The best cities in the world have always been debated. Maybe you're a huge fan of London, Paris, or Sydney. Perhaps, you're a fan of New York, Los Angeles, or Toronto. Regardless of where it is, everyone has a favorite place they have been outside of their hometown. The only mystery is where that favorite place might be. However, pretend you could get in a time machine like the one seen on Back to the Future.
You're Marty McFly and Doc made a time machine that you're going back in time with. However, instead of going back to the same place you just were....just decades earlier, you go somewhere else. Instead, you go back to the most important time periods in history. On top of finding certain major historical cities. What city would you want to go to, and what era would you want to do it in?
Would you want to go to the early days of Tokyo in Japan, Ancient Bethlehem, or possibly early Jamestown in the United States? There are multiple places one would want to go to if they ever had the chance to visit them. In this list, we're going to break down some of the greatest cities in history. Some of them will be known about by most, while others might surprise you. We'll be going over the best era that these cities were involved in, as well as what makes them so special. We'll also go over the cool historical stuff behind them. With that said, we hope you enjoy our list of 30 Ancient Cities that would rival the best cities in the world today.
30 2100-667 BC: Thebes
The Egyptians would use Thebes as a huge area for the worship of their most infamous God, Amun. Which most refer to as Ra. Due to its connection to the God, the people of the nation would believe in his power. Ra is the sun God, and Egypt is located in Africa. It is a place filled with sand and almost nothing for thousands of miles. Rain is needed, and rare. But sun, oh sun was always present in Thebes. During the best periods, Thebes would be the home of amazing structures, huge temples, and it would be the center of trade for thousands of people.
Thebes would sadly lose the capital spot in the 13th Century B.C. when it was destroyed by the Assyrians in 667 BC, it would become part of the Greek Dynasty under Alexander the Great, like so many others. Eventually, it would find its way out and remains a city today. Sadly, not at the height it was before.
29 2400 BC: Mari, Mesopotamia
This area is close enough to the waterways that people could come in and out without much issue. It created an amazing opportunity for people, which made Mari a must-see area of the world at this point. Some of the first pieces of pottery were seen here, as well as other normal goods and services. Due to being so high in trade, Mari saw a massive economic boom and by 2400 BC they were the largest city in the world. The government would continue to dominate for a while as well. In their time, Mari and other areas of Mesopotamia saw several people lead them. The Samaritans, Greek, etc.
However, when the 1930's discovery of 25,000 tablets written in an extinct language called Akkadian hit...it changed the game on Mari. We now have information on various things that went down here. From governmental letters to personal ones, and much more. It was a vibrant city that gave the world so much. It would be terrific to go back and see.
28 Renaissance Era: Florence, Italy
Likely one of the most popular things regarding Florence is their gorgeous buildings build centuries ago that are still up today. The area has wonderful home-based buildings as well as a gorgeous cathedral. To this day, the cathedral is considered one of the most beautiful man-made structures in the world.
They were also close enough to the water system to become a useful place for trade and meetings. The food here would be spoken of often, with many going to the area for the most amazing bread and pastries. The Renaissance was truly born in this city, and it would likely be THE place to be during that time. The city still stands today and is still very populated and beloved.
27 14th-16th Century: Cusco, Peru
By the 16th Century, the Incans were the largest empire in the world. Despite very few outside the Americas knowing of them for some time before. They are credited for their terrific structures and very intensive systems that no other native people had. They had their own calendars, math, astrology, and medical systems.
The Inca knew how to properly do a lot, even though they were thriving in a time when other Natives were also attempting to do so. Basically, it is still known that the Inca were the best administrative and political natives known to history. This is known from the several discoveries made here over the years. Eventually, the Spanish would conquer the area by the late 1500s with the Incans falling as a result. They remained together from the 13th to 16th Century, making them one of the most successful empires in history. Fransisco Pizzaro claimed to the Spanish Monarchy, as well as the Spanish people, that Cusco was so beautiful that it could rival any area in Spain at the time.
26 11th Century BC: Damascus
To be honest, it was. In today's modern Syria, Damascus would be an ideal area to come through for travelers. Upon the time Armenians came in, the city would become of major importance. Due to the battles that went down for the total area, Damascus would be passed from Kingdom to Kingdom. Even Alexander the Great once fought for and owned it.
