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10 Ancient Cities Where People Still Live

MICHAEL VAN DUISEN APRIL 8, 2014

Even though much that links us to their founding years is gone, cities that reach back to the earliest human civilizations retain an undeniable allure. These 10 examples include some of the oldest cities in history, and people still call each one of them home.

10Ife (Nigeria)
Founded circa 350 B.C.

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Photo credit: Tropenmuseum

The Yoruba people consider Ife the mythical birthplace of mankind. Two of their deities are said to have created the first humans out of clay, with one of them becoming the first king of the Yoruba.

By the 11th century, the city had become the capital of a kingdom, with its residents producing the region’s famed terra-cotta heads during the following two centuries.

Nearly destroyed as a result of a late 18th-century war, as well as by decades of trauma related to the slave trade, Ife is now home to one of Nigeria’s major universities, as well as the Historical Society of Nigeria. In addition, the spiritual leader of the Yoruba people, known as the Ooni, lives in a palace in the center of the city. Ife now has over 600,000 residents.

9Balkh (Afghanistan)
Founded circa 500 B.C.

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Known as Bactra (Bactria) in its pre-Afghan days, the city of Balkh was the capital of the Greek territory of Bactria after its capture by Alexander the Great.

After several invaders conquered the city, it eventually became the capital of Khorasan, a political entity created by the Sasanian Empire of Iran. It was under their rule that Balkh became famous as a center of learning, earning itself the title “mother of cities.” In addition, the Zoroastrian religion is said to have been founded there.

Most of the city was destroyed during an invasion by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. It lay in ruins until the early 15th century, and the city is more of a village today, with a population of only a few thousand. But a handful of the original buildings have survived, including a number of ancient Buddhist reliquary mounds and the outer walls of the city.

Khorasan was the origin of the warriors who played big roles in deposing Caliphs in Baghdad.

8Luoyang (China)
Founded circa 1050 B.C.

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Photo credit: Gary Lee Todd

One of the 8 Great Ancient Capitals of China, Luoyang was founded in the middle of the 11th century, at the start of the Zhou Dynasty.

In fact, 9 different dynasties, stretching over centuries, have used Luoyang as their capital. Unfortunately, the city underwent a great economic depression that lasted from a revolution in the eighth century up until the middle of the 1900s. Assistance from the USSR and industrialization brought Luoyang back from the dead.

One of the greatest architectural and spiritual treasures in the city is the White Horse Temple, the “cradle of Buddhism in China.” Built during the first century A.D., it was the first of up to 1,300 different temples, as Luoyang became the spiritual center for Buddhism in China.

In addition, the city is home to the Longmen Grottoes, a series of Buddhist caves that is a UNESCO heritage site and one of the masterpieces of Chinese Buddhist art.

7Patras (Greece)
Founded circa 1100 B.C.

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Photo credit: Conudrum/Wikimedia

While evidence says people lived in the area as far back as the third millennium B.C., Patras as an actual city didn’t begin until about 1,000 years later.

Three small settlements existed in the area and remained there for hundreds of years, until the Achaeans, and the eponymous Patreus, combined them into one large city and named it Patras.

Relatively insignificant for much of its early existence, the city later became a major part of the founding of the second Achaean League, a confederation of various Greek city-states.

Thanks to its location by the sea, Patras played a huge role in Greek trade, even up to modern times. Unfortunately, very few buildings have survived from its early history, with the oldest surviving example being the Patras Roman Odeum, a small theater built by the Romans sometime in the early second century.

There is also a prehistoric acropolis, known as the Wall of Dymaeans, dating back to the 14th century B.C. It is said to have been built by Heracles himself.

6Kutaisi (Georgia)
Founded circa 1400 B.C.

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Photo credit: Andrzej Wójtowicz

Among the oldest and largest cities in the nation of Georgia, Kutaisi was the capital of multiple ancient kingdoms, most notably Colchis from the sixth to first century B.C. That kingdom is perhaps best known for being the final destination of Jason and his Argonauts during their quest for the Golden Fleece.

Afterward, the city and the area around it suffered numerous invasions, including by the Mongolians and the Ottomans.

In the 12th century, during the reign of David IV, Kutaisi became the capital of the United Kingdom of Georgia and underwent a period of construction unrivaled in its history.

This time saw the construction of the Gelati Monastery, one of the most famous buildings in the city and a great example of medieval Georgian architecture. Remarkably well preserved, it is one of Georgia’s UNESCO heritage sites.

