Western Asia is the birthplace of modern civilization. On this land Moses, Jesus and Mohammad lived, making it one of the most revered and fought over areas on earth.
In recent years major oil deposits have made many of the countries in this area wealthy beyond belief and today glittering skyscrapers share space with relics from ancient times.
Unsurprisingly peace in the area is fragile and some countries are out of bounds, but you can still put your feet up in Cyprus, shop in Turkey, go on a pilgrimage to Israel or Saudi Arabia, sip wine in Lebanon or Georgia, float on the Dead Sea, gamble in Qatar or stay in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan.
Countries in Western Asia
Situated between Europe and Asia, Armenia was the first Christian country on earth, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the ancient monasteries are the foremost attraction, followed by the beautiful landscape.
The longest cable car in the world takes visitors up into the mountain peaks to the beautiful Tatev Monastery.
The snow capped peak of Mount Ararat is on the Turkish side of the border, but it towers over Armenia forming a backdrop to a country that has a history spanning three and a half thousand years. The Greco Roman ruins and ancient Christian churches bear witness to the antiquity of this country.
The first country on earth to make wine, Armenia has a well-developed wine and brandy industry.
Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is famous for its beautiful architecture. Built in 782 BC, the old city is full of lovely old structures, cafes and pretty parks, whilst modern stores and restaurants are not far away.
Azerbaijan, Land of Fire, so dubbed because the huge underground gas reserves have created hillside fires that have burnt for hundreds of years, attracting the attention of explorers such as Marco Polo.
Old meets new in Baku, the capital city on the Caspian Sea, where gleaming skyscrapers and the lovely, well-preserved Old City share space. The oil rich nation was the first to discover oil, and the money made in the early twentieth century was used to modernize the centre of town, which now boasts an eclectic mix of beautiful architecture.
Visit seaside villages and semi desert areas containing a third of the world’s mud volcanoes or climb the beautiful Caucasus Mountains, filled with rural villages and up market ski resorts. Hike through forests, or the surrounding countryside filled with orchards and vineyards.
Azerbaijan, and mostly its capital city Baku, is a stage for numerous events that are very important to the modern world. From Eurovision content in 2012, through annual Formula 1 Grand Prix, to European Games, there are many reasons to visit. There’s even a plan for Baku to host World Expo in 2025, and that will allow even more visitors to discover Azerbaijan.
Comprised of more than thirty islands, Bahrain is situated in the Arabian Gulf. The capital city Manama has a well-developed commercial centre with more than three hundred and fifty modern shops and an enormous games arcade. Close by the souqs sell everything from spices to pearls and carpets.
Travelers can visit dhow builders, to see men plying the ancient craft. These boats are used for fishing, pearl diving or simply to transport goods and people. Hitch a ride on a dhow to one of the smaller islands around Bahrain.
Visit the Khamis Mosque built in the seventh century. See relics that go back more than four thousand years at the Bahrain National Museum, and visit the Bahrain Fort. Built by the Portuguese, it is surrounded by archaeological relics dating back to 2300BC.
The island of Cyprus is surrounded by the warm blue Mediterranean Sea. It lies just south of Turkey. Known for its balmy climate and unspoiled white beaches, here any water sport that you desire is available.
The mountains of Cyprus are scattered with vineyards, pine forests and monasteries and they are great for cycling or hiking. The stone castles and fortresses, Bronze Age tombs, ruins of cities and Byzantine churches attest to the ancient history of Cyprus.
This island has been a choice holiday destination for centuries so it bustles with entertainment, restaurants and hotels. Enjoy culinary treasures unique to this part of the world with Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern influences.
Cyprus is divided into the Greek South and the Turkish North and visitors can experience the difference in culture by simply crossing the street that separates the sectors.
The birthplace of Joseph Stalin, Georgia lies between Eastern Europe and Western Asia in the Caucasus Mountains. This land has been blessed with the best that Mother Nature has to offer.
The spectacular mountains, which include the highest peak in Europe, are also home to some of the highest villages. High up in the mountainside a most unusual fortress city, built in the twelfth century, leads deep into the rock.
