Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by WonderTeam. WonderTeam Wonders, “What is the oldest city in the US?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, WonderTeam!

As far as countries go, the United States isn’t very old. Sure, it’s been around for a couple hundred years, now. But compared to nations like China, Egypt, Greece, or Ethiopia, the USA is still pretty young. So, where is the U.S.’s oldest city?

That question may sound straightforward, but people disagree over the answer. Many would point you south to St. Augustine, Florida.

In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon explored Florida. He landed at St. Augustine searching for the Fountain of Youth. This is the oldest city in the continental United States.

Claimed as a Spanish territory, St. Augustine was founded in 1565. That’s a full 42 years before Jamestown, Virginia. It’s 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock!

In the 1700s, St. Augustine became a British colony. Still, the city’s buildings reflect its Spanish roots. That’s especially true of the city’s Historic District. There, dozens of old buildings have balconies that overlook narrow streets.

Before Juan Ponce de Leon ever reached Florida, though, he founded another city. Once called Caparra, it’s now San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. That makes San Juan the oldest city under U.S. sovereignty. 

San Juan is one of the Caribbean’s largest natural harbors. It has long been an important city for trade. Many also see it as a beautiful place full of parks, plazas, and museums. 

Of course, both San Juan and St. Augustine were settled by Europeans. Indigenous peoples built cities throughout what would become the Americas long before Europeans landed. Unfortunately, Europeans invaded and destroyed these cities. Still, some of their remains can be seen today.

One such settlement is the ancient city of Cahokia. Experts believe it was settled by the Mississippians around 700 C.E. The city quickly grew. It became one of the largest in the world. Historians believe more people may have lived there than in London at the same time. For reasons unknown, the city was mostly empty by the year 1400. 

Today, the huge earthen mounds built by the Mississippians are preserved at the Cahokia Mounds site. It’s one of 21 World Heritage Sites in the U.S. It sits in Illinois between East St. Louis and Collinsville.

Of course, the United States is full of other old cities and sites. What others can you think of? How about those in other countries? The world is full of ancient places to visit. Where would you like to start?

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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