to look out for are the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, and the Fine Arts Museum.

Also read: 14 Best Restaurants in Hanoi for Authentic Vietnamese Food

When it comes to travel, a sense of history only adds to the charm of your chosen destination. If you’re a history buff or just someone who appreciates a good story, you’ll certainly find new adventures while travelling through the oldest cities in the world.

About Author

Jeremiah Patrick
Jeremiah Patrick

A journeyman wordsmith wandering the creative lexicon, looking to craft a masterpiece. The only thing on par with Jerry’s love for a good story is the time he spends playing dauntingly difficult video games, reading works of fiction, and listening to horror podcasts. His mood shifts between dark brooding and cheery quips, depending on how much caffeine swirls in his system.