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36 Khorhrdaran Street, Glendale Hills,

Yerevan, Armenia 0010

License Number: 264.110.1021244

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Europe's 16 oldest cities

Updated: Dec 18, 2019


While many of the world's oldest cities, settled around the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, are off-limits to travellers at present, Europe's most ancient settlements are very much open to visitors. These are the continent's 16 oldest continually inhabited.


16. Yerevan, Armenia


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 782 BC



Some 30 years before Rome was founded, the city that is now Armenia's capital was serving as an important stop along the caravan routes from Asia to Europe. It was invaded by Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols and Turks, and later by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the capital of the Republic of Armenia has seen the growth of cultural institutions (it is home to a bewildering number of museums). Tourism is also developing slowly - a handful operators currently offer guided trips to the country. 


15. Zadar, Croatia


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 900 BC


The Illyrian Liburnian tribe - hailing from the Balkan peninsula - inhabited Zadar from as early as the ninth century BC, and the city then fell under Roman rule, until the Empire's split saw it become part of Byzantium. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the city fought over by Venetians, Turks and French, and its inhabitants suffered more in the 1990s, during the Croatian War of Independence. Today, things are brighter and the city, still with its Roman layout, can boast attractive churches such as the ninth century St. Donatus', and St Mary's. And you can get there on a cheap Ryanair flight.


14. Mtskheta, Georgia


When did the earliest inhabitants settle?: 1,000 BC


Mtskheta, north of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, is thought to have been founded around 3,000 years ago, and is notable as the place Georgians accepted Christianity - the country's main religion today - in 317. Collectively, its historical monuments, including the Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery, are a Unesco World Heritage Site. They are described as "outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus", and archaeological findings inside them prove a high level of skill in masonry and pottery.


13. Cádiz, Spain


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 1,100 BC


Phoenicians from Tyre in Lebanon founded Cádiz in 1,100 BC, and it was known to them as "Gadir". They used it as a base for amber trading, and later the Romans took it as a naval outpost. Obscurity followed for a period, before the city found fame when a man named Columbus used it as his depature port for his second and fourth voyages to the Americas. Annie Bennett, one of Telegraph Travel's Spain experts, describes how the sea is "always discernible in the golden light shimmering at the end of the long, straight streets, flanked by stone mansions painted in pastel tones of pink, green and blue." The elegant city is also good for food and drink - try manzanilla sherry and tortillitas de camarones (shrimp tortilla).


12. Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 1,100 BC


This ancient city is now the capital of the Aegean island of Lesbos, not far from the Turkish coast. Aristotle lived on the islands for two years, 337-335 BC - although whether he inhabited what we know as the city today is unclear. Records of the island exist in Homer, notably for the attacks by the Achaeans during the Trojan War (12th or 13th century BC).Today visitors to the city can admire Gateluzzi castle, the church of Agios Therapo, and a Statue of Liberty, while the most important exports are sardines and ouzom an anise-flavoured liquor.


12. Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 1,100 BC


This ancient city is now the capital of the Aegean island of Lesbos, not far from the Turkish coast. Aristotle lived on the islands for two years, 337-335 BC - although whether he inhabited what we know as the city today is unclear. Records of the island exist in Homer, notably for the attacks by the Achaeans during the Trojan War (12th or 13th century BC).Today visitors to the city can admire Gateluzzi castle, the church of Agios Therapo, and a Statue of Liberty, while the most important exports are sardines and ouzom an anise-flavoured liquor.


11. Lisbon, Portugal


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 1,200 BC


Permanent settlements in and around modern-day Lisbon date back to around 2,500 BC, but details about inhabitants are sketchy. A Phoenecian population has certainly lived there since 1,200BC, proven by archaeological excavations near the Castelo de São Jorge and the Cathedral. Castelo Hill was populated in the Iron Age, from the sixth to eighth century, while later the city was conquered by the Moors, who came into Europe from Morocco and established an Islamic caliphate. The city's future was altered when a major earthquake struck on November 1 1755, destroying two-thirds of the buildings and killing between 30,000 and 60,000 of an 180,000-strong population. Lisbon today is a vibrant capital city. Its steep cobbled streets perch over the river Tagus, it has an excellent culinary scene and districts each with their own personality.


10. Chalcis, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? At least 1,300 BC


Homer refers to Chalcis in the Iliad, written in about 762 BC, meaning that the city is at least around 2,800 years old. Indeed, academic records say that the city was founded before the Trojan War, typically thought to have been between the 12th and 13th centuries BC, by an Ionic colony from Athens. It is the main settlement on the island of Euboea, where it sits on the Europis strait, a channel of water separating the island from mainland Greece. Although it was significant during the Roman era, nothing remains of the old city today, and the town is best known as a holiday resort for Greeks, for its agriculture, and its neighbouring cement factory.