5Tyre (Lebanon)
Founded circa 2750 B.C.

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Photo credit: Heretiq/Wikimedia

An ancient Phoenician port city, with a large number of mythical occurrences to its name, Tyre has seen its fair share of historical action as well.

Extremely prosperous thanks to its ideal location, the city was besieged by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who unsuccessfully tried to conquer it over the course of 13 years. However, Tyre did fall to the army assembled by Alexander the Great, which resulted in most of the buildings being razed to the ground.

It was here (or perhaps nearby Sidon) that people were first able to create dye with a purple pigment, leading the Greeks to call them Phoinikes, which means “purple people” and is where we get the name “Phoenician.”

One of the most important Phoenician cities, Tyre used to be an island, but Alexander the Great demolished buildings to create a causeway linking it to the mainland. Now known as Sour in the country of Lebanon, the city is home to many significant ancient Roman sites, including the second-century hippodrome, one of the largest existing in the world.

4Sidon (Saida, Lebanon)
Founded circa 3000 B.C.

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Photo credit: Heretiq/Wikimedia

Derived from the Greek word for “fishery,” Sidon was an ancient Phoenician port city and is famous for its fishing and trade industries, as well as its glass manufacturing—the Greek author Homer had a lot of praise for the people of Sidon when it came to that specific fact.

Like its sister city Tyre, Sidon was captured by Alexander the Great, yet it was spared complete destruction because it surrendered without a fight.

Commanded by multiple kingdoms, Sidon flourished under Ottoman rule, though it has been ravaged and rebuilt multiple times. One of the oldest pieces of architecture in the city is the Temple of Eshmun, dedicated to the Phoenician god of healing and dating back to the seventh century B.C.

3Argos (Greece)
Founded circa 5000 B.C.

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Perhaps the oldest city in Europe, Argos was originally a Greek city-state.

Thanks to its bountiful natural resources in the fertile lowlands known as the Plain of Argos, the city rose to prominence during the Mycenaean period at the end of the second millennium B.C.

In fact, until Sparta’s rise, Argos was the dominant city-state of the region.

Unlike many of its Greek partners, Argos flourished under Roman and Byzantine rule, as evidenced by the monumental civic works undertaken during these eras. The city and surrounding area played a huge role in Greek mythology, with the heroes Perseus, Diomedes, and Agamemnon believed to have been born there.

The present city of Argos is built over much of the ancient city, with very little architecture remaining from its early years.

The ruins of the Heraion of Argos, a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera, form probably the oldest existing structure in the area, dating back to the seventh century B.C.

2Byblos (Jbeil, Lebanon)
Founded circa 6000 B.C.

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Photo credit: BlingBling10/Wikimedia

The oldest existing Phoenician city, Byblos was home to much scientific and technological advancement during its existence.

Historians credited it as the place where the Phoenician alphabet was conceived, and the city’s name derives from the Greek word for “paper,” a major export.

Byblos was burned to the ground near the end of the third millennium B.C. by invading Amorites, yet traces of that period still exist.

Originally, Byblos was an Egyptian protectorate, supplying crucial timber and other goods in exchange for protection. By the 11th century B.C., it was independent and became Phoenician territory. It remained relatively important for much of its existence, first losing its importance as capital of Phoenicia to Tyre and then fading to obscurity just after the Crusades.

The present-day city of Jbail, Lebanon is partially built on the ruins of much of Byblos, with the remaining ruins being designated a UNESCO heritage site.

1Jericho (Tell es-Sultan, Palestine)
Founded circa 9000 B.C.

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Perhaps the oldest (and currently the lowest by altitude) city in the history of humanity, Jericho is located in the West Bank, just past the northern half of the Dead Sea.

Thanks to a spring that supplies the area with extremely fertile soil, Jericho made a great place for early hunter-gatherers to settle down and begin domesticating animals.

After about 2,000 years of loosely being considered a city, Jericho’s first walls were erected, forming the earliest known example of urban fortifications.

Known as Tell es-Sultan in its early days, Jericho flourished for many years before being completely destroyed by nomadic tribes toward the end of the second millennium B.C.

Fire destroyed it again a few hundred years later. The modern city of Jericho comprises part of this ancient area, as well as space that used to be out of Tell es-Sultan’s city limits. Jericho was also said to be home to many spiritual events from Judaism and Christianity.

