25 Modern Cities That Are Actually Built on Ancient Ruins

Posted by , Updated on May 25, 2024

All around the world, there are a few cities with extraordinary historical backgrounds. In some cases, people decided to build new cities on the ruins of ancient civilizations, whereas others developed near famous historical landmarks.

Many of these cities realize that showcasing and respecting their past provides the key to preserving their priceless artifacts. Having ancient ruins in your city not only adds honor but also gives a boost to the economy. Every year, millions of tourists travel around the world to see these breathtaking monuments for themselves.

Cities such as Athens, Rome, and Paris have refused to completely modernize so they can pay tribute to their heritage. As such, they have served as popular tourist destinations for decades.

People enjoy feeling like they have been transported into the past. Submersing oneself in ancient ruins offers a glimpse into what life felt like thousands of years ago. Read on to discover 25 fascinating cities built on ancient ruins.


Luxor, Egypt

Egypt http://population.city/egypt/luxor/

Luxor is a modern-day city that sits on the east bank of the Nile River in southern Egypt. It currently has a population of over half a million residents.

The city was heavily populated during the 16th – 11th centuries B.C. Ancient Thebes was considered one of the most powerful cities during that era. Large temples, royal tombs, and the Valley of the Queens are all located around this area in Egypt.


Tulum, Mexico


On the edge of Mexico’s coastline, there once lived an ancient civilization. The Tulum ruins are thought to have been created around 564 A.D. Historanias believe that the city was built and inhabited by the Maya people.

Fast forward a few thousand years and Tulum is still occupied by an estimated 20,000 people. It also attracts a lot of tourists throughout the year for its gorgeous beaches and well-preserved historic ruins.


Lima, Peru


The Incas were a South American civilization formed by the Quechua people around 1400 A.D. Unfortunately, over time, some of the Inca settlements were forgotten.

However, an excavation that took place during the early 1950s uncovered an adobe pyramid called Huaca Huallamarca. Scientific researchers claim that the ancient structure was used by the Incas and the Hullala people more than 2,000 years ago.

It is now one of the top tourist attractions in the San Isidro district.


Paris, France

Paris, France http://catacombes.paris.fr/en/history/site-history

Considered one of the most romantic places in the world, Paris has the nickname “the city of lights and love.” However, many people have no idea that Paris was actually built on top of the remain of more than six million people.

The Catacombs of Paris are a series of underground ossuaries built around 1786. Around 300,000 people take the mile-long tour through Paris’s catacombs every year.


Barcelona, Spain


Historians believe that the first settlers to call Barcelona home date back to the first century. The city was founded by Romans who called their new city Barcino.

Almost 2,000 years later, the city is still highly populated. An estimated five million residents call it home.

One of the oldest sites located in the city is a third-century cemetery where 70 Roman tombs are supposedly buried.


Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico Cityhttps://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/ancient-sites-hiding-plain-sight-modern-cities

Hernán Cortés is responsible for rebuilding Plaza del Zocalo, the Aztec ceremonial and political center that serves as Mexico City’s main square.

While it’s true that Mexico City has modernized a great deal since it was founded, there are some remnants from the ancient Aztec civilization. The Templo Mayor is one of the last standing ruins dating back to the pre-Columbian Aztec Empire.

Mexico City has a historic center that pays tribute to the ancient city that once was located on that very spot.


London, England

London Wallhttps://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/ancient-sites-hiding-plain-sight-modern-cities

Historians believe that London was founded by the Romans around 50 A.D. The city’s rich history has been built over the past two millennia.

Sadly, much of ancient London was destroyed by German bombs during World War II. However, there are still a few historic ruins hiding throughout the city.

One of the oldest landmarks, London’s Roman Wall, is currently crumbling although it once provided a protective shield surrounding the entire city.


Seoul, Korea


Seoul is currently the largest metropolitan city in South Korea. It has a population of around 10 million residents.

Its history goes back almost 2,000 years. The city was originally founded in 18 B.C. by the people of Baekje.

While Seoul is considered a very modern city, an ancient city wall stands in the heart of the city. Historians believe the wall dates back to the early 1300s and was built to protect Seoul from invaders.


Nimrud, Iraq


Just 30 kilometers south of Mosul, Iraq, sits the ancient settlement of Nimrud. Historians believe that Nimrud was the capital of the world’s first empire around 800 B.C.

In the early 1840s, large palaces and temples were rediscovered. Unfortunately, after the Islamic State occupied the area in 2016, many of the historic artifacts were destroyed.

Historic archeologists are doing the best they can to restore some of the ancient marvels.


Gondar, Ethiopia

gondar https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-best-ancient-cities/index.html

The city of Gondar, located in northern Ethiopia, was founded by Emperor Fasilides around 1635. During its prime, the city was brimming with the hustle and bustle of an ancient civilization.

Unfortunately, much of the settlement was destroyed by repeated invasions during the mid-1800s. A few remains of castles and churches can still be found in the ancient city.

The area isn’t highly populated, so when people visit, it truly feels like taking a step back in time.


Borobudur, Indonesia


New life was given to the ruins in Borobudur, Indonesia, after a British governor rediscovered it in the early 1800s. A lot of mystery surrounds the ancient civilization because volcanic ash covered it for hundreds of years.

Fortunately, some of the historic temples have been restored to their former glory. Now thousands of visitors travel from all over to see the ancient city of Borobudur.


Madurai, India


Madurai is one of the oldest cities in southern India. It was originally constructed in the form of a lotus flower and surrounded a temple.