Sadly when General Pompey came in, he and his people would destroy most of the city and rebuild it to their specifications. Resulting in a less beautiful city as a result. However, the fact that the city was such a common area for the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people...it has stood the test of time. From the Armenian people taking it and making it amazing by 1300s BC to the centuries it stood. The city is still around today, and still holds some great historical sites from the history of the region.
25 13th-15th Century: Timbuktu
The city would become a permanent settlement for thousands by the 10th Century BC and become the major trade territory that the world knew it for. They excelled in the trade of salt, ivory, and of course gold. The Mali Empire took it over by 13th Century, which ultimately helped it grow much more. Under the Mali people, the place would become a major area for the Islamic religion but also for education.
In fact, the education was so significant in the area that people came from all over the world after hearing of its educational system. Due to the immense salt and gold involved in trade, Timbuktu would be part of a literal Golden Age. They were immensely wealthy, creating the first true economic super-city. Though the books are what made it truly groundbreaking, as it created several scholars who went on to do terrific things. Sadly that all changed by the 16th Century. They did okay enough to survive after this, but the "city of gold" would slowly begin to wither away. Today, the desert is slowly taking it. Though all the books and documents from its time filled with scholars can be found online today.
24 Neolithic Era: Jericho
It is most known for its mention in religious text. The Christian Bible speaks of it in the Old Testament, regarding the infamous wall it had created around the city. They wrote of the Battle of Jericho, which saw the Israeli people plan to take Canaan, the Promised Land. They would need to go through Jericho to do it. The wall was built by the Jericho people due to floods in the area. Taking it down helped conquer it, so the Bible states Joshua and his army blew their trumpets and marched around it until it fell.
Likely its most thriving and amazing period happened during the Neolithic Era (later Stone Age). The people would create pottery and architecture before the technology was made do to so. The stuff they're most known for were plastered skulls, and none from this time are seen anywhere else. They would even make their own clothing with materials traded for that had not been seen elsewhere in this time period. Truly they remained ahead of the game.
23 650 B.C.-300 BC: Carthage
They would have a Queen named Dido, who was part of the founding of the area and the first leader of Carthage upon the people declaring independence. Due to its prime location to the sea, and major trade connections, it would be fought for by many people over the years. Including The Romans, who would ultimately defeat The Phoenicians in the Punic Wars.
The city also contained a massive amount of salt, which was used in trade and only made it a bigger area to conquer. It had an amazing marketplace, wonderful location, and was envied by so many for hundreds of years. Ultimately, the city held on for some time despite the greed for it. Today, the original city is located in modern-day Tunisia. Though in its major point as an Empire, it was pretty huge. It would include other areas which are now the countries of Italy, Libya, Portugal, Spain, Malta, Algeria, and France. You can imagine why so many wanted it, right?
22 8th Century-4th Century BC: Olympia
Though the earliest buildings date back to 600 BC.Olympia is most known for being the site of the very first Olympic Games, which took place in 776 BC.
When Elis fell, various sanctuaries went with it. The Pisatans would take over, and eventually organize the Olympic Games. Elis would work with Sparta and regain the city, and eventually add more to it. They added sports to the Games and even built famous arenas like the Hippodrome and an early Gymnasium. They would construct the famous Greek Baths on top of this. Olympia is now under the control of Greece, but sadly many of the beautiful structures it once had are gone or mostly gone. The Olympics are an every 2 years event that remains in play today after returning in the late 1800's.
21 3rd Century BC: Ur, Mesopotamia
These items would be made by hand from precious metals and stones. Of course, these stones and metals would turn out to be massively valuable much later on. Yet they were quite popular then as well. Ur would become the world's largest population in 2100 BC, with an astounding 100,000 people at the time.
Like many places connected to Mesopotamia, Ur was a major area for trade. However, the trade was mostly known to be one-sided in this area due to their amazing hand-crafted items with those precious stones and metals mentioned above. Ur would develop into quite a rich area. Though people left the area behind by 500 BC, which is assumed to have happened due to the area drying up for water and crops. Eventually, people would begin going back to bury their deceased relatives or friends. Archeologists in the mid-1800's would dig in the area and uncover something interesting. This once highly populated city had become known as a Necropolis or city of dead people.
