Historical places in Middle East
Red Security Prison
Amne Suraka (meaning "Red Security") served as the northern headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service during Saddam Hussain's reign. Here thousands of Kurds were imprisoned, tortured and eventually killed by Saddam's special forces. In 1991 Kurdish fighters won control over the area and today the prison serves as a museum and memorial. The buildings are still riddled with bullet holes and the courtyard is lined with tanks and other war relics. Inside you can see prison cells where enemies of Saddam's regime were kept. Some of the rooms have a macabre mannequin setup showing how the torture was carried out. There are even mannequins of some of the most famous Kurdish rebels that were tortured here - most of them were later transported to Baghdad and hanged.
Old town of Jerusalem
The old town of Jerusalem deserves more than this single article. There is so much history and religious important places packed into one spot that it's hard to do more than scratching the surface. By being the holiest place on earth for Christians, Jews and the third holiest for Muslims (after Mecca and Medina) it's a place of controversy, something we won't dwell with. Go there as a traveller and just suck up the atmosphere. It's pure madness; hordes of tourist getting charmed by vendors, strangely outfitted religious characters rushing trough the narrow lanes and teenage soldiers with pimples and guns. With all the most-see sites like Western Wall, Temple Mount with the Dome of Rock and the church of the Holy Sepulchre taken the attention, there are a lot of wonderful strange sites that are half hidden. Try to find where the last supper took place, the birth place of Virgin Mary or the Ethiopian Monastery Deir-Sultan. No matter what your belief or expectations are, Jerusalem will blow you away.
48km outside Amman
A very well preserved ruin of an ancient Roman city with city walls, theatre, hammams (baths) and colonnaded streets. It was the rich surrounding farmland and the trade with the Nabataeans (The people from Petra) that made the city flourished during the Roman time, for it wasn't on the normal trading route. Various invasions and an earthquake in 747 laid the city deserted until nineteen century. Today it's one of the biggest Roman sites outside Italy and popular with tourists as well as locals.
The most impressive ruin in Lebanon. Besides being located in the middle of "modern" Baalbek town, the site can offer several magnificent Roman's temples. The one for Jupiter is the grandest, unequalled in the world, with columns soaring 23m into the air, where six still stands today. The foundation consists of some of biggest building block, some weighing about 800 tonnes. It is thought that it have taken more than 120 years to complete the temple complex, though different Roman Emperors still added to the complex centuries after. Another temple is the one of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Smaller than Jupiter's, but still bigger than Parthenon in Athens, it's one of the best preserved in the world with beautiful decorations, where you can still make out the fine details - along with semi-ancient graffiti.
About 40 km north of Beirut
This ancient town claims to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. About 7000 years ago, long before the Greek and the Romans, this town started out as small fishing settlement and turned into a powerful city-state with flourishing trade. To this day it still has its small port, apparently also the oldest in the world. The ruin of the old town does not look like much, which is one of the charming characters of this tranquil site. A "newer" crusade castle (12th century), half a roman amphitheater and a few columns are the main leftovers, but it is the maze of crumbling walls covered in vegetation that makes Byblos special. In spring time the whole place burst into colours with wildflowers.
War torn Holiday Inn
Next to Phoenicia Intercontinental hotel, Beirut
The Holiday Inn hotel had hardly opened it doors in Beirut, when the civil war broke out in 1975. The fighting was taken to the streets, where it went from alley to alley and house to house. The city got divided by the Green Line with Christian forces occupying the East side and Muslims on the West side. By being one of the tallest buildings in town the Holiday Inn was sought after by snipers - and people shooting after snipers. Though the war ended in 1990 and most parts of Beirut has been through a facelift, the bullet riddled Holiday Inn building still stands empty and untouched as a ghostly memory of the war.
Northwest of Hama
An overgrown and tranquil set of Roman ruins, but nevertheless impressive. The truly remarkable cardo (main street) keeps going for 2 km and is actually longer than the one in Palmyra. Its population was once half a million and the city attracted prominent visitors like Cleopatra. Today, the grassy surroundings make the ruins even more splendid, with blue mountains in the distance, cereal fields all the way up to the stones and herdsmen leading their sheep across the site. With no fences and wild flowers growing on the crumbled stones the place has a refreshing messiness to it.
Scattered over a soft hill behind the modern town of Al-Ma'ara is another refreshingly strange site in Syria. A series of abandoned old cities left to nature, sheep and local weekend picnickers. Some sites only have a few monuments, while places like Serjilla have crumbled buildings forming a whole town including a tavern, hammam (bath) and church. It's a tangled adventure to explore the huge area which is partly covered in fields, olive groves and long grass and with side roads going in every direction. Other dead cities are Jerada, Ruweiha and Al-Bara, but it's hard to figure out where one starts and ends.
Krak Des Chevaliers (Qala'at al-Hosn)
Travellers like the castle of Krak Des Chevaliers. It's a real fortress placed high on a hill with double walls, round watchtowers and everything. It was originally built in 1031 by a local emir, but invaded by the crusaders in the tenth century, who made it an important stronghold on the route to the Holy Land. During that time, it was extended with an outer wall which made it impenetrable. In the end, the castle got sieged by Mamluk forces in 1271, and the outnumbered crusaders withdrew and left the castle to the Mamluk sultan. They continued the enforcement of the castle in their oriental style, so today it's a big mix of everything.
Bosra is an ancient city that became a major metropolis in the Roman Empire, acting as capital for the Province of Arabia. Caravan routes passed here, making it an important trading city during the Middle Ages. The main attraction is the huge and perfectly preserved Roman theatre which could seat 6000 spectators with an additional 3000 standing. Today, it looks even more enormous in the small town that Bosra has become. It's a surprisingly nice and friendly place, where people are still living among the Roman ruins. Come in the afternoon when the tour buses have left and you will get the whole place to yourself.