Many ancient civilizations were driven by excess: excesses of power, of wealth, of pride. And when you have all three in spades, it’s easy to understand why so many cultures sought to showcase their strength by building the biggest and most extravagant palaces in the world. Of course, many of these palaces are now gone. But not all of them are — and many of them are still being used, even today.
Citadel of Aleppo
Location: Aleppo, Syria
One of the oldest structures on this list, the Citadel of Aleppo is a castle in Aleppo, Syria, that has stood for over 5,000 years. This mighty structure features high walls, an entry bridge, and a huge gateway that are all mostly intact, despite being exposed to centuries of war, weather disasters, and natural decay.
From 2002 to 2010, non-profit societies (such as the World Monuments Fund) have tried to preserve the remaining structures of the Citadel, but their activities ground to a halt when the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011. As of 2017, the site is reopened to public visitors interested in seeing one of the Middle East’s premier historical monuments for themselves; however, it should be noted that traveling to Syria is not recommend at this time — the United States has issued a Level 4 ("Do Not Travel") Advisory about the country.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Today, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, is a large, sprawling museum complex overseen by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. But back in 1458, when the building’s construction was ordered by Mehmed the Conqueror, it was envisioned as a grand palace suitable for generations of Ottoman sultans. And given its impressive majesty, it’s clear that it served this function well — for a while, at least.
By the 17th century, sultans had grown weary of the building, preferring the newer, bigger palaces that had since been built. The Topkapi Palace’s importance continued to wane over the years, moving from royal palace, to imperial treasury, to the eventual museum that we know today. But though it lost favor over the years, you can still go in the palace to see an amazing collection of ancient Ottoman relics, manuscripts, and treasures.
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
Location: Rome, Italy
An ancient part of the Roman Forum, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was built in 312 CE. The building, though not originally conceived as a palace, served multiple functions, including a council chamber, meeting hall, courthouse, and place of worship.
This was a crucial structure for the Romans of the time, but the Basilica wouldn’t last. It was severely damaged by earthquakes over hundreds of years until little remained of the building’s actual construction. So, though the Basilica isn’t technically still used today, it stands as a timeless landmark of Roman history — so much so that several events of the 1960 Summer Olympic Games were held at its former location.
Location: Meersburg, Germany
Burg Meersburg, or Meersburg Castle, is the oldest inhabited castle in Germany. Reports estimate that the castle was first built sometime in the 7th century, though there are multiple theories surrounding its initial construction. Like many others on this list, the castle has undergone significant renovations over the years, and much of the original construction is no longer visible.
Nevertheless, Meersburg Castle is a popular tourist attraction in Germany, regularly drawing in thousands of visitors a year. You can visit the castle yourself on a self-guided tour, though naturally, several areas are off-limits.
Palace at Pylos (Nestor’s Palace)
Location: Pylos, Greece
Nestor’s Palace is considered the best-preserved Mycenaean Greek palace of the Bronze Age, located in the town of Pylos, Greece. This ancient structure was actually featured in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, from whence its casual title — Nestor’s Palace — was derived.
Historians aren’t sure when Nestor’s Palace was first built, though excavators report that most of the artifacts discovered inside date back to 1300 BCE. The palace itself was destroyed by a fire just 100 years later, though modern-day archaeologists would eventually rediscover it in 1939.
Due to its historical weight, the area is a huge draw for tourists. You can visit the site for yourself and watch the excavators dig through the rubble, along with checking out the nearby Greek museum.
The Oldest Palaces Still Standing
Many of the amazing ancient palaces built by our ancestors have been lost to time, but others are still standing. Should you get a chance to see one of these amazing artifacts for yourself, take it! There’s no telling how long these buildings will be around, and getting a chance to see them live will certainly make a trip worthwhile — even if you aren’t a fan of history.