The study of modern civilization begins with learning how people began to abandon their nomadic existence and embrace a more sedentary life. As people were learning how to grow food and produce resources more efficiently, this allowed them to stay in one place for longer. As people began to form the first permanent settlements, an increase in population, food production, and division of labor created the first civilizations. Even though there were settlements before then, the first cities were settled around 3,000 BCE in the river valleys of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and India.
An increase in population, food production, and the division of labor allowed these first cities to grow, creating the first civilizations. Eventually, these cities grew larger, and they created the first empires. Of all of the ancient empires, the Roman empire is perhaps the most significant because they spread their territories over such a vast area and created permanent settlements. A common theme in many cities of Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia that were once part of the Roman empire is that they have some type of ruins left over from the Roman period. Even as the first cities fell or they lost their influence, later generations recognized the significance of their locations. Over the centuries, their locations have slightly changed, and their names have been changed, but the evidence of ancient civilizations are still there. Many modern cities were built around the ruins of these first ancient cities, where they can still be seen today and have become popular tourist attractions.
The following photographs are the remains of ancient cities that exist among modern-day life. While there are many other locations of ancient ruins, these ancient ruins are located either in the middle of or very nearby the modern cities of today. Many of them will be more familiar by their modern names, but being able to see these ancient ruins in modern-day cities gives us a perspective on how long these places have been settled and how those settlements contribute to their history.
The Bamiyan Valley (modern-day Bamyan, Afghanistan). A view of the city of Bamyan and the Bamiyan Valley. The Bamiyan Valley was part of the Kushan Empire that was founded in the first century CE, and its location on the Silk Road made it a vital trading center. It was also the site of a Hindu-Buddhist monastery from the second century to the seventh century. Colossal Buddha statutes were constructed in the fourth and fifth century in the mountains overlooking the town. The Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. Photographed by Graciela Gonzalez Brigas, June 16, 2005. Copyright by UNESCO. http://whc.unesco.org/en/documents/109141.
Philippopolis (modern-day Plovdiv, Bulgaria). The ancient stadium of Philippopolis. Plovdiv has been settled since the sixth millennium BCE. It was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, in the 4th century BCE and he renamed the city after himself. Photographed by Rivigan, July 20, 2017. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARomanstadiumplovdiv.jpg.
Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an, People’s Republic of China). A city wall gate castle in Xi’an. The starting point of the Silk Road, Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China and has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. A protective wall around the city was constructed under Emperor Hui, the second emperor of the Han dynasty, in the 2nd century BCE. Xi’an is also the location of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s infamous Terracotta Army. Photographed by Jamguo, May 6, 2004. Wikipedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:XiAn_CityWall_SouthGate3.jpg.
Qufu, People’s Republic of China. The Apricot Platform in the central courtyard of the Confucius Temple, Qufu, People’s Republic of China. The city of Qufu has many historical sites that show the history of the city and the area around it dating back to the Shang dynasty. It was also the capital of the Zhou vassal state of Lu during the Spring and Autumn period. It is well-known for its Temple of Confucius, the largest temple dedicated to the philosopher in East Asia. After his death in 479 BCE, Confucius’ home was dedicated as a temple in honor of his work and legacy. Although the original house was removed from the temple during a restoration in the 7th century, it has been well-maintained and restored over the centuries, with fifteen major renovations and countless other repairs. It has become a large funerary complex where Confucius and over 100,000 of his descendants are buried. Photographed by Rolf Müller, April 21, 2005. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Confuciustempleapricotplatform.jpg.