9. Larnaca, Cyprus


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 1,300 BC


Modern-day Larnaca sits on the site of ancient Kition/Citium, which was colonised by both the Greek Achaeans and the Phoenicians, who came from what is now Lebanon, and then belonged to the Persian Empire. It has always been an important seaport, with its strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean, and is also renowned as the birthplace of Zeno, the founder of Stoic philosophy. The city's Church of Saint Lazarus is also built of the reputed second tomb of Lazarus. Today, Larnaca has a reputation as a cheap summer holiday destination, but does have more serene attractions including the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque and a salt lake that attracts flocks of pink flamingo.


8. Kutaisi, Georgia


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 2nd millennium BC


Kutaisi, a city in western Georgia, was the capital of the Kingdom of Colchis, an ancient region of the southern Caucasus, from as early as the second millennium BC. The city has been the centre of multiple conflicts between Georgian kings, and Russians and Ottoman rulers, and was an industrial centre when Georgia formed part of the Soviet Union. Its state historical museum contains 16,000 artefacts relating to Georgian history and culture. More interestingly, perhaps, Kutaisi is also home to a martial arts museum. The Bagrati Cathedral, pictured, was restored in 2012, against the wishes of UNESCO, which then placed it on its list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, saying the project would "undermine the integrity and authenticity of the site".


7. Thebes, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 3,000 BC


Evidence of buildings with rock-cut foundations, drains and mud brick walls shows Thebes has been inhabited for some 5,000 years, although the placement of the modern town on top of the ruins has made piecing together the history of the ancient settlement difficult. Found in central Greece, the city is important in Greek mythology, supposedly as the birthplace of Hercules and the terrorising ground of the Sphinx before her riddle was solved. Today, Thebes is a market city, and although some tourists come to see ruins, other bigger draws nearby such as Athens keep visitor numbers relatively low.


6. Trikala, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 3,000 BC


The ancient city of Trikala, founded around the 3rd millennium BC, lies underneath the modern conurbation, and was named after the nymph Trikke, daughter of Penaeus. The riverside location in central mainland Greece led to prosperity, although it fell to the Achaemenid Persians in 480 BC and later to the Romans. The Asklepieion - a healing temple - is one of the most ancient ruins of its kind, while the 17th century Koursoum Mosque is more a modern attraction.


5. Patra, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? c. 3,500 BC


Excavations show that the area that is now the city of Patra has been inhabited since the Early Helladic period in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Like many other cities in Greece, it was later occupied by the Turks, while it was then set on fire by Muslim Albanians in 1779. After an earthquake in the sixth century, a castle was built on the side of Mount Panachaico, and to this day the city is divided into lower and upper districts. The modern city, on the coast in western Greece, has around 200,000 inhabitants.


4. Chania, Crete


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 4,000 BC


Excavations of the ancient city of Kydonia are taking place on Kastelli hill above the harbour at Chania on Crete. The ruins are thought to date from the Minoan period (2,100-1,100BC) and Kydonia probably came into its own around then, but traces of inhabitation at the site date back to the Neolithic period. Homer said that the city was one of the most important of the time, and frescoes, pottery and coins have all been unearthed on the site, which is open to view today. It is thought that the Saracens destroyed Kyronia in around 828, and the Venetians later built on it the settlement that would become modern-day Chania. The city is arguably Crete's most attractive, with its walls, beaches, museums, boats and all important tavernas creating an amiable atmosphere.


3. Plovdiv, Bulgaria


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 4,000 BC


The remains of a Neolithic settlement at Plovdiv suggest a history spanning 6,000 years for a city dominated by the Thracians, then the Macedonian Greeks, and then the Romans, who built it up into a significant conurbation. Ruins from this period are very much in evidence today: the ancient theatre of Philippopolis (Plovdiv's name in antiquity) is in the city centre, as is the 2nd-century stadium, built to seat 30,000 spectators. The city was seized by the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century, and only freed after the Battle of Philippopolis in 1878.


2. Athens, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 5,000 BC


The Acropolis has been inhabited since at least 5,000 BC, and Greek legend says that the city of Athens won its name after Athena planted an olive seed in a contest with Poseidon. With the resulting tree seen as more valuable than the water that Poseidon released from a rock with his trident, the goddess of wisdom, war and the crafts was named as the city's patron. The birthplace of democracy, the city has been held in such esteem that invaders have historically conquered the city, but not ransacked it, or enslaved its citizens. The Athenians defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, after which the city entered its golden age, under the rule of Pericles. Socrates, Hippocrates and Sophocles all worked in its bounds, to be followed by Aristotle and Plato. Today, visitors can admire the Acropolis as well as Plaka, the city's oldest residential quarter, and Mt Lycabettus, the highest vantage point.


1. Argos, Greece


When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 5,000 BC


Árgos, in the north-eastern Peloponnese, 12km from Nafplio, has been inhabited, at least as a village, for some 7,000 years, and was a significant centre during the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC), although became most prominent during the reign of the tyrant king Pheidon, in the seventh century BC. In the Greek myths, the city was named after the son of Zeus and Niobe, and Homer's Iliad describes it as a renowned horse-breeding centre. Hera, the goddess of women and marriage, was particularly revered, and the Argives honoured her with a temple and an annual festival. Mycenaean tombs, the sanctuary of Aphrodite and a theatre with capacity for 20,000 people can be seen today. 



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