20 1200 AD: Kaifeng, China
By the year 1200 AD, it would be surrounded by walls to protect it from enemies. Invasions were frequent, and taking the city would change a lot for a kingdom due to the location. Clearly, Kaifeng was a centerpiece for any enemy seeking to move up. China's capital could not go down, for if it did...China would be in trouble.
Yet it did just that. The Chinese would become part of a 40-year war with the Mongolians. Which resulted in the Mongols taking the city. The area was highly populated, holding the World's largest population by the year 1200 AD. It was the time in which great and beautiful parts of the city were born, and trade made it a must-see area. It would be connected to the infamous Silk Road, a place where explorer Marco Polo would frequent. Upon the Mongols taking it over, as well as most of the Silk Road, Kaifeng would eventually fall from its former grace. Yet what surrounded it became very useful for centuries.
19 Victorian Era: London, England
Queen Victoria took the throne by 1837 and would make the United Kingdom far better as a result. By 1825, the city of London was the most populated in the world at 1.3 million, which continued to grow. She helped to lead them into the Industrial Revolution, which saw London invent massive things we still use today.
London was a slum, but Victoria helped to clean it up. Her castle/mansion was a great sight along with the buildings and cathedrals. Most important, the clothing and overall style of the era was tremendous. Having anything "Victorian Era" is considered to be relatively pricey by historians. Victoria even was the first to have a white wedding dress, making others want it too. Overall, they changed the game. They would add an amazing railway system and even a sewage area that would be revolutionary and used all over the developed world since. Victoria would hold the throne until her passing in 1901 and give England a head-start on the rest of the world for some time.
18 6500 BC: Çatalhöyük
In that, if you grow food and breed animals you already have...you won't always have to rely on hunting and gathering. This had been the primary source of food for centuries.
By 6500 BC, they had grown to 3,000 people and truly began their interesting points. They would make homes from mud that they'd develop a brick-like source out of. It would work very well, so much so that the people would walk on roofs rather than the streets and the homes could hold them well. Many of these homes STILL stand today, with much of the city and things within it being well-preserved. They would also have a creative period. Archeologists found amazing murals and figurines. At one point, the city drew a map of the area at the time. Today that very map is considered the oldest such map in history and the world's first landscape painting. They were truly amazing, and one heck of a city.
17 26th Century BC: Uruk, Mesopotamia
This sparked the organization of Uruk, which was designed on the mere fact that poor harvests were developing too much of a problem for hunting. Resulting in less food for everyone by proxy, or even an overabundance. They would invent amazing forms of hierarchy, taxation, crafts, and much more.
Though they are mostly known for their specialized writings that would come to pass later on. Due to their prime location on the Euphrates River, they were a trade king for many years. Under their legendary King Gilgamesh, they would become a vibrant city that was rivaled by very few. They are even mentioned in the Christian Bible, mostly under the name "Erech." Due to its organized system, they would develop tremendous trade with multiple people throughout the world, with grain being their main export. It is considered to be one of the finest cities ever constructed. Parts of the earliest civilization's homes and structures were so well constructed that other structures would be later built upon those foundations.
16 1400 AD: Beijing, China
The Ming Dynasty would be in charge by this point, and by 1420, they would make Beijing their capital city. This city would become one of the finest in the world for hundreds of years. They would become the center of trade for centuries and they still remain a top economic power.
The city was so smart with trade that they would go on to invent storage areas to keep major product to sell or use later. This would include grain, salts, and other perishables. Yet they also managed to do this with some animals over the years. They would also be ahead of most in the use of coal and heat, which did not do well for their region climate-wise. China is still suffering from this. Yet this city survived so much and was known for the beauty of its stores, homes, and overall kingdom. While the Ming Dynasty would fall off, "The Forbidden City" would become a key area to every new ruling party that would come along. Including the likes of the Qing Dynasty who put their imperial palace here. Beautiful Chinese Temples would surround it, and remain a force even today.
15 16th-19th Century: Varanasi, India
Likely their best time period that brought them importance was under Emperor Akbar in the 16th Century, who helped them go into a religious revival. He is the one responsible for their amazing temples, mostly dedicated to the Goddess Shiva.
