- 17 Feb - 23 Feb, 2024
10 Of The Most Beautiful Places In The Middle East
- 25 Nov - 01 Dec, 2023
- Travel Diaries
The Middle East is considered one of the major cradles of human civilization, as well as the birthplace of the world's three major monotheisms.
A wealth of world-famous attractions, ranging from mediaeval bazaars and historic mosques to untamed deserts and remote oases, survive as stunning reminders of the region's cosmopolitan and history-laden past. These are the most beautiful places in the Middle East, as chosen by us, ranging from the depths of antiquity to the futuristic skyscrapers of the modern Gulf.
Istanbul, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, is one of the world's great cultural crossroads, with a history to match. The soaring minarets of the great Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet mosque prick the skyline above a fascinating tangle of bazaars, and the serene waters of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus below, make modern Istanbul one of the world's most beautiful cities.
Jerusalem is one of the world's oldest tourist destinations, having drawn visitors for nearly two millennia. Even in the Middle Ages, dedicated guidebooks for European pilgrims were regularly published, complete with bucket lists of saints and shrines to visit en route to the Holy Land. Visiting Jerusalem remains a powerful experience, providing a glimpse of some of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam's most sacred sites, as well as the ancient city's time-warped streets and bazaars and the Biblical landscapes beyond.
Nobody ever forgets the first time they saw Petra. As you approach the site, you pass through the narrowest of gorges, as if through the eye of some magical needle, before emerging into the great lost city of the Nabateans, where the Treasury's exquisitely carved Greco-Roman façade looms out of the cliff-face ahead. That's just one of dozens of magnificent temples and tombs that dot the rocky defiles and hilltops above.
Islamic Cairo, Egypt
If you've ever wondered what life was like in mediaeval Arabia, old Cairo - or "Islamic Cairo," as it's also known - is a great place to let your imagination run wild. Step back in time as you explore the old city's ever-changing maze of mediaeval streets and alleyways, dotted with ancient mosques, spectacular gateways, and bustling bazaars. It's half the fun to get lost; if you don't, go back until you do.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
When David Lean needed an iconic backdrop for his great 1962 Lawrence of Arabia biopic, he turned to the incomparable Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum, a kind of Middle Eastern Grand Canyon - with camels - cleaves through the jagged mountains of southern Jordan, eroded into sheer ochre-colored cliffs in places, fissured into precipitous ravines in others. "Vast, echoing, and god-like," as T.E. Lawrence put it.
The ancient port of Byblos, nestled between beautiful beaches and rugged mountains on the coast just north of Beirut, is where the Mediterranean meets the Middle East. Byblos is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities, and history is especially thick here, with Phoenician temple ruins jostling for space with a Crusader castle. The old mediaeval center's Romanesque churches, Mamluk mosques, and rustic ochre houses tumble down to a picture-perfect horseshoe harbour.
Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia
The extraordinary rock-tombs of Mada'in Saleh in Saudi Arabia's remote far north are one of the Middle East's most remarkable - and least known - sights. There are 131 of these vast mausoleums cut into a series of craggy red sandstone outcrops dotting the Saudi desert sands.
Musandam Peninsula, Oman
Musandam, known as the "Norway of Arabia" (despite being much warmer), is the Middle East at its most scenically spectacular. The towering red-rock Hajar Mountains plunge precipitously into the Arabian Gulf's still blue waters, creating a labyrinthine landscape of sheer-sided khors (fjords), inlets, and islands.
Burj al Arab, Dubai, UAE
Arabian beauty may appear to be primarily ancient, but the modern Middle East has its own wonders, as evidenced by the stunningly futuristic skylines of modern Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and, especially, Dubai.
The stupendous Burj al Arab, the vast sailed-shaped icon that has done more than anything else to put the city on the map - one of the most original, and certainly the most beautiful, buildings constructed anywhere on the planet over the past fifty years – is in the last.
If Tolkein's elves ever decided to leave Middle Earth, they'd most likely want to settle in Cappadocia. The region's unique landscape, with its bizarre collection of outlandish rock pillars, cones, mushrooms, and other bizarre geological formations, has a distinct whiff of enchantment about it. Troglodyte caves, chapels, and even entire underground villages crisscross the rocks, implying that there's room for a few hobbits as well.
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