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Middle East

Middle East

Sacred city


The religious heritage of Jerusalem is one that few cities can rival.


Jerusalem is a city in which religious highlights arrive in density. Crammed inside its square-kilometre-surface (0.4 square miles) are some 220 historic monuments, including a series of highly important sites. UNESCO listed it in 1981. Millions of people visit every year.

The old city was all there was of Jerusalem until the mid-19th century, when surrounding Jewish neighbourhoods started to emerge. A wall of four kilometres (nearly three miles) protects the old city. Inside is a dense labyrinth of streets and squares. Throughout an eventful and often turbulent history, these streets have been walked by everyone from beggars to merchants, great scholars, academics and slaves.

Jerusalem today features four distinct ‘quarters’ of Armenians, Christians, Jews and Muslims. They occupy each of the city’s four corners. “What happened was that people started to live around their religious sites,” says Simon Goldhill, professor at the University of Cambridge. “People kept close to their religious communities.” Continue Reading…

Middle East

Keeping it clean


The White Desert is the jewel in Egypt’s tourism crown, but relies on volunteers to stay free of rubbish.

Weird mushroomy rock pinnacles dominate the landscape of the White Desert – one of Egypt’s most popular destinations. For some 20 kilometres (12.5 miles), freestanding white chalk blocks line up like sculptures in a city park. Most visitors become transfixed by their size and alien beauty – until their gaze lowers towards the ground where paper and plastic bags lie buried. Continue Reading…

History and culture, Middle East

A golden age


The city of Jerash is an archaeological titan among the Roman relics of the east. But what sparked its monumental constructions?


In their magnificent forum, one can only wonder what the wealthy citizens of Jerash got up to. The city became a booming trade centre in Roman times, as evident by its grandiose facilities: paved and colonnaded streets, towering temples, fine theatres, public squares, city gates, fountains and baths. It became a prime example of Roman urbanism. How? Well, because it could afford it. Continue Reading…

Middle East

Strange world


Described as the most alien-looking place on earth, Socotra Island is a treasure chest of endemic species. But its future is at a crossroads.


Imagine waking up on an empty beach, not knowing where you are. You notice the quiet azure waters beside you; the harsh rock formations towering above. You climb them and discover a dusty and undeveloped landscape. The trees look strange, like giant mushrooms, or flying saucers planted on a stilk. Other trees have stocky, inflated trunks. There are animals you have never seen before. You observe the trails of humans, but there is no infrastructure in sight. Continue Reading…

Middle East

Royal ruins


The ancient city of Persepolis once served as the capital of the Persian Empire. Today it is regarded among the world’s finest archaeological treasures.

It was the grandiose symbol of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Since the reign started in 550 B.C., initiated by Cyrus the Great, the Persians came to rule large parts of the Middle East, and territories as far as western Pakistan. Between 518 and 516 B.C., the empire’s third king, Darius, decided to build Persepolis: a city worthy of governing and entertaining the royalties of the member nations. It was a magnificent temple: stairways, gates and ceremonial halls. But as the empire fell, Persepolis went with it: in 330 B.C., less than two centuries after its construction, Alexander the Great, conquered and looted the city. The capital burnt to the ground.

Continue Reading…

Ecology, Middle East

Green revolution


As plans finally get underway to make Sharm el-Sheikh carbon neutral by 2020, the Egyptian ministry of tourism says its country is moving towards a green future. 


All has not been well of late in Sharm el-Sheikh; the 35,000-strong city on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula regarded as the jewel in the crown of Egyptian tourism. After a series of shark attacks in late 2010, in which an elderly woman was killed and four snorkelers injured, the uprising against president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 provoked further unrest among its visitors. It did elsewhere in Egypt too, with the number of tourists visiting the country falling by a third that year. Although Egypt has started to reclaim some of its popularity from 2010, when it welcomed 14.5 million visitors, the sector is still in recovery mode. Continue Reading…

Middle East

Manhattan of the desert


The desert floor of a Yemeni valley is not the first place you’d associate with the world’s first skyscrapers. But in Shibam – a city made entirely of mud – they have stood firm for 500 years. 

When British explorer and writer Freya Stark visited Shibam in the 1930s, she must have thought it was a mirage. On a hillock in a giant flash-flood valley, miles away from the nearest city, hundreds of skyscrapers tower above the landscape. Some have eight storeys and are 30 metres tall. What is more, they are all made of mud. No wonder she dubbed it the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’. Continue Reading…

Ecology, Middle East

The desert lab


On the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, the world’s most ambitious green project is gradually taking shape. Welcome to Masdar City. 


The oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi may appear an unlikely driving force behind an initiative to create a zero-emission centre for clean-tech innovation. But with Masdar City, an £11billion project aiming to provide the blueprint for tomorrow’s renewal energy sources, it is just that. Continue Reading…