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Ten Most Amazing Places in the Middle East

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10. Pamukkale

Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale, Turkey

The author, standing where he probably shouldn't.

The author, standing where he probably shouldn't.

Pamukkale, or "Cotton Castle," is a natural phenomenon of wonder-like beauty. Hot-spring waters rich in calcium oxide have, over thousands of years, cascaded down the slopes of Caldag, resulting in a build-up of white travertine. The result is chalky plateaus and petrified waterfalls colored a stunning white, brilliantly reflecting the colors of the sunset. Above Pamukkale lies the ruins of the Roman city Hierapolis, evidently built with the natural hot springs in mind, as remains of marble sluices wind all throughout the city. My day spent here was fabulous. A bus ride to the top of the slope dropped us off at the ruins, where hours were spent examining the vast sprawl of tumbled columns and eroded statuary. This was followed by a barefoot, and painful, hobble down the travertine plateaus, and a refreshing Turkish beer at a local restaurant.

9. The Egyptian Museum

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt

The King Tut sarcophagus, one of many relics housed in the Egyptian Museum

The King Tut sarcophagus, one of many relics housed in the Egyptian Museum

The Egyptian Museum in bustling Cairo, is a feast for one's eyes and intellect, as it houses over 120,000 artifacts from Egypt's illustrious past. An important consideration to be made while here is how exactly to spend your time, as it is estimated that spending one minute at each item in the museum would take approximately nine months. Possibly the biggest draw in the museum is the veritable treasure trove of artifacts discovered by Howard Carter in 1923 during his excavation of the tomb of King Tutankhamen, a nearly legendary name, and a nearly legendary find. Exquisite jewelry, mammoth statuary and intricately-carved sarcophagi are among the numerous treasures to be seen here. An exquisite collection.

An article on the chaos of Cairo @ helium.com

8. Ephesus

Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus, Turkey

The Library of Celsus

The Library of Celsus

The city of Ephesus has an extremely rich history.It was the site of the Temple of Artemis Diana (One of the seven wonders of the ancient world), was visited, and liberated by Alexander the Great, and was an important center for early Christianity. Paul spent time there, preaching and eventually being imprisoned for endangering the livelihood of silver-smiths employed in fashioning statues of the city's patron deity, Artemis. (Acts 19:23) The highlight of a visit to Ephesus is the facade of the Library of Celsus, an excellent example of Roman architecture and the most stunning and preserved aspect of the entire city.

7. Dahab

Dahab, Egypt (Photo courtesy of my pal, Malcolm Sweeney)

Dahab, Egypt (Photo courtesy of my pal, Malcolm Sweeney)

Sipping milkshakes, smoking hookahs, and lounging.

Sipping milkshakes, smoking hookahs, and lounging.

Ah Dahab, just thinking about this place makes me relaxed. No impressive ruins, or museums, just a tranquil and idyllic seaside town, that has managed to retain a sense of calm despite a moderate influx of tourists throughout the year. The village of Dahab is located in the Sinai Peninsula, along the Gulf of Aquaba, and boasts some of the best diving and snorkeling spots on the planet. The beach promenade is a series of diving/snorkeling shops, restaurants, hostels, gift shops and bars, and though it's nearly impossible to walk around Dahab without being touted incessantly, but how can one get angry here? It's relaxing and beautiful, and the sounds of waves lapping the shore accompany every breakfast, lunch and dinner. A perfect pit stop for exhausted backpackers.

6. Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

The grand interior of the Hagia Sophia

The grand interior of the Hagia Sophia

Built between 523 and 527, the Hagia Sophia, first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum, is a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. The interior boasts intricate mosaics, polished marble floors and a dome that will leave your neck sore from constant gazing. Like the similarly astounding Pantheon in Rome, the Hagia Sophia is crowned by a massive dome, sitting upon a rectangualr building. The architectural problem this poses is solved by four triangular, concaved sections, called pendentives, which share the dome's weight equally and visually lend an air of lightness to the building.

In this particular section of Istanbul, artistic and architectural treasures abound. While there, head towards the Byzantine Hippodrome (horse-racing track of antiquity ) where you can check out the 3500 year-old Obelisk of Theodosius, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, and the Hagia Sophia inspired Blue Mosque.

5. The Old City, Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem, Israel

Photo taken from the Mt. of Olives

Photo taken from the Mt. of Olives

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Where to begin? From the massive gates to the Via Dolorosa, from the Holy Sepulchre to the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem richly abounds in historical, archeological, and religious significance. It's no wonder then, that even in January, tourists were everywhere. Here you can touch the Western Wall, the last remnant of Judaism's 2nd Temple, gape in awe of the shimmering Dome of the Rock, or stand in the very spot where the cruxuficion of Christ occurred. It seems there is hardly any end to the sites of interest that Jerusalem holds, and thanks to the fervent work of archaeologists, more sites are being discovered every year. One word of advice though, Jerusalem is expensive, and though you may be tempted to chintz on the sleeping accommodations, I would advise against it. My hostel was a disgusting, cluttered flea-trap, and waking up with hives on your face is no way to start a vacation. Consider yourself warned.

4. Baalbek

The Temple of Jupiter. Baalbek, Lebanon

The Temple of Jupiter. Baalbek, Lebanon