Some scholars argue that around the end of the last ice age, some 12 thousand years ago, our ancestors started building complex ancient cities around the globe.
In terms of written history, there is evidence of complex cities existing on Earth around 10,000 years ago. In this article, we take a look at 15 of the greatest ancient cities ever built on the surface of the planet.
The temple complex of Angkor Wat, in the ancient city of Angkor.
According to scholars, Jericho was a center of commerce and living as early as 9,000 BC. Jericho is considered one of the oldest continually occupied cities on the surface of the planet.
Home to the lucrative opobalsamum plant, Jericho produced the most expensive oil in the world, thousands of years ago.
In addition to being a center of commerce and industry, the city was was home to a number of temples and military fortifications.
We can’t write a list describing the greatest cities in ancient times without leaving a spot for Uruk, considered the largest city on the planet around 3500 BC. Much of its history has been lost as newer structures were built upon its ancient buildings.
Uruk means land between the rivers.
Once home to more than 100,000 people, the only thing that remains of this great city today are its ruins.
However, around 2000 BC, the city of Ur was home to some of the most amazing handcrafted luxury items in the region, made of precious metals and stones imported from different sources.
Scholars estimate that Babylon was the largest city in the world from circa 1770 – circa 1670 BC, and again between circa. 612 – circa. 320 BC. Some argue it was the first city to reach a population above 200,000. The city was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia. Babylon was built on the shores of the Euphrates river. Its ruins are located in present-day Hillah, Iraq.
An ancient city few have heard of. Despite not being as famous as other cities like Babylon, Uruk, or Jericho, the city of Mari was a robust trade capital of ancient Mesopotamia. It was a central marketplace of the region through which stone, timber, agricultural goods, and pottery were moved.
In terms of archaeology, the city of Mari proved to be a treasure-trove for scholars. In 1933, archaeological excavations at Mari resulted in the discovery of more than 25,000 tablets that included significant information about the administration of state during the 2nd millennium BC and the nature of diplomatic relations between the political entities in the region.
Modern-day Turkey is the home of countless archaeological sites that helped rewrite history as we know it.
The ancient city of Çatalhöyük is considered by many scholars as the world’s first city.
In fact, there is evidence that around 6,500 BC, the city was home to three thousand people.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the city was densely built, resulting in people walking on the roofs of its mud-brick homes instead of the street.
The city was mysteriously abandoned around 5,700 BC. Archeological excavations revealed a wall painting in the city which has been dubbed as the oldest map in existence and the oldest landscape painting in the world.
The ancient city of Nineveh (located in modern-day Iraq) is believed to have been inhabited as early as 6000 BC. Built as a massive religious center of the Goddess Ishtar, Nineveh spread across more than 7 square kilometers.
Archeological evidence suggests Nineveh was the largest city in the world for nearly half a century, until the year 612 BC when, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria, it was sacked.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) occupied the site during the mid-2010 destroying countless historic monuments and artifacts.
Another ancient city located in present-day Iraq.
The city of Nimrud was home to more than 80,000 people around 800 BC. Nimrud served as the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The city was identified as the Biblical city of Calah. Regrettably, this is another city that was bulldozed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
We can’t speak of the greatest cities on the surface of the planet without mentioning Alexandria, a city built by Alexander the Great.
Alexandria was home to the Great Library of Alexandria—considered the largest library in the world. The city was also home to one of the tallest buildings on Earth, the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria.
The city of Baghdad was founded in the 8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. Soon after its foundation, the city became a significant cultural, commercial, and academic center in the Islamic world. According to experts, the city of Baghdad was the largest city of the Middle Ages for much of the Abbasid era, peaking at a population of more than a million. The city was planned as a circle about 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter, coming to be known as the “Round City.”
Egypt is undoubtedly home to many mind-bending ancient cities, and Memphis is surely one of them.
After the unification of Egypt around 3100 BC, the city of Memphis was founded as the new capital. The city is located some twenty kilometers south of present-day Cairo.
The city is well-known for its nearby pyramids as well as the Great Sphinx. According to Tertius Chandler, Memphis was called home by some 30,000 inhabitants and was by far the largest settlement worldwide from the time of its foundation until around 2250 BCE and from 1557 to 1400 BCE.
Its name means ‘Perpetual place’. In 700AD, the city of Chang’an was home to a population of more than one million people. It was the capital of more than 10 dynasties.
Chang’an had been settled since Neolithic times.
Poet Bai Juyi said the city had “hundreds of, thousands of houses — like a great chessboard … like a huge field planted with rows of cabbages.” The city lives on today as the city of Xi’an.
Varanasi, in India, is one of the oldest cities in the world. Believed to have been inhabited since at least the 11th century BC. The city is considered a major religious hub in India. It’s also the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism. According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Shiva one of three principal deities along with Brahma and Vishnu. One of its most notorious sites is the Golden Temple, which honors the Hindu god Shiva.
The ancient city of Angkor served as a capital for the Khmer empire flourishing from the ninth to the 15th century. Home to the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat. However, the city of Angkor is home to more than one thousand temples. In 2007, an international team of researchers sed satellite photography and other modern techniques to discover that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world.
Located in modern-day Mexico, the ancient city of Teotihuacan home to some of the most impressive pyramids on the surface of the planet. While we still don’t know who built this ancient city or when, archaeologists estimate that around the first millennium AD, Teotihuacan emerged as the largest city in America, with a population estimated at more than125,000 people.
Featured Image: The Round city of Baghdad. Image Credit: Pinterest.
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