They would invent amazing clothing, which became a trademark to the city under him and his family. In trade, they would have tremendous silks, ivory, crafts, and sculptures that would become major for the city. India would make its mark on the world massively through Varanasi in this time. The Mughals would rule the Indian Kingdom for centuries, with Varanasi as their top place to spread their change. They along with other dynasties would rule them until Queen Victoria and England came along. They would declare their independence and Varanasi remains a rich, amazing country to this day.
14 900-1249 AD-Baghdad
Today, some see the city of Baghdad in a bad light. It is likely due to the terrorism that has sadly surrounded it over the last few decades. However, before all of this...Baghdad was not only a wonderful city but an extremely important one as well. By 900 AD, they were the center of The Golden Age of Islam. Muslims from all over would even come by here, as well as Mecca, for religious reasons. In fact, by the 900 AD period, the city had become so beloved that it was the world's most populated city with around 900,000 people. The Middle East saw a mini-renaissance for Islam due to the Bagdad and what they provided. They were most known during this time period for the House of Wisdom.
This is where the city accumulated all of the world's knowledge they could find at the time, and write it in Arabic for the people of the time to understand. It became a center of trade and enlightenment, as people from all over would come here to speak with others about their thoughts and ideas.
Often, it was religious while others could even be business related. These idea exchanges led to the city's Agricultural Revolution, which they used a scientific approach to. This idea not only worked, but most of us still use the same system today in the world of agriculture. They would remain a major fixture until the Mongols took the city in 1250 AD. Though even then, they would do so much. The city still sits as a major fixture in modern-day Iraq, though nothing like the city of old.
13 1600BC-30BC: Athens, Greece
The city became a rich hub of ideas and cultural revolutions. The city would not be held back by any monarchy or ruler over it, as everyone wanted Athens to be what it was.
The city is relatively old, as it was originally founded in 1400 BC. It would become prominent on day one. Likely their best time period came under the infamous Greek rulers of the past, such as Alexander The Great. By the Classical Period, the Greeks made it out of the Dark Ages and figured out key material. They would add the infamous Parthenon and their temple for Zeus. Between the Classical and Hellenistic Eras, Alexander would come in to help expand the Greek Dynasty. They would conquer the Persian Empire over it, and then ultimately become the great dynasty we know and love. After the death of Cleopatra, Ancient Greece was done, but the city remained such a significant area in the world for so long.
12 1789-1913 AD: Paris, France
It was at this point that amazing inventions and literature would occur. One book being Les Miserables about said Revolution. Others came as well, like The Count of Monte Cristo, Three Musketeers, and many more by Alexander Dumas. Alex was a black man who made a name in literature when other nations had held men such as him back.
Louis Pasteur, the man who found a way to make milk safe to drink at any point would rise up. Amazing buildings and cathedrals would come about as well. Likely the most well-known structure in Paris would be the Notre Dame cathedral, which would become a major part of France during this time period. From the beautiful paintings, clothing, and buildings to the amazing literature and people...Paris was an amazing city that was vibrant at this point. It is still a major hub for fashion, art, and more. But it all started in this time period.
11 883-599 BC: Nimrud
Possibly their best time periods came under the Ashurnasirpal monarchy when King Ashurnasirpal II took over in 9th Century BC. He would make a grand palace that could be seen from great distances. It would become a major fixture in the city. Being made from the finest materials of the day like cedar, juniper, mulberry, pistachio wood, tamarisk, and much more. His son, however, would build a bigger one. It was about 5 Hectares or 12 acres massive!
Yet both King Ashurnasirpal II and III would contain great treasure and art there. It would even contain very interesting/hilarious writings on the walls. Around this, both Kings would build amazing temples, botanical gardens, and even great zoos that would house any exotic or local animals they could find. The Kings would even invite as many as 100,000 people to stay within the palace at one time. King Ash III would build the Great Ziggurat statue and another temple after his father's passing. It remained a major fixture and amazing territory until about 599 BC.
