The Middle East. The oldest continent on earth is a spectacular trove of history and diverse cultures. As such, UNESCO World Heritage sites can be found aplenty throughout the region. From the flagstones of ancient roads built by the Romans, temples of cities that have long passed into legend such as Persepolis and featuring ancient monasteries, oases and more, a visit to the Middle East will be an adventure of a lifetime.
Al-Hijr Archaeological Site, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO world heritage site, Al-Hijir is also more commonly known as Medain-Saleh and contains breathtaking monuments such as tombs, rock art, cave drawings and more. A remarkably well-preserved archaeological site of its age, it is a historical landmark that was of great importance during the Nabataean civilization. It is clear that the architecture and art had clear Egyptian and Phoenician influence and is said to be the most magnificent at sunset.
Established by the Nabatean empire more than 2000 years ago, Petra is a truly ancient city that has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Nestled between the Red and Dead seas, it was home to about 30,000 people at its peak and served as an important trade route between several regions. The Nabateans struck rich due to to the busy trade routes and expanded the city, carved their city into the rock walls of the surrounding mountains and build the Petra and you see today.
Wadi Rum Protected Area, Jordan
Neighbour to Petra, is the spectacular desert of Wadi Rum. A magnificent landscape that has ruins over twelve centuries old and a range of narrow gorges, monolithic cliffs and caves, Wadi Rum is a site you must visit. The ruins feature carvings and inscriptions which archaeologists have determined to signify millennia of human history and how we have interacted with nature back in the ancient times.
Also known as the valley of the moon, Wadi Rum is a stunning vista of natural beauty and one great way of experiencing it is to take a private tour from Viator that allows you to not only explore the region.
Built by Darius I and made the capital of the Persian empire, Persepolis is an ancient ruined city nestled at the foot of Kuh-e Rahmat in South-Western Iran. Heralded as one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, it was the heart of the Persian empire and the weight of history stands strong here.
Following the death of Darius I, his son Xerxis I (yes, that Xerxes. The one who invaded Sparta) initiated construction of a massive palace complex which was finished by Artaxerxes I. A communal area, treasury, tomb complex, it housed seven individual tombs whose carvings and reliefs infer that its occupants were royalty.
Painted Churches, Troodos, Cyprus
A large collection of churches and monasteries from the Byzantine empire, these painted churches are famed for their richly decorated, colourful murals. With architecture that took the climate of Cyprus into account, resulting in steep-pitched roofs and flat hooked tiles, these churches are a unique blend of the high standards of Roman buildings with a local flair. Featuring ten churches that range from chapels to monasteries, this is a melancholic harmonization of local and Byzantine artistic tradition.
Saint Catherine Area, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt
An isolated monastery located at the famous peaks of Mount Sinai, Saint Catherine’s Monastery is one of the oldest functioning monasteries in the world being well over seventeen centuries old. Coupled with being sited at one of the holiest locations in Christianity, the venerable monastery sees a constant stream of pilgrims and curious tourists.
For those unfamiliar with Christianity, Mount Sinai is the location of the burning bush. Described as a bush that was aflame but not consumed by the fire, it is where Moses communed with God. Pilgrims and tourists alike make the hike to the summit of Mount Sinai and also visit the location where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The monastery is located a short distance from a small town that provides the amenities which a traveller needs.
Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia
The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are located deep in the highlands of Ethiopia. Constructed at the dawn of the 7th century, it is still an active site of worship and many Ethiopian Orthodox Christians practise their religion there. Each church was hewn from volcanic rock with passageways, windows, roofs and columns chiselled out. A complex series of tunnels, ceremonial passageways, drainage systems completed the structure makes it an architectural marvel as well.
Harar Jugol, Ethiopia
A historical fortified town that is home to both Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Muslims, Harar is a dizzying maze of markets, commercial buildings, and 102 shrines. Considered as the fourth holy city of Islam, its famed walls were built between the 13th and 16th century and has five gates. The adventurous can find Harar’s 368 alleys begging to be explored and the locals can be observed bartering, choosing spices or simply watching you as foreigners are rare.
With Saudi Arabia opening its doors to the world and making it much easier to visit, there is no reason why you shouldn’t check these UNESCO World Heritage Sites out!
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