Note 1: From a link on FB Pamela Hakim via Ama Sadaka

Note 2: Most of the city-states on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea are still inhabited since antiquity.  Ashkelon, Akka, Yafa, Haifa, Beirut, Tripoli, Tartous….

Probably, Damascus is the oldest city that has been inhabited since mankind civilization. Most of the trade caravans ended in Damascus, to span in smaller caravans. Aleppo is also another of the oldest of cities, and Jarash in Jordan and Jerusalem.

Wild Goose Chase into the Old World: Persia 4th century BC

Preface 

Ever since I have read the life story of the so-called Alexander the Great I have been restless. I keep considering alternative circumstances of how this mad and impossible incursion into the Old Eastern World could have been stopped.

I felt that writing a historical fiction novel about this period would do me good. It should be historical because people are shying away from current news: They don’t listen to news, they don’t read newspapers, they have no ideas what is happening around them and yet, they feel superior to all politicians and far more capable.

It has to be a fiction because the so-called facts are bitter pills and not so reliable:

They are the facts of the victors and petty facts after all.

I needed to delve and know more about the ancient world.  I need to imagine that a few of its leaders and scholars could have foreseen how political systems and technologies would have developed.

How they would dare change the world according to their new visions. Whether they would have been better equipped, spiritually and morally to improve their world, people and environment, at their own snail pace

Alexander’s upbringing

Alexander was brainwashed since childhood.  He was made insidiously to believe by his mother Olympia that he was the descended of the God Hercules. His mother kept telling him that the Highest Priest of Egypt was convinced that he is the expected World King for the end of the Aries period (The Belier or two horned mammal).

Alexander was actually a bastard.

His father Phillip, King of Macedonia, strongly suspected that his wife Olympia has given birth to an illegitimate son. At the time, the kingdom of Persia extended from the borders of India to Turkey to Libya in Africa.  It included the current countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and the coast of North Africa.

Background on the motives of Alexander

Alexander’s goal was to conquer Egypt and receive from its High Priest the crown reserved for the expected son of God so that he can secure legitimacy.

As one of Alexander mentors explained it to him “If you want wealth you steal it by force and if you want legitimacy then you have to snatch it by the sword”.

As the story of history goes, while in Egypt, Alexander received a letter from the King of Persia. The King was proposing to Alexander to accept the coastal land of Turkey to settle their disputes.

It seems that the King of Persia was in a chatting mood and he added a threat that if his proposal is turned down then he will keep retreating before Alexander’s troops, to the confines of his vast Empire until Alexander gives up the chase. The letter warned Alexander that this task would be impossible to carry through.

The King of Persia had just handed Alexander a sweet excuse and a new purpose.

So much for making sense to a hot headed and crazy young adversary! Alexander barely visited any city twice and intended to advance further east to China.

What old “history books” told us

For thirteen years, Alexander barely backtracked in his wild push forward. His military travel took him beyond the Persian Empire to the Southern parts of Russia, Kashmir, Pakistan and parts of India.   As matter of fact, Alexander could not have advanced that far if not for the fresh recruits coming from Greece to replace the losses.

The new recruits adored him and wanted to have a share of the glory. Alexander crossed deserts in summers, the highest mountains in winters and most of his soldiers died of hunger, thirst and diseases rather than from wars.  Alexander died in Babylon at the age of 30 something and his fiefdoms were divided among his officers after many years of a long civil war.

Lesser known stories

The officers of Alexander, battle worn, sick with disease and confused as to the purpose of this incomprehensible campaign, finally expressed bluntly their unwillingness to go any further and confronted him.  Alexander had to stop his advance and convinced his officers to navigate the Indus River and then reach Egypt by sea.

To punish his officers for foiling his dream of reaching the confines of the ancient world, Alexander made his army to cross the southern desert of Persia for 60 days where thousands of soldiers died of thirst.

The Two-Horned King (fiction. Chapter. 3)

Alexander The Great completely destroyed the proud city of Tyr after seven months of siege.  He hatefully hanged 8,000 of its inhabitants and sold the rest as slaves.

This victory was obtained by a fluke of incredible circumstances, coming together, to vanquish the Queen City of commerce:  not only the State of Carthage refrained to rescue its mother city-state but Alexander witnessed the miracle he wished for. More than 300 war ships flocked in from the neighboring islands (Cyprus and Arwad) and other port cities within a week, a bounty that Alexander did not expect, and at just the time he was about to lift the siege.

