Ancient Sustainable Cities - Past Successes in the Urban Green Movement

Some Examples of Urban Sustainability

Urbanism, the practice of people living in close proximity to one another, is an ancient lifestyle, with the earliest examples from at least 10,000 years ago at Catal Hoyuk, Turkey. Scholars define "city" either demographically--as places with large, dense populations; or functionally--by the evidence of activities and institutions that affect a wider hinterland (Isendahl and Smith 2013). The study of urbanism in all of its variations is immensely important today, as we modern people attempt to carve out what a sustainable city needs to look like, in the face of climate changes to come.

Here are some examples of the great cities of the world....

East Gate at Angkor Thom
The East gate of Angkor Thom featuring a giant face at the famous temple area of Angkor Archeological Park on December 5, 2008 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Ian Walton / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Angkor was an enormous city (1000 sq km, urban complex 200 km) and the capital of the Khmer empire, with a cluster of central temples and massive hydraulic works, supported by a vast sprawl of residences, farm plots, and local ponds including an area of nearly 1,000 square kilometers of low density urbanism. More »

The Great Stupa at Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
The Great Stupa at Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Andrea Thompson Photography / Photolibrary / Getty Images
The long-lived old city of Anuradhapura (4th century BC-1lth century AD) grew to its estimated 100 hectare size because of its involvement in the vast trade network in the Indian Ocean, and its importance as a Buddhist capital and shrine.

  More »

Valens Aqueduct, Sultanahmet, Istanbul (built 373-400 AD)
Valens Aqueduct, Sultanahmet, Istanbul (built 373-400 AD). David Veksler
Istanbul, known before 1923 as Constantinople, has a 2500 year old history, on a triangle of land in Turkey between the European and Asian continental masses. Its stunning architecture represents leftovers from Constantinople's role as a capital city in the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

  More »

Massive Doorway at Great Zimbabwe
Massive Doorway at Great Zimbabwe. David Holt

In its heyday in the 15th century AD, the African Iron Age capital known as Great Zimbabwe had an estimation population of some 18,000 people, living in and around an area of some 31 hectares. More »

Ruins of Tenochtitlan in Mexico City
Ruins of Tenochtitlan in Mexico City. Jami Dwyer
The Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was founded on a marshy lake in the 14th century AD. Its ruins are found under the massive modern city of Mexico City, and in its day, just like Mexico City today, Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world.

  More »

Snow-Covered Walls of Erdene Zuu Monastery at Karkorum
Snow-Covered Walls of Erdene Zuu Monastery at Karkorum. Honza Soukup
In 1220, the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan moved his capital city to a windswept, cold landscape on the Orkhon River of Mongolia, about 215 miles west of Ulan Bator. Although there's not much left of his capital city there, archaeologists have learned a lot about its city streets.

  More »

Central Acropolis at Tikal
Central Acropolis at Tikal. TausP.

Tikal's water control system, begun in the 6th century BC, grew and sustained the Maya capital center over a period of close to 1500 years, eventually supporting an estimated population of between 45,000-60,000. More »