CHARLOTTE, NC. No matter how often people travel, they find it difficult not to succumb to that universal quest for the best. Namely, those seeking extremes in history or adventure tend to seek out “est” destinations. We’re talking about the biggest or smallest, the tallest or shortest or even the first or last, or most or least. Today’s travel article journeys to five of the world’s most ancient cities: Athens, Aleppo, Varanasi, Jericho and Byblos.
Ancient cities, from Athens to Byblos
For many modern explorers ancient civilizations have much appeal as we attempt to learn how man evolved in centuries past where massive architectural achievements were made without access to today’s technology.
It’s difficult to imagine daily routines dating back 5,000 and 10,000 years or more, but as researchers uncover relics from the past, we gradually obtain clearer pictures of what life was like centuries ago.
Better yet, taking the opportunity to visit some of the cities discussed in today’s article is truly eye-opening. That’s true for even the most skeptical among us. Here are five of the oldest places that remain alive and active today.
With a recorded history of more than 3,400 years, Athens is one of the most ancient cities in the world. It grew to become a powerful city-state whose human presence first began somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC. This origin story unfolded thanks in large part to the development of its port of Piraeus, which still thrives today,
Home to Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, Athens claims its primary honor as the birthplace of democracy. Clearly, at the height of its power, it grew into the epicenter of art and philosophy in the known world.
However, over many long centuries, time gradually proved most unkind to Athens. The ruins of the Parthenon and other structures still remain. These include the marketplace known as the Agora. Here, travelers can still stroll through the same streets as Socrates and Plato.
But much of the city is largely a polluted, congested metropolis that is but a shell of its former greatness. Nevertheless, as home to several prominent UNESCO sites, visitors should not overlook the historical significance of Athens.
Stability in the Middle East.That’s a relative term in 2019. In truth, travel to this region at any given time can be potentially dangerous, given the recent shattering of Syrian civilization during its still-sputtering civil war. Sadly, had it not been for recent hostilities in Syria, Aleppo would likely be considered a top place attracting travelers to explore one of the most ancient cities in the world.
Archaeologists find signs of civilization in Aleppo dating as far back as 8,000 years. Journeying just 15 miles from this city, the discovery of an additions 5,000 cites might indeed prove possible.
The Citadel of Aleppo, the Great Mosque, and countless other medieval buildings and antiquities justifiably make this city a UNESCO World Heritage title. ‘Albeit a most dangerous one to visit right now.
Geographically, with the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Euphrates River to the east, Aleppo proved ideally situated to become wealthy as a prominent trading port.
Despite the recent turmoil, Aleppo remains unique in its own way. Surely one day we can foresee the city resuming its place in history on many a traveler’s bucket list.
With its location in northeast India on the shores of the Ganges River, Varanasi reveals itself not only one of the most ancient cities in the world. Many regard it as the spiritual capital of the country.
According to legend, Lord Shiva founded the city 5,000 years ago. Gioven its location on the Holy Ganges River, it remains a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus who “cleanse” themselves in its water each day at sunrise and sunset.
“Cleanse” here becomes a matter of interpretation, however. Many regard the Ganges itself as one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
Hindus believe that death in the city brings salvation, making it a major center for pilgrimage. As such, the shoreline is dotted nightly with the funeral pyres of those who have departed the world within the past 24-hours.
Buddhists believe that Buddha founded Buddhism in Varanasi around 528 BC. That year, he delivered his first sermon in nearby Samath. Its title: “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma.”
Given its strong religious connections and its draw for tourists, Varanasi and its city streets of Varanasi teem with literally thousands of visitors each night. And many of them make their way to the banks of the river seeking religious renewal.
In the end, perhaps the best way to describe Varanasi is as a city serving as “a metaphor for India.”
Jericho, Palestinian Territories:
Not only does Jericho serve as home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Its archeological remains date to an existence as far back as 9000 BC. But in addition, archaeologists and historians also regard it as the oldest continuously-inhabited of all ancient cities in the world. Thus far, 20 different settlements have been unearthed by archeologists in Jericho, the earliest of which goes back 11,000 years.
Located 845 feet below sea level in the Jordan Valley, Jericho also boasts the distinction of being the lowest ancient city in the world.
Though Jericho sits in the midst of a scorching desert climate zone, it benefits from the numerous natural springs surrounding the city. These helped it to endure throughout the many chaotic centuries of its lengthy existence.
Given its longevity, Jericho’s history is deep and rich.Here at Jericho Tell, also called the Settlement Mound, archaeologists found many early remains. These ancient treasures include the Biblical Mount of Temptation and the spectacular, cliffside Saint George Monastery. Christian monks founded it in 480 AD.
Archaeologists also discovered the world famous Dead Sea Scrolls in this locale between 1946 and 1956 when they explored the Qumran Caves in the Judaean Desert on the Dead Sea’s northern shore.
Though Byblos may not appear to be a household destination for many, the English word “Bible” is derived from this city’s name. In fact, paper traced to Byblos holds some of the first passages appearing in the Bible. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the city’s name arose from its most sought-after export, the papyrus tree.
Similar to Jericho, scholars now regard this once quiet fishing village as one of the oldest continuously inhabited ancient cities in the world. Famous for its shipbuilding industry, Byblos also became a bustling port.
Our present-day alphabet may have evolved in the city. We have an early example that ancient craftsmen carved into the stone coffin of King Ahiram around 1200 BC. This later became known as the Phoenician Tablet. Almost needless to say, UNESCO declared Byblos a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
So, you see, when it comes to traveling to ancient cities like Athens et. al., never underestimate the value of history when it comes to your upcoming travel plans.
— Headline image: Athens, Greece is known as the “Birthplace of Democracy” (Photo: Taylor)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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