10 Hellenistic Period: Jeruselum, Israel
It is most recognized as the City of David when he was there in the 4th Millennium BC. When the Israeli people gained control by the 9th Century BC period, the second Iron Age began. By the 8th Century, they would be structured as the Kingdom of Judah and throughout it all, they would make their infamous western wall, which is still heavily visited today by all three main religions.
The city is located west of the Dead Sea and was a center for top trade for centuries. Major religious sights from The Old City made the city beautiful to many. From the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock to the Islamic Gold Rotunda. The historical accounts of the city vary depending on historians and theologists. Historians believe parts of the religious text of the Torah, Bible, and Quaran. Though not completely. Neither do theologists, depending on affiliation. Though it is likely that the best period of rule in biblical times would have been under King David and his son Solomon. Or if going off of historical material alone, The Old City.
9 1325-1521 AD: Tenochtitlán (Under Aztec Empire)
Built right off the island of Lake Texcoco, the Aztecs were by no means dumb when how they structured things. They made a complex system of canals and interesting aqueducts. All of this supplied water for the city over the hundreds of years they were there. Like Egypt, they had temples as well. But they were far more colorful, and some were kept partly.
The city would remain under their system from 1325-1521, largely being ruled by nearly 200 years of impressive structure that the modern world uses today. From their own calendar to their own math, taxing, and more. They would be destroyed by Hernan Cortes, a Spanish Conquistador by 1521. Mexico City currently resides on most of the remains the city once had.
8 5400-2300BC: Eridu, Mesopotamia
It would, however, become the first "major" settlement in human history. While other areas would bring across a major group, Eridu outdid them all by making a city that surrounded the people in a major way. The people would make the city into a center of amazing opportunity and truly invent the idea of the trade system, and even use newly constructed boats to get around best.
The Great Flood, known mostly from religious text, was historically backed up. Eridu existed before it, and would be slightly destroyed due to the flood. Though people would migrate back to it. During their time of pretty much inventing the major trade system, they made proper math that we use today, and proper ways to navigate using what we call astrology. It was a "Golden Age Metropolis" according to early historians, and known as the "land of the first Kings." How could one turn down going back in time to see this?
7 324-1453 AD: Constantinople
From about the mid-5th Century to the 13th Century, the city would become one of the largest and wealthiest cities across Europe. They took a once miserable fisherman's town and made it into an amazing metropolis that few could compete with. The city was huge for the advancement of the Christian religion across both the Roman and Byzantine Empire. They would even contain Christin relics like the Crown of Thorns and True Cross.
By the time of Emperor Justinian I, they would extend this religious effort. They would add one of the Ancient Wonders of the World in the Haga Sofia Church. Though it was always in a fight for its life, they did well in survival for centuries. However, they would get closed in by the Persians and Hun Empire for some time. The city would eventually fall to The Ottoman Empire by May of 1453. It still stands as one of the most amazing and successful cities in history. It would be renamed Istanbul a bit later, and remain such.
6 18th-6th Century BC: Babylon
It is likely most know of Babylon from the Christian story regarding the Tower of Babel. Considered to be blasphemous, the tower was constructed by several people and would get over 300 feet. Historians believe it is referring to the Ancient ziggurat from the city. The Tower would result, according to the biblical text, in the languages we have today. In that God punished them by giving them multiple tongues to speak. They would even be known for one of the seven wonders, the hanging gardens.
The city was known as well for the invention of jewelry as we know it, seriously. It was also the place where some of the most important major laws were written under the Hammurabi Code. Which consisted of about 280 laws over things like marriage, industry, land, property, etc. They even brought up the first known sales contract. Many of which are used in societies today and even religious text like the Bible. They were also very open with women, allowing them to own land and even become priests. Something no other civilization offered for hundreds of years.
5 1350-1767 AD: Ayutthaya, Tialand
Known as the Wat Yai Chai Mongkol was built by hand and used approximately 28,144 tons of brick to construct. To help understand this, average bring homes use about 10% of that. The Vihara is stuff of legend as well. Overall, the city has proven to even today remain beautiful. Sadly the fall of the empire ultimately led to the fall of some structures as we once knew them.
The Burmese Army took out the city in 1767. Though the city fell, it was once the most populated. In about 1600, it would often be called "the Venice of the East" due to the love and beauty of the city as well as the vast population, like that of Venice. The overall city was terrific and over hundreds of years they would be a peaceful nation or attempt to be such. This sort of led to their downfall, but the city still remains as one of the better places to visit in the world today.
