The Middle East was once thought of as a beautiful and exotic far-away land. But unfortunately for those of us alive in modern times, the term now conjures up images of war, terrorism, subjugation, and suffering. The vivid images of the Islamic Golden Age are now gone, and the exciting fantasies in “One Thousand And One Nights” are but a fading memory.
But those far-away lands still contain much of their original beauty and, in many cases, are building upon it to create some of the most awe-inspiring modern architecture. This list takes a tour around the Middle East focussing entirely on the beauty to be found there. Let’s take the journey together and forget—even if for but a moment—the horrible news reports confronting us daily.
Bahrain is the smallest of the Arabian states and was the first to discover petroleum in the 1930s. It is thought by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden. In 2002 women received the right to vote in Bahrain and today its constitution guarantees religious freedom. Homosexuality was legalized in 1976 (for people over 21). The incredible twin-peaked building is the Bahrain World Trade Center.
Home to the ancient culture so loved by the west, Egypt is now a modern democracy (founded in the 1950s). As evidenced above, there is more to Egypt’s beauty than pyramids! Modern Egyptians are largely descended from post-islamic settlers (mid 600s AD) while the Ancient Egyptian people “[were] most closely related to Neolithic and Bronze Age samples in the Levant, as well as to Neolithic Anatolian and European populations”.
Iran (Persia in days gone by) means “the land of Aryans” in the Persian (Farsi) language. Iranians have managed (despite frequent invasion from outside) to maintain their identity. Even the Islamization of the country has not managed to eradicate all aspects of its ancient past.
For many of us, Iraq stands out mostly due to the Gulf Wars. Enormous amounts of damage were sustained by the nation during those wars, but a strong recovery is now underway, though the area is still relatively unstable. Iraq has been a republic since the dissolution of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958.
The very existence of Israel is a great bone of contention for the Islamic population of the Middle East. Despite the might of the surrounding nations, Israel continues to focus on expanding the amount of land it controls. The recent move of the nation’s capital to Jerusalem has not gone down particularly well with many people and there is no telling whether the conflicts in the region will ever be truly resolved.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy and the current King is Abdullah II. Home to some incredibly historic sites, Jordan holds the distinction of having discovered the oldest known statues of humans, the Ayn Ghazal statues. Pictured are Petra, the Roman city of Jerash, Jordan Valley Dead Sea, and Wadi Rum, the red desert.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy governed by an Emir. Until 1961 when it gained independence, Kuwait was a British protectorate. It was the invasion of this small nation in 1990 by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military that led to the gulf war.
Lebanon is the oldest country name in the world at 4,000 years of age. It has a unique political system called confessionalism in which the parliament is shared by all religions operating in the country. More peculiarly, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite Muslim. Lebanon has a 40% Christian population—the largest of any Middle Eastern country.
Oman has natural beauty, from the dry Wahiba Sands to the verdant city of Salalah, and historic beauty in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and the Nizwa Fort. Oman is one of the oldest inhabited places on earth having been peopled for over 100,000 years. Mountain Dew is the most popular drink in the nation, so much so that Coca Cola products are virtually nowhere to be found. It is also virtually crime-free. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide. Unlike some Islamic nations, alcohol is allowed but you must be licensed to buy it and can spend no more than 10% of your monthly income on it.
Qatar, like Kuwait, was a British protectorate. Independence was declared in 1971, and from 1995 women were allowed to vote. Qatari men traditionally wear a long white shirt (called a thoub) over white trousers or shorts and women wear a black cloak. The National Museum of Qatar (top image) opening was attended by David and Victoria Beckham and KAWS and Johnny Depp. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by death.
Saudi Arabia contains virtually no rivers or lakes but has many wadis which are valleys that fill with water during certain times of the year. Pictured above (third image) is the Kingdom Center which is the third tallest building with a hole in the world. Work is underway to build the Kingdom Tower which will be one kilometer tall (0.62 miles) and the tallest building in the world.
Pictured are the Umayyad Mosque, Citadel in Aleppo, and City of Palmyra before its destruction by ISIS in 2015. There are currently troops from over thirty countries fighting in Syria due to its civil war against ISIS. It is the Syrian war that has led to the migration crisis in Europe.
Turkey is home to some of the most beautiful places in the world. Troy (of the Trojan wars) is located in Western Turkey and many ancient monuments are to be found there due to its important position in Western history. Its capital (Istanbul) was once Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire from 330–395 AD and then the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) to 1453. Pictured above are Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Safranbolu,and Hagia Sophia.
United Arab Emirates is a collection of emirates: seven provinces governed by constitutional monarchs called Emirs. The seven emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. Abu Dhabi is the capital city and the federation as a whole is governed by a President who is also the ruler of Abu Dhabi. Additionally, the ruler of Dubai is also the Prime Minister of the Emirates. Confused? Me too.
Seen here are Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the amazing Yas Waterworld and the Al Ain Oasis (the first UNESCO world heritage site in United Arab Emirates).
Pictured here are Socotra, the old town of Sana’a (the capital city), Aden, and Ibb. Socotra is an island with a great variety of alien looking plants and wildlife (as you can see from the picture). It evolved into this bizarre landscape due to being isolated from the African continent six or seven million years ago. It is a UNESCO natural heritage site.