Georgia’s wine industry dates back seven thousand years and the vineyards make some very fine wines at very affordable prices.
Georgia was one of the first countries to take to Christianity and the mountains are full of monasteries and churches. The emerald green hillsides and valleys surround these and the tiny stone houses and watchtowers, built in centuries past.
In the capital city, Tbilisi, narrow tree-lined streets and colorful old houses mingle with modern shops, cafes and restaurants. The old town clinging to a cliff side, sports ancient churches, mosques and sulfur baths.
Following years of strife there are still areas in Iraq that are considered unsafe, but in many other places peace has been restored. Would be visitors are advised to do their research before traveling to Iraq.
Situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers Iraq is sometimes referred to as the Cradle of Civilization. Here most of earth’s great civilizations were born, and the evidence lies scattered around the country in its ancient shrines, burial sites, cities and mosques.
Some of the oldest sites include the Citadel of Erbil parts of which are said to go back seven thousand years. The Citadel is partly ruined but is still being used today.
Iraq boasts entire cities born in antiquity, now unearthed and open to visitors. At Assur, on the banks of the Tigris River, the remains of a city built by the Assyrians thousands of years ago, and in Hatra, built in the second century BC, some of the best preserved archaeological ruins in Iraq. Until recently occupied by ISIS, Hatra has now been liberated.
A small country, Israel is hugely diverse. From the modern skyline of Tel Aviv, to the ancient mosques and churches in Jerusalem, the architecture is as different and interesting as the natural beauty of the country.
Israel is blessed with four major bodies of water. The Sea of Galilee is the largest freshwater lake in the world. The Red Sea offers some of the world’s best diving due to its coral reef and throngs of sea life.
The Dead Sea is ten times as salty as the Ocean, and at 400 metres below sea level, it has the lowest land elevation on earth. Some of Israel’s best resort beaches are on the Mediterranean.
From the towering peaks of the Masada, to the ancient ruins of Caesarea and the narrow ancient paths of Jerusalem and Nazareth, the history, the religious significance and the antiquity of the country lend it a mystical air.
Jordan has had a stable government for decades, making it one of the safest destinations in the Middle East. Civilization in Jordan goes back millennia.
The capital, Amman, was established around 1200 BC. There are thousands of archaeological wonders all over Jordan. In Jerash, Roman Greco ruins include magnificent temples to Hercules and Zeus and the remains of a Hippodrome where the Romans once held chariot races.
The remains of the city of Petra built amongst the red stone rocks and gorges of the desert in the first century are simply breathtaking. The area is full of facades and splendid tombs. Approached through a natural gorge, the magnificent Treasury is cut into the cliff face and is beautifully preserved.
Although eighty percent of Jordan is desert, the small coastline on the Red Sea has some of the world’s best coral reefs world. Jordan shares the Dead Sea with Israel.
Despite its modern skyscrapers Kuwait has a history that goes back to ancient times. Located on the Persian Gulf, it boasts white beaches and warm turquoise waters. Rich in oil, it is one of the richest per capita countries in the world.
Amongst the shining glass skyscrapers and modern shops in the streets of Kuwait City, you’ll find a vibrant fish market and souqs where people haggle over prices in the traditional Middle Eastern manner.
Discover the most comprehensive Islamic art collections in the world at the Kuwait National Museum and visit the pretty Seif Palace, with its watchtower of blue mosaic and its roof of plated gold.
Take a ferry to the Failaka Island once an outpost to the army of Alexander the Great. It boasts ruins from Bronze Age settlements and from the early Greek inhabitants who lived there from the 4th to the 2nd century BC.
Lebanon has a history that stretches back six thousand years. The Phoenicians founded many of her cities, and they are crammed with ancient treasures that include Byzantine mosaics, ancient underground streets and the remains of Roman structures.
Lebanon, the capital city, is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back five thousand years. Here many ancient structures, share their turf with modern living and working spaces.