The city now has a population of over one million residents. Since Madurai has such an impressive history and boasts many ancient temples, it also draws in over a million visitors every year.

Many people visit from all over the world for Mandurai’s annual Thiruvizha festival in April and May.


Xi’an, China

Men https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-best-ancient-cities/index.html

Xi’an is currently the capital of Shaanxi Province in China. It was ruled by the Tang dynasties from 618 to 907 A.D. At the time, the Tang Emperors were thought to be some of the richest and most powerful leaders in the world.

The now modernized city was built on a rich history. There are still temples, palaces, and ancient buildings scattered throughout Xi’an that bring in thousands of tourists every year.


Aurangabad, India


Just 18 miles northwest of Aurangabad, India, you can find the historic Ellora caves. These ancient ruins offer a glimpse into what civilization was like in that region thousands of years ago.

One of the things that make the ruins so spectacular is that most of the larger statues were carved completely out of a massive rock. Researchers found evidence that dates some of the monuments back to 1000 A.D.

The modern-day city of Aurangabad owes a lot of its heritage to the Ellora ruins.


Petra, Jordan


Rulers of the Nabataean Kingdom claimed Petra for themselves around 300 B.C. It was sometime during that time period when people began carving buildings out of the red sandstone.

Some researchers believe that Petra’s more recent residents migrated from Egypt around 200 years ago.

Petra residents are also the only ones allowed to sell and work in the ancient city. To add to the mystique of Petra, no cars are allowed in the city. If people don’t want to walk, they must travel via camel, donkey, or carriage.


Athens, Greece

Athens https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-best-ancient-cities/index.html

Some cities battle with the decision between modernizing or maintaining their original style. Athens, Greece, proves that a modern city can easily coexist with its ancient monuments.

The city has continued to grow after being founded in 3000 B.C. Athens currently has a population of around 664,000 residents. The historic ruins of the Parthenon and Acropolis are just a few landmarks that attract millions of tourists every year.


Timbuktu, Mali


Timbuktu sits just north of the Niger River, which made it an ideal location for early nomads to set up seasonal camps there. However, sometime during the early 12th-century, travelers turned Timbuktu into their permanent settlement.

Throughout the years, the city has made a name for itself as the center of education. The city’s libraries once held thousands of historic manuscripts, books, and maps.

Even though many of the ancient buildings no longer exist, historic architects are trying to preserve what is left of some of the original buildings.  


Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe


Scientific research dates people inhabiting the region of Great Zimbabwe as far back as the prehistoric period. Historians believe that the Bantu people of the Iron Age mostly populated the area.

The ancient city has modernized over thousands of years; however, the Great Zimbabwe ruins are still considered to be the heart of southern Africa. The large chiseled walls and soaring stone towers were built between the 11th and 15th centuries.


Beijing, China

The Great Wall of Chinahttps://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-best-ancient-cities/index.html

Historians discovered that the Peking Man lived in the Zhoukoudian area of Beijing around 700,000 years ago. However, it wasn’t until 3,000 years ago when Beijing truly became established.

An estimated 21.54 million people live in the city. Additionally, over 140 million people travel to Beijing every year to see ancient, historical artifacts. A few of the popular tourist attractions are the Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City, and the Ming Tombs.


Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japanhttp://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/japan-population/cities/

The city of Kyoto is known as one of Japan’s oldest and most historic cities. It is believed that Kyoto was founded under the name Heian around 794 A.D. and was it’s capital until 1868. Kyoto is now home to more than one million people.

Over thousands of years, the city has stayed true to its roots and has grown famous for its classical Buddhist temples, gardens, and imperial palaces.


Persepolis, Iran


Back in 515 B.C., Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire and was ruled by Darius. Over the years, the city was taken over by different rulers who each added features to the city, such as palaces, temples, and halls.

Around 330 B.C. Alexander the Great laid waste to Persepolis and the city was left in ruins. Tourists still travel to the city to see what is left of the ancient city.


Cairo, Egypt


King Menes ruled Cario, Egypt, in 2,000 B.C. However, historians consider the Fatimids to be the city’s founders. Over thousands of years, the city has seen many steps of modernization.

The ancient pyramid of Giza is what attracts millions of visitors every year. Archeologists believe the construction of the pyramids began around 2550 B.C. and didn’t end until around 2490 B.C. 


Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-best-ancient-cities/index.html

Historians believe that Istanbul, Turkey, was founded around 330 A.D. The modern city is now home to over 15 million residents.

Additionally, thousands of tourists visit Istanbul every year to see the ancient ruins and indulge in its rich culture. One of the most popular ancient attractions is the Blue Mosque, which was likely constructed some time between 1609 and 1616.


Longmen Grottoes, China


Considered one of the most famous caves in the world, the Longmen Grottoes house thousands of ancient statues of Buddha and his followers.

The historic caves sit just south of Luoyang, China and are believed to have been constructed sometime between 386-534. The Chinese government has vowed to preserve the Longmen Grottoes, which have existed since the fifth century A.D.


Rome, Italy


When you walk through certain parts of Rome, it feels as if you have been transported back in time. One of the city’s main attractions is the Colosseum, an immense stadium built almost 2,000 years ago.

There are many other ancient gems scattered throughout the modern city. Visitors travel from all over the world to see these amazing structures, including the Roman Forum, built in 29 B.C., the Pantheon, dedicated around 126 A.D., and the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was constructed in 135 A.D.

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