4 27 BC-426 AD- Ancient Rome
Upon the Ides of March, Julius would be taken out...and his connection to Egypt in Cleopatra would also pass soon after. Their only child would be taken out by 17, and Ceasar Augustus would step on the throne and lead Rome after Julius' conquests. That was when the true start of the dynasty began, as Augustus became the first Emperor of Rome. Rome would develop into one of the greatest cities in the world....and greatest empires. While Rome is classified as a city, it was more of a nation to most. It would have a multitude of leaders over the years. Beyond Augustus, leaders of the nation/city would be Constantine the Great, Nero, Tiberius, and many more.
They helped to invent math, calendars, concrete, aqueducts, newspapers, welfare, form of bound books, innovative surgeries (especially in battle), as well as roads and highways we know today. That is not even to mention their ancient structures like The Gladiator/ Roman Colosseum. Along with The Pantheon, The Roman Forum, The Palatine Hill, Baths of Caracalla, and much more. Ancient Rome had it all, and no one came close to their overall empire. Well, except maybe one...
3 3100 BC-332 BC: Memphis, Egypt
The Great Pyramids are located either in or right beside Memphis. They were created to be large so that one could see them from miles away. Memphis would be the center for inventions. Considering the age of the Egyptian Empire, it made sense that they would invent so much. They were the site that invented Paper! Seriously, that was them! This led to their invention of the first written and recorded language. They would, of course, be responsible for makeup. Men and women wore it in Ancient Egypt, especially in Memphis. They invented the very first calendar and the original ox-drawn plow, which was revolutionary for crops.
They were also the first to manage a successful way to record time. As the invented the sundial and water clock, both of which gave them exact or close to exact time measurements. Naturally, they invented mummification as well. Obviously, there are several legendary Kings, Queens, and Pharaohs who led Egypt. It would last from the 3100 BC period until its official fall when Alexander The Great would conquer the land to put it under Greek rule in 332 BC. They would span 30 centuries until then. However, things would become amazing in Egypt after Alex's passing as Egypt would come back. But the Ancient period would be gone.
2 Hellenistic Period: Alexandria, Egypt
The Lighthouse of Alexandria is one of the seven wonders currently in the world and was a beacon of light to incoming ships for centuries. Btw, they were the first to truly even consider such a light. The city became a hub for learning and discovery in its time and a home for religions of all types. It was a leader with the Jewish and later Christian faith, which was a major decision made by Alex. They revolutionized mathematics, force pump, early vending machine, etc. Most of this was the result of Hero, of Alexandria. They led the world in things like early social sciences, and science of all types. This included things like anatomy and physiology. They were also revolutionaries in the arts, such as music, theater, and more. Even in sports and competition, they led. They too had a Gladiator arena, and of course the legendary Hippodrome.
The city and kingdom overall became a place for Greek and Egyptian opportunity, with the combination that allowed both to flourish. This is why other major monarchs would work alongside the other until the fall of the dynasty, officially with Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar. Upon Augustus becoming Emperor, the start of the Roman Empire began.
1 Pre-332 BC: The Lost City Of Atlantis
Plato described the city as a lovely one that was relatively utopic and almost idolized by the rest of the world. Though, it had some rivals. Professor of Archeology Ken Feder wrote a book called Encylopedia of Dubious Archeology where he wrote on Plato's story of Atlantis and his description of it. He claimed: "Atlantis is not the perfect society ... Quite the contrary, Atlantis is the embodiment of a materially wealthy, technologically advanced, and militarily powerful nation that has become corrupted by its wealth, sophistication, and might."
Many think that Plato made up Atlantis and used this name instead of their rival Athens. Others think that Plato was telling of a real city, lost to the world after the Greeks wiped them out or the ocean took them. Interestingly, Plato refused to ever claim it was another city. If it was not really Atlantis, it was another city he wrote on that he could know about. Plato described it as a technologically advanced society, full of happiness. Science and the arts grew here and the economy flourished. Interestingly, Athens saw some of this...but not regarding a lot of the science Plato described. None would come close for hundreds of years later on that.