Destinations

Seven wonders of the Middle East

The ancient world had seven wonders, but in July 2007 a global online vote decided on a new set and only the Pyramids of Giza remain. The new list includes Petra in Jordan  – and for good reason.


Petra’s rose-coloured buildings and tombs, carved into the rock in ancient times by the Nabataeans who made it their capital, was discovered by the Western world in 1812. Since then, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site has been visited by the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones in his final film adventure.



Petra is now Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction, with about 400,000 people last year passing along the narrow gorge, known as the Siq, which forms the entrance to this magical world.


Attaining Wonder of the World status will put Petra even more firmly on the tourist trail and it’s worth capitalising on this by encouraging visitors to explore the region further.


Great kingdoms and religions, from the Babylonians to Islam, have left a legacy of man-made treasures throughout the Middle East. Sadly, political unrest means some of these countries are off limits but there are others that are still accessible.


Here are six more must-sees to complete Travel Weekly’s list of seven wonders of the Middle East.


Palmyra


Syria


This once-great city, now an atmospheric ruin in the desert, grew rich through the trade of the caravan routes. Palmyra’s heyday came under Queen Zenobia, whose rebellion against the Roman Empire ended with the city conquered and her in chains before the emperor.


Sample package: Exodus takes in two Middle Eastern wonders on its 16-night Petra and Palmyra tour. Prices start from £1,099 per person for May 2008 departures, including flights, transfers and accommodation in local family-run hotels.


Umayyad Mosque


Damascus, Syria


This is one of the world’s largest and oldest mosques, and contains the military leader Saladin’s tomb and, allegedly, the head of John the Baptist. The mosque was built by Byzantine craftsmen in the 8th century and epitomises the wealth and power of the Umayyad dynasty that ruled an empire from Spain to India.


Sample product: Bales Worldwide’s eight-day tailor-made Highlights of Syria trip costs from £1,375 per person from January 1 to June 14 2008 and includes two nights in Damascus, flights, three or four-star accommodation, breakfast and transfers.


Ruins of Jerash


Jerash, Jordan


This excavated ancient Roman city is generally acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved in the world. Theatres, temples, bath houses, a grand street, and even the drains are still intact. When exploring Jerash, it is evident the wealthy residents enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle.


Ruins of Jerash, Jordan


Sample product: Voyage Jules Verne’s seven-night Discover Jordan package starts from £546 per person including flights, accommodation and transfers. The tour takes in Jerash and Petra, as well as the Dead Sea and Aqaba, and the price is for winter 2007/08.


Nizwa Fort


Nizwa, Oman


The former capital of Oman lies about 100 miles inland. The town’s fully restored 17th-century fort is incorporated within the city walls and is the oldest and one of the largest in the country. The tower was once the home of the governor and affords exceptional views over the surrounding countryside.


Sample product: Hayes and Jarvis offers two nights in Nizwa on its eight-day Classic Oman tour. Prices start from £1,529 per person including flights and transfers, valid for June 2008 departures.


Naghshe Jahan Square


Isfahan, Iran


This vast 17th-century square, larger than the Place de La Concorde in Paris, was built by Shah Abbas the Great and provides the centrepiece for such Safavid-dynasty gems as the Sheikh Lotfollah and Imam mosques, Ali Ghapu’s Palace and the Imperial Bazaar, which is a labyrinth of covered alleyways.


Sample product: Cox and King’s eight-night Treasures of Persia itinerary, which includes flights and all excursions, costs from £1,375 per person. The tour is available from January 2008.


Museum of Islamic Arts


Doha, Qatar


A stunning new museum with 5,000sq metres of exhibition space being created by architect IM Pei to give a modern take on the architectural heritage of the Middle East.


The museum, which opens later this year, is the first of a string of cultural centres that will transform this Gulf state. It has been funded by the government to produce one of the world’s greatest collections of Islamic artefacts.


Sample product: Fly to Doha with Qatar Airways, from £510 return, including taxes, and stay at the InterContinental Doha. Double rooms start at £120 per night.

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