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Some cities are pieces of living history, where the past is not only present in everyday life, but tangible in myriad forms, from ancient fountains to Roman temples. Centuries of human habitation are visible in their architecture, and modern-day urban necessities like subway tunnels and cables have to be carefully built, lest the precious past be destroyed. Taken from lists in publications such as the WebEcoist and National Geographic, these historical cities are known for their ancient ruins and storied pasts.

The glory days of the empire are never very far away in Italy’s capital, where a glimpse of the Colosseum or a 2nd-century city wall is practically an everyday occurrence. Not to mention the centuries that followed, embedding framework beneath (the catacombs) and building structures above (Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in Vatican City). From the 2,000-year-old Pantheon to priceless pieces of Renaissance art, residents of the Eternal City are surrounded by history, making the central districts of Rome some of the most coveted real estate in Italy, especially for foreign buyers. “The English, French and German have always been the most important buyers, but now we are seeing Americans, Russians and even Emiratis in the market,” said Mauro Bianchi, a private advisor at Santandrea Luxury Houses.

The city centre is the most desirable area, but the upscale Pinciano and Parioli districts north of the centre are also very popular for their proximity to Villa Borghese park. Just south of the centre, historic Aventino is in demand due to the presence of the UN and other international organisations. Across the Tiber River, trendy Trastevere is popular because of its cafes, restaurants and nightlife, while near the Colosseum, formerly working-class Monti is a gentrifying area that has become very sought after because of its village feel and proximity to the historic city centre.

The average price for an apartment near the city centre ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 euros per square metre, depending on the type of building, view and location. “A penthouse with a terrace overlooking the Spanish Steps or the Colosseum can cost as much as 30,000 euros per square metre,” Bianchi said. The average rent for a similar centre city apartment ranges from 350 to 600 euros per square metre per year.

Ancient Egypt is at Cairo’s doorstep – even if the city itself did not exist 4,000 years ago – with the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx about 10km to the west and Memphis, the capital of Ancient Egypt, about 20km to the south. Great treasures from the time of the Pharaohs fill the city’s museums; Coptic churches and early Christian artefacts abound; and the most ever-present thread to the past, the Nile, flows by on its way to the Mediterranean. Today, modern metropolitan Cairo is home to nearly 20 million inhabitants, and the largest city in the Arab world is undergoing political and economic turmoil after the 2011 uprising. But while the security situation has deteriorated since the 2012 election of President Morsi, foreign firms, particularly retail companies, continue to enter the Egyptian market.

Cairo’s history can be traced through its neighbourhoods, from Islamic Cairo, built more than 1,000 years ago, to the European-designed areas such as Garden City and Heliopolis. Just south of Tahrir Square, Garden City is a leafy, residential area on the east bank of the Nile that is home to the British and American embassies, luxury hotels and grand villas. Other desirable city neighbourhoods include upscale Zamalek, which is located on the Nile’s Gezira Island, and convenient Dokki on the west bank, a walkable district close to the Metro. Further south of downtown, affluent Maadi is one of the most sought-after suburbs for its quiet streets and less-crowded feel. New Cairo City is a planned community about 30km east of downtown, home to many international universities, luxury high rises and gated communities, as well as shopping malls and golf courses.

There are some restrictions on foreigners buying property in Egypt, and many internationals moving to Cairo rent furnished or mostly furnished apartments. Most landlords require a month’s deposit, one quarter’s rent in advance and a copy of your passport. A two-bedroom flat in Zamalek starts around $1,600 a month and a similar apartment in Maadi ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 a month. A furnished two-bedroom apartment in New Cairo starts at around $2,800 a month. Prices for high-end apartments and villas in Egypt are usually listed in US dollars.

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