Top 10 photo galleries from Middle East
Though Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Sulaymaniyah (also spelled Sulaimani) has a more modern city feel. The city center has a selection of cafes and shopping malls for the liberal minded girls and boys which the city seems so full of. The souq area in Sulaymaniyah is also more impressive than the one in Erbil with a fine covered part (nuts, shoes, clothes, lingerie, etc.) and a chaotic outdoor part (fruits, vegetables and meat). In the cooler evenings, do like the locals and drive up the hill outside town and enjoy the view over the city while the sun sets.
Erbil (also spelled Arbil or Irbil) is a very spread-out city. The heart of the old part is the citadel that crowns the city from a hill. The old building stretches right to the edge of the hill and all the facades facing the city have been done up, but otherwise the citadel is pretty much left in ruins. Below the citadel entrance is the newly rebuilt city square with illuminated fountains and a clock tower. To the sides you find the real Erbil in shape of the covered souq to the west and the rowdy market street of Handren St. to the east. For a different experience, head for the Christian quarter at Ainkawa, a taxi ride away - the rows of liquor stores will indicate when you are there.
© John Smith
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.
Petra will no doubt be one of the highlights of any trip to Jordan, maybe even the reason to come here in the first place. Spectacular imposing tombs carved right out the rock face dating back to the civilisation of the Nabataeans about 2000 years ago. Winding narrow canyons leads into the area, and magnificent views over the desert and the tombs will reward you from the top of the surrounding mountains. Petra is taken right out of Indiana Jones, literately. But all this "amazingness" attracts a fair share of, let's face it, annoying fellow visitors. By arriving early, leaving late and general doing the sights in a non-obvious direction not only will you catch the best light, but you will also pretty much get the place to yourself. Off-the-beaten-track places not to be missed are the monastery Al-Deir with its many viewpoints, the viewpoint above the Treasury and the winding canyon trek through Wadi Muthlim (see photo gallery).
This is a stunning desert setting with red sand dunes and amazing pink rock formations raising straight up from the valley floor. Throw in several sites with ancient rock carvings and a few newer historical sites from the time when the British officer T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) passed through (in early 20th-century) and you have one of Jordan major attractions. The area is inhabited by friendly Bedouin tribes, who runs the adventure tours into the desert. Most sites can be reached with a four-wheel drive within a full day, but stay overnight at a "Bedouin camp" and enjoy the clearest night sky you might ever experience. If you fancy a camel ride (and a sore bum) or want some trekking add an extra day, the serene scenery only becomes better in a slow pace.
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.
Nizwa is an ancient town once protected by an old desert fort. Even today the old souq (market) is still the centre of trade and traditional goods are changing hands as they did a century ago. It even becomes better on Fridays when it's goat auction day. From early morning, Bedouins come in to buy and sell. In an open arena goats are dragged around by their owner in front the observing audience. A potential buyer calls over the goat, squeezes its testicles and decides whether to buy it or not. Besides the goats and the occasional camel, the other attractions are the colourful Bedouin women who attend the market. Some have their face covered by a finely decorated cloth mask, half as an out-of-this-world fashion statement and half as protection from the strong sun. They sure will make an impression.
In contrary to other oil state metropols like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Doha is still in the developing phase, and probably will be for many years to come. The center is a mix of brand new exotic looking skyscrapers and dusty construction sites, sprinkled with equal dusty empty lots. Since 2000 more than 30 skyscraper taller than 100 m have been erected, though some are not yet completed. The tallest will be Qatar National Bank Tower with 510 m (114 stories) when it completes. It seems that any concept can be realized, leaving the skyline of Doha, even as today, as a quirky mismatch of wonderful architecture among glass monsters, which can only have been created by people with too much business on their minds.
Well aware that people hardly qualify as a place, we list them anyway for they make the country what it is. Many visitors' finest memory of Syria is the people, for they are extremely friendly and welcoming. You are constantly met with courtesy and curiosity, and of course endless invitations for tea. If you look a bit lost, strangers will take you by the hand and lead you to your destination. A shy "al-salaam alaykum" and a smile will open many doors and get you a lot closer to the soul of Syria than any visit to a ruin will.
This set of marvellous ruins of an ancient city is the icon of Syria. The place started out as an oasis town in the desert, but became a mandatory stop on the flourishing silk route. The city grew rich and powerful and even managed to become a "free city" within the Roman Empire. Then queen Zenobia came to power and rebelled against Rome. She managed to beat up some Roman forces and invade the whole of Syria, Palestine and Egypt, before the glorious days were over and in 271 AD Palmyra was again under Roman control. Even today, it's easy to imagine how impressive the city must have been for visitors. In typical Syrian style, the site is informal with no entrance (except for the Temple of Bel), fences or explanations but it only adds to the magic of the place.