1) Urfa, Turkey
Once known as Sanilurfa, this city in eastern Turkey is steeped in history. From a patio restaurant, gaze upon the Citadel, a complex that makes mincemeat out of European historical centres. From one vantage point, you can see a 13-century mosque, a 6th-century church, a 2nd-century ruin, a 1st-century castle wall, and the cave where Abraham, founder of all three monotheistic religions, is said to be born. It’s still possible to enter the cave, where you can reverently drink from the fountain that inspired his legendary longevity. Thousands of years of history, crammed into the city’s natural amphitheater.
2) Xi’an, China
For millennia, Xi’an was the seat of China’s powerful ruling dynasties. Today, the bustling city of over 8 million people is a launch pad for tourists to see the Terracotta Warriors, but the city has its plenty to see. A 13km long fortress wall dating back to the 14th century rings the old city. Hire a bike or take a stroll to the various exhibits along the way, brought to life by historical re-enactors. It is a world away from the chaos and traffic of Beijing and Shanghai.
3) Dwarka, India
Located in the state of Gujarat, Dwarka is one of the seven most ancient cities in India. It is one of the holiest places in Hinduism, as it all that remains of the dwelling place of Lord Krishna. The city is home to famous shrines and temples, including the 5-storied, 16th-century Jagatmandir temple. Most sites can be visited in a day, including Bet Dwarka, where Krishna was said to live.
4) Rome, Italy
There was a time when all roads led to Rome. The mighty Roman Empire, stretching across Europe, Asia and North Africa, was the centre of power, art, fashion, science and commerce. Modern Rome still courts such a description, albeit for the smaller nation of Italy. On the other hand, there’s ancient history wherever you look. Besides the Coliseum, there’s the Trevi Fountain (throw a coin over your shoulder for luck), Piazza Navona, and of course, the Vatican. It’s not hard to imagine togas, centurions, and chariots, although in the heat of high-season summer, you’ll be just as happy to imagine an ice cream and air conditioning!
5) Jerusalem, Israel
It’s hard to believe that modern Jerusalem is the Jerusalem mentioned in the Bible, a holy place for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. So much history has passed through the city it can be intoxicating (sometimes literally, as in the case of the Messiah Complex). Old Town Jerusalem, circled by ancient walls and thick gates, is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, markets, sounds and smells. Jews gather at the Western Wall and Tomb of King David, Muslims at the Dome of the Rock, Christians at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or the Byzantium Church on the hill where Jesus was said to have been crucified. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s a powerful display of emotions, in a city that has captured our imaginations for millennia.
6) Rhodes, Greece
A Greek island in the Aegean Sea, Rhodes has been inhabited since 4000BC, but its major claim to fame is when the Romans developed the city into a leading centre of art and science over 2000 years ago. To celebrate a victory over the Cypriots, they also constructed the tallest statue of its time, the Colossus of Rhodes, which stood over 30m tall and was one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World. It stood for less than 60 years before an earthquake destroyed it, but you can still visit Rhodes today (population 80,000), and stroll amongst the Citadel, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. Visit old medieval castles, and take in stunning island views.
7) Kandy, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s second largest city was the seat of kings for around four centuries, up until the early 19th century, when the last ruling dynasty recognized the British as conquerors. It is particularly scenic, located on plateau between hills of tea plantations and tropical jungle, and a vital Buddhist centre. Every August, it holds the country’s most celebrated festival, Perahera, where hundreds of thousands of people gather to watch parades and make pilgrimages to the beautiful Temple of the Tooth, which contains a tooth of Buddha. With its historical and religious significance, Kandy is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8) Stone Town, Zanzibar
Although the capital of Zanzibar, a small island off the coast of Tanzania, was only settled 1000 years ago, walking the streets of Stone Town gives the distinct impression that its history stretches back further. With Moorish, Indian, and African influences, narrow alleys snake between blackened stone houses, leading to bustling street markets. Facing the ocean is the grand House of Wonders, built by the Sultanate of Oman, which ruled Zanzibar for centuries as the centre of its spice and slave trade. Watch dhows sail at sunset, visit a spice farm, or taste the delights at the open-air markets.