Ancient Middle Eastern Sites Worth Visiting

The constant chaos and negative publicity directed towards the Middle Eastern countries makes me rather sad because that part of the world contains a number of treasured attractions that most people will likely never see nor take an interest in their lifetime. If by chance, however, you happen to be the type of traveler who is brave enough to venture in countries that come with travel warnings, at least make it count by paying a visit to one of these ancient Middle East sites worth visiting. You might just end up pleasantly surprised.

Ancient Middle Eastern Sites Worth Visiting: Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre via Flickr by slack12, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ancient Middle East Sites Worth Visiting

Jerusalem, Israel

There are beloved cities in the world and then there’s Jerusalem. Surely, you’ve heard of it, not only because of its long history, but also because of its importance as a spiritual center for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. During your stay in Jerusalem, spend some time perusing the tangled web of alleyways and outdoor bazaars in the Old City and see for yourself why the Israeli capital makes the list of ancient Middle East sites worth visiting. The architecture of the city is stunning, incorporating over 3,000 years of history and culture into a mere 50 square miles. Some of its most popular sites include the Western Wall and Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ancient Middle Eastern Sites Worth Visiting
The Dead Sea via Flickr by Roberto Saltori, CC BY-NC 2.0

The Dead Sea (Israel, Jordan, Palestine)

Fascinating mostly for its natural phenomenon, the Dead Sea, which is a landlocked lake bordered by the countries of Jordan, Israel, and Palestine has also become a major tourist attraction particularly for individuals seeking therapeutic relief. The saline lake contains minerals that aid bone and joint illnesses and its location as the lowest point in the world (over 400 meters below sea level) makes it one of the best places for those who suffer constant respiratory disorders. Not to mention that due to its high saline concentration, there’s no risk of drowning because you’ll simply end up floating upon entry.

Ancient Middle Eastern Sites Worth Visiting: Streets of Erbil
Streets of Erbil via Flickr by Adam Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0

City of Erbil and Its Citadel, Iraq

Recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, the citadel that surrounds the Iraqi city of Erbil is a sight to behold. Perched on a mound 30 meters above, its heavily fortified walls provide a commanding presence to would be conquerors, hence allowing the city of Erbil to be the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the world. Some scholars speculate that the earliest recorded occupancy dates back 10,000 years and recorded history tells many stories about its inhabitants having to lived and bear witness to a number of wars and conflicts including the Muslim conquest and the rise of the Ottoman Empire.

Ancient Middle East Sites Worth Visiting
The Upper Grotto via Flickr by Kerimcan Akduman, CC BY-NC 2.0

Jeita Grotto, Lebanon

Consider a national symbol of Lebanon, the stunningly beautiful Jeita Grotto definitely deserves a spot on this list of ancient Middle East sites worth visiting. Measuring 11 kilometers in length, the cave located just 18 kilometers north of Beirut, is the longest in the Middle East. The grotto is divided into two levels: upper and lower. The former contains the large collection of stalactites and stalagmites and is explored on foot. The latter gives visitors a completely different experience through the exploration of the underground crevices where darkness and utter silence dominates.

Ancient Middle Eastern Sites Worth Visiting
Mid-day at Musandam Fjords via Flickr by Riyadh Al Balushi, CC BY-SA 2.0

Musandam Fjords, Oman

Often, when you think of fjords, you picture heavenly sights filled with snowcapped peaks and dense vegetation, therefore it may come as a surprise to hear that somewhere in the Sultanate of Oman lies Telegraph Island where the striking Musandam Fjords can be seen. Its location on the Strait of Hormuz combines the dramatic scenery of the Norwegian fjords with the arid and rugged topography of the Arabian Peninsula. In addition to the wonderful natural views, the waters, which are rich in sea life, is a popular place for divers and scuba enthusiasts.

Ancient Middle East Sites Worth Visiting: Temple Entrance
Temple Entrance, Petra via Flickr by walidhassanein, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Petra, Jordan

The beauty of the ancient city of Petra is astounding, firstly for its natural makeup and secondly because of its cultural heritage, which in turn, ensures its place as one of the ancient Middle East sites worth visiting. Its well-preserved temple entrance is just one of the stunning sights you’ll see in this archeological wonder. Petra was once the thriving capital of the Nabataean Kingdom and a prize province of the Roman Empire in the Arabian Peninsula. Its importance declined unsurprisingly when Rome fell. Also contributing to its eventual abandonment was the rise of Palmyra and a devastating earthquake in 363 AD that crippled the city.

The Middle East certainly gets a bad reputation because of the turmoil it constantly experiences but it’s clear from this list of ancient Middle East sites worth visiting that there’s more to the area than wars and religious conflict. Have you been to any of them?

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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