Tyre was attacked from the sea where the walls of this sea city were the least fortified.

Alexander moved on to destroy the fortified city of Ashkelon in current Gaza before entering Egypt.  The city of Ashkelon prided itself as the first exporter of incense and myrrh and Alexander emptied its stores and shipped the products to his mother so that she won’t have to worry anymore about any scarcity of what was essential to honoring her Gods.

Alexander was crowned King of Kings by the High Priest of Egypt and he started the construction of his new city called Alexandra on the seashore.

The Persian king Artax was ready to face off with Alexander but he was reluctant to advance to Egypt: he recognized that the populations of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt were already hostile to the Persian long rule and they have pledged allegiance to Alexander.

Thus, he settled to find an excellent gimmick to draw Alexander out of Egypt.  Artax sent a letter to Alexander agreeing to negotiate and to hand over the already conquered land by his army.

Artax expressly angered Alexander by stating that Alexander had no choice but to accept the proposal unless he is willing to pursue the Monarch throughout the world; an impossible mission!

Incursion into the Old World. Persia 4th century BC (Ch. 1)

The novel is about a King of Persia at the time of Alexander The Great.  This King is I.

The actual king was not strictly a legitimate descendent to the throne of Persia. He acceded to the power through the treachery of the castrated Grand Vizier who also had assassinated his master King Artaxasta III by poison.  The Vizier wanted to govern through his appointed protégé, one of the descendent of the monarch family, but the newly appointed King poisoned this Vizier the same night of his coronation.

The intelligence sources of Alexander informed him that the Kingdom of Persia is going through a difficult transition period of uncertainties and probable chaos.  It would have been a wiser policy to wait and see the outcome of the transition and study the character of the definitive new Monarch, but the impulsive and impatient Alexander just needed an excuse to be on the move. 

Alexander had just totally destroyed the crown city of Thebe in Greece, the oldest, the most learned and most courageous city among the cities, simply because he defeated its uprising against his rule.

Alexander shipped out with his thirty thousand soldiers when he was twenty. His army was battle tried and mostly illiterate. The former Kings of Persia knew about the intentions of Phillip and of the recent preparations of Alexander years before the invasion occurred.

The new King of Persia is young, about twenty six years old. He is a good looking giant for his time, with large dark eyes. He has new concepts of waging wars. At this age, waging wars are more attractive and exciting endeavors than anything else.

The real name of the king is Artaxasta IV but we will call him (Artax) for short; we will also call Alexander (Alex) since the two heroes will become our buddies in this story.

 Artax had advance intelligence of Alexander planning and the location and timing of his landing on the Turkish shores. The myths and feats of Alexander have crossed the Aegis Sea for some time; although Alexander was dabbed as “Iskandar The Mad Wild Dog” (IMWD) in the Persian court many speculations on Alexander motives and determination were the main topics in the court of the king and in most of the courts of governors in the annexed countries to Persia. 

Artax himself was most excited to have personal correspondence with Alex; he desired to sit down with Alexander and negotiate an honorable deal but his position of power was still very fragile and shaky among the hundreds of governors in the provinces and the military older hierarchy.   Obviously, Alexander generated enthusiasms in the Old Persian World.  This world enjoyed stable political and social systems, especially the utmost boredoms that daily exacting routines have been vexing the new Persian King into lethargy.

 

Artax had two reasons to allowing Alex to wander for a time in his kingdom. Besides the personal reasons, Artax already planned to launch a counter offensive, conquer Greece and discover the wild young western world.  Artax agreed with his most experienced general, a Greek mercenary, that the best tactic would be to retreat before Alexander army leaving a scorched land before the Greek/Macedonian advancing troops. Unfortunately, most of the traditional generals of the Persian feudal system would not swallow this infamy: Persia was by far the most powerful and richest kingdom in the entire world and the retreat strategy before a ragtag army was impossible to swallow.

Artax had to temporary bend to his generals but had already decided that he will allow Alexander a partial victory on their first major encounter to get to know better his charismatic opponent.  King Artax honored the rebellious generals to lead the battle against Alexander; the only condition was that the opposing armies should be of equal size: the Greek had to learn first hand to respect the determination, fearlessness, and chivalric high moral standing of the Persian civilization.

