Ten Amazing Cities from the Ancient World
From cities that lay hidden for millennia under desert sands, to Bronze Age metropolises, jungle cities, and entire complexes constructed on coral reefs, giant rocks, underground caverns, or carved into cliff faces, we feature ten amazing cities from the ancient world, though there are many, many more that continue to inspire and intrigue us in the modern day.
The honeycomb city of Çatalhöyük (Turkey, 7,500 BC)
Overlooking the Konya Plain in Turkey lies the remarkable and unique ancient city of Çatalhöyük, the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. At a time when most of the world's people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, Çatalhöyük was a bustling town of as many as 10,000 people. Forming a large hill atop the Southern Anatolian Plateau, the site is like a massive labyrinth of mud-brick houses, often described as a ‘honeycomb city’, made up of 18 successive layers of building representing distinct stages of the city and reflecting different eras of its history, beginning around 7,500 BC. Çatalhöyük features a unique and peculiar streetless settlement of houses clustered together in a honeycomb-like maze with most accessed by holes in the ceiling, which also served as the only source of ventilation into the house. The rooftops were effectively streets and may have formed plazas where many daily activities may have taken place. The homes had plaster interiors and each main room served for cooking and daily activities.
The pyramid city of Caral (Peru, 3,000 BC)
It is widely taught in the field of ancient history that Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India, gave rise to the first civilizations of mankind. However, few are aware that at the same time, and in some cases before some of these societies emerged, another great civilization had sprouted - the Norte Chico civilization of Supe, Peru – the first known civilization of the Americas. Their capital was the Sacred City of Caral – a 5,000-year-old metropolis complete with complex agricultural practices, rich culture, and monumental architecture, including six large pyramidal structures, stone and earthen platform mounds, temples, amphitheatre, sunken circular plazas, and residential areas. The centre of the Caral complex consists of a central public area with six large pyramids (platform mounds) arranged around a huge plaza. The largest of the mounds, located in a dominating position within the urban plan of Caral, is 60 feet high and measures 450 x 500 feet at the base, covering an area nearly the size of four football fields. From the top of the great pyramid, the rulers of Caral would have been able to monitor the entire city. The public architecture has stairs, rooms, courtyards, an amphitheatre, and three sunken plazas. Accommodation seems to have consisted of large rooms atop the pyramids for the elite, ground-level complexes for craftsmen, and small outlying dwellings for workers.
The rock city of Sigiriya (Sri Lanka, c 495 AD)
Sigiriya is an ancient city built atop a giant megalithic rock that towers 200 metres above the surrounding landscape. It is located in a remote location in the Matale District of the Central Province, Sri Lanka, and has mystified visitors to the site throughout its long and colourful history. Designated a cultural World Heritage Site in 1982, Sigiriya continues to be a site of research, study and speculation as experts try to unveil the mystery and enigma shrouding this historical site. It is believed that the environment around Sigiriya has been inhabited since prehistoric times. However, Sigiriya is most famous for the period beginning in the 5th century when it was transformed into a palace, fortress and pleasure garden by King Kashyapa (Kassapa). Sigiriya is known to be one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning, showing techniques and technology far more advanced than believed possible for the time. The city layout combines concepts of symmetry and asymmetry to intentionally interlock the man-made geometrical and natural forms of the surroundings. On the west side of the rock lies a park for the royals, laid out on a symmetrical plan; the park contains water-retaining structures, including sophisticated surface/subsurface hydraulic systems, some of which are working even today. The south contains a man-made reservoir, which were extensively used from the previous capital of the dry zone of Sri Lanka.
The Neolithic City of Shimao (China, 2000 BC)
The Neolithic Shimao Ruins, which cover an area of over four square kilometres, are located at the northern edge of Loess Plateau, more than twenty kilometres from the Yellow River in Shaanxi Province, and have been dated back to 2000 BC. The ancient city was first discovered in 1976 and declared as a Protected Monument of National Cultural Heritage in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2011 that an systematic survey and excavation started on the site. Since then, the team of archaeologists have discovered fairly well-preserved stone city-walls, fortified gates that can close at their bases, turrets, an outer city wall and an inner bailey. Remains of palaces, houses, tombs, sacrificial altars and handicraft workshops are scattered around the site, and this year, archaeologists found the ruins of an enormous outer gate which was constructed using complex and advanced techniques. The discovery is of great significance for further investigating the origins of Chinese civilization.