Thebes (modern-day Luxor, Egypt). The Luxor Temple of Egypt. Thebes was the capital city of New Kingdom Egypt. The ancient temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak stand within the city limits of modern-day Luxor. The resting places of the New Kingdom pharaohs, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, are also located near the city. Photographed by Marc Ryckaert, January 29, 2011. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALuxor_Temple_R04.jpg
Babylon, Egypt (modern-day Cairo, Egypt). The Babylon fortress. The areas around Cairo were originally the strongholds of ancient Egyptian rulers and have been settled since the first millennium. During the second century CE, the Roman emperor Trajan built a fortress on top of an older fortress that was built in the sixth century BCE. The Roman settlement was named Babylon, for the Mesopotamian city. The Roman fortress can still be seen today, although it was later restored, and it is currently the oldest standing structure within Cairo’s city limits. Photographed by Gerard Ducher, May 11, 2006. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGD-EG-Caire-Copte071.JPG
Londinium (modern-day London, England). The remnants of the Roman wall on Tower Hill, England. Although recent archaeological discoveries place the first inhabitants of London around 4500 BCE, the area within and around modern-day London weren’t permanently settled until the Romans arrived in the first century CE. After the Iceni queen Boudica attacked the first settlement in London and burned it down, the Romans rebuilt another one, which lasted until the fall of the Roman empire. The remnants of the walls the Romans built around London can still be seen around the city. Photographed by Adam Bishop. July 1, 2011. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARoman_Wall_London.jpg
Aksum (modern day Axum, Ethiopia). The Kingdom of Aksum ruled Ethiopia from 100-900 CE, becoming the third largest power in the world at that time next to Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire. The ruins in Axum include tombs and stelae used for religious reasons. Even after the Kingdom of Aksum’s decline, the location was still used to crown future kings of Ethiopia. Photographed by Jialiang Gao, January 2002. www.peace-on-earth.org. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAxum_northern_stelea_park.jpg.
Lutetia (modern-day Paris, France). The Roman-Gallon ruins of Arènes de Lutèce, Paris, France. The Romans conquered modern-day Paris in 52 BCE, and they built the site into a permanent settlement. The Arènes de Lutèce was built in the first century CE and it was used for gladiator fights. While Paris is known for other historical landmarks, the ruins from the Roman occupation of the area are still visible today. Photographed April 24, 2012. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArenes_de_Lutece_April_24%2C_2012.jpg.
Meteora (near Kalambaka, Greece). This collection of rock formations is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery complexes in the world. Meteora and its surrounding areas were inhabited in the prehistoric age, and monks moved to the top of the rock formations beginning in the ninth century. Modern highways now run between these ancient rocks. Photographed by Ioannis Th. Karageorgos, August 11, 2014. Wikimedia Commons.
Corinth, Greece. An urban street at the site of ancient Corinth. Corinth was once one of the largest Greek cities of the Classical Greek period. The original city of Corinth that rose around the ruins of ancient Corinth was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1850s. The new city of Corinth was established in 1858 and is located a few miles from the ruins. Wikimedia Commons.
Athens, Greece. Acropolis of Athens at dawn. The city of Athens has been settled since between the eleventh and seventh millennia BCE. It was an influential city-state in the Greek Classical period, when the ruler Pericles ordered the construction of the buildings on the Acropolis whose remains are still visible today. Wikimedia Commons.
Hampi (near modern-day Hosapete, India). Ancient documents claim Hampi has been occupied since the third century BCE when it was part of the Mauryan Empire. Archaeological discoveries indicate evidence of permanent settlement in the area date back to the 2nd century BCE. It became an important religious site in the Middle Ages, and it continues to be to this day. Photographed by Francesco Bandarin, 2008. Copyright by UNESCO. http://whc.unesco.org/en/documents/109304.
Pataliputra (modern-day Patna, India). The ruins of Pataliputra in Kumhrar, Patna. Pataliputra was founded at the end of the fifth century BCE and was the capital of the Magadha Empire. It also became an extremely influential city during the Maurya and Gupta Empires. Ruins of the original Pataliputra can still be seen in parts of Patna, dating back from 600 BCE to 600 CE. Photographed by Manoj Nav, November 3, 2008. Wikimedia Commons.
Pasargadae (near modern-day Shiraz, Iran). Tomb of Cyrus the Great. Located near one of the oldest cities in Iran, Pasagardae was the initial capital of the Achaemenid Empire, established by Cyrus II in the sixth century BCE. The tombs of both Cyrus II and his son Cambyses II as well as other royal buildings have been found at Pasagardae. Photographed by Alireza Shakernia, February 20, 2009. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/20012543. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACyrus_the_Great.jpg.