 

Invasion of the Old World

 

At the battleground of Issus Artax did not order a retreat but simply withdrew from the battle field, a decision which carried the consequence of a major sizeable section of personal guards to follow the Monarch by due form.  The Persian army was defeated and had to disperse haphazardly.  Artax failed to take into account that the Macedonian army was principally in for the loot.  The priority for Alexander to please his army was to move ahead quickly and loot the Persian war treasury stored in Damascus.  The wealth that the King of Persia carried in his trunks, at his first encounter with Alexander, was a thousand times greater than all the wealth and credit that Alexander could manage to secure in Greece before he started his interminable campaign of invasion and devastation.

This bounty opened the way to Egypt.  Artax had plenty of power and reserves to stop the advance of Alexander but he needed some time to reorganize his belligerent army and get hold of real power and strengthen his legitimacy.  Artax then withdrew to Babylon in present Iraq and patiently followed the gathered intelligence on Alexander’s inroads and victories.

Alexander the Great (Written on November 20, 2004)

 Alexander, the Great mad dog, was brainwashed since childhood.

He was made, insidiously, to believe that he was the descended of God.

His mother kept telling him that the Highest Priest of Egypt considered him to be the expected World King for the end of the Belier period (the two horned mammal).

Alexander was actually a bastard.

His father Phillip, king of Macedonia, strongly suspected that his wife Olympia has given birth to an illegitimate son.

At the time, the kingdom of Persia extended from the borders of India to Libya.

It included the current countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and the coast of North Africa.

The wealth that the king of Persia carried in his trunks, during his first encounter with Alexander, was a million times greater than all the wealth and credit that Alexander could manage to secure in Greece before he started his interminable campaign of invasion and devastation.

The two horned Alexander shipped out with his thirty thousand soldiers at the age of twenty something.

His army was battle tried and mostly illiterate.

The king of Persia knew about the intentions of Phillip and the preparations of Alexander Years before the invasion occurred.

For thirteen years, Alexander barely backtracked in his wild push forward.

His military travel took him beyond the Persian Empire to the Southern parts of Russia, Kashmir, Pakistan and parts of India.

Alexander’s main goal was to conquer Egypt and receive from its High Priest the crown reserved for the expected son of God so that he can secure legitimacy.

While in Egypt, Alexander received a letter from the king of Persia proposing to Alexander to accept the conquered land of Turkey in order to settle their disputes.

It seems that the king of Persia was in a chatting mood.

He added a threat that if his proposal is turned down, he will keep retreating before Alexander’s troops, to the confines of his vast Empire, until Alexander gives up the chase.

He warned Alexander that this task would be impossible for Alexander to carry through.

The king of Persia had just handed Alexander a sweet excuse and a new purpose.

So much for making sense to a hot headed and crazy young adversary!

Alexander barely visited any city twice and intended to advance further east to China.

After the bloody battle in Kashmir, Alexander’s’ officers, battle worn, sick with diseases and longings to returning to Greece, and confused as to the purpose of this incomprehensible campaign, the officers finally expressed bluntly their unwillingness to go any further.

To punish his officers for foiling his dream of reaching the confines of the ancient world, Alexander made his army cross the southern desert of Persia for 60 days, where thousands of soldiers died of thirst.

Alexander could not have advanced that far if not for the fresh recruits from Greece.

The glorified news back home sent adoring new recruits who wanted also to have a share of the glory.

Alexander crossed deserts in summers, the highest mountains in winters, and most of his soldiers died of hunger, thirst and diseases rather than from wars.

 Note: Ever since I have read the life story of the so called Alexander the Great “Mad” I have been restless for a couple of weeks and decided that a historical fiction should be written to counter that madness.

I entitled the fiction story “Pavlov Reaction Restrained“.

I keep considering alternative circumstances of how this mad and impossible incursion Into the Old World 400 years BC could have been stopped.

I think that writing a historical fiction novel about this period would do me good.

It should be historical because people are shying away from current news:

They don’t listen to news, they don’t read newspapers,

They have no ideas what is happening around them and yet,

They feel superior to all politicians and far more capable.

It has to be a fiction because the so called facts are bitter pills and not so reliable:

They are the facts of the victors and petty facts after all, beside the thousands killed in ruthless combats.

I need to know the ancient world;

I need to imagine that a few of its leaders and scholars could have foreseen how political systems and technologies would have developed.

How they would dare change the world according to their new visions.

How they could have been better equipped, spiritually and morally, in order to improve their world, people and environment, at their own snail pace.

The Persian king defeated Alexander but the latter persuaded the Persian king to pursue his dream of discovering India, China and going as far East as the earth can reach.


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