Visit the harbor in Tyre. It has been around since 2700 BC. In Byblos, find well-preserved ancient roads and still-inhabited stone houses. Visit the Bacchus Temple in Baalbek, the caves the Romans used as wine cellars or a Crusaders Sea Castle in Sidon.
Take a boat tour through the beautiful Jeita Grotto, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Ski or hike on the cedar covered mountainsides, or take a tour of the vineyards, where wine has been made for thousands of years.
The Sultanate of Oman offers visitors a rare opportunity to experience the Arab world as once it was.
In villages people live in mud brick houses, shaded by date plantations or perched on rocky hills, much as they have done for hundreds of years. The mountains and the desert are crammed with ancient, well-preserved fortresses.
Hike, Rock climb or trek by camel into the desert and take a step back in time. Sandy white beaches, fringed by palms and crystal, clear water offer some of the best dives locations in the world.
In Muscat, the capital, magnificent palaces and Mosques, fish markets and busy souks share the space. The buildings are low rise and painted white by decree. Check out the best places to visit in Muscat.
Despite the many signs of conflict in the area, the Palestinian Territories are full of interesting and ancient places to visit.
The ancient city of Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity. Built in 326 AD by Emperor Constantine, it has been very well preserved. The walls have been intricately decorated with paintings and mosaics by twelfth century crusaders.
The thriving old centre of Bethlehem contains a bustling Arab market. Cradled in the mountains of Judea, the city of Hebron contains the burial site of Abraham.
Close to the River Jordan, Jericho at an estimated ten thousand years old, is one of the earth’s oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It contains the oldest city walls in the world and one of the first stone towers.
The olive groves and biblical terraces of Battir have reshaped the mountainsides in the area. Carved into the mountains more than two thousand years ago, they are still used as olive groves today.
Qatar is a rapidly growing country, and in the capital city Doha its newfound wealth is evident in the glittering glass skyscrapers and modern architectural wonders that are springing up all over the city.
In 2022, Qatar will be the first Middle Eastern country to host the FIFA world cup and the infrastructural development is well underway.
Visit the lavish mosques and the Museum of Islamic Art and see some of the best architecture and art in the Middle East. Shop in the traditional markets and the most modern retail stores. Visit sleepy fishing villages where local dhow boats bob upon the clear, blue water.
Swim in the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf or spend a few nights amongst the Bedouins in the snowy white sands of the pristine Doha desert.
Saudi Arabia covers most of the Arabian Peninsula and is bounded by the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. It is an ancient land rich in history, the remains of which have delighted visitors for centuries.
Visit the splendid ancient tombs of civilizations past, or a village of mud brick huts, colorfully painted and located above the clouds. Descend into the alien phosphate crystal base of a volcanic crater or discover the largest date farmland in the world. It contains eight million palm trees.
The mosque in Mecca is the largest in the world covering more than eighty-eight acres, it can accommodate four million people. This is the destination of the millions of Muslims who make the annual hajj to Mecca.
Take a ferry to the Farasan Islands, made of raised coral reefs, these eighty-four islands boast white beaches touched by water of brilliant blue. The waters are full of colorful marine life and the skies are full of birds.
At war for several years Syria is probably the most perilous place on earth right now, a pity because this land with a history spanning millennia is home to some of the most awe-inspiring ancient ruins.
In places, white columns and yellow walls appear to spring from the desert sands forming a lovely image against the blue backdrop of the sun-drenched skies.
In the middle of the desert upon a hill an enormous crusader fortress. This gothic building is one of the best-preserved examples of European military architecture.
Forgotten stone villages, unoccupied for many hundreds of years can be found all over the desert, offering an insight into how people lived in days past.
An ancient Christian monastery clinging precariously to a cliffside, and boasting frescos painted eight hundred years ago offers overnight accommodation to visitors. One day perhaps the tourists will return.
Istanbul is the capital of Turkey. Here on the banks of the beautiful Bosphorus River east meets west. The architecture of the old city reflects the influence of bygone empires. The skyline displays the domes and minarets of fabulous old mosques. Castles and opulent sultan’s palaces boast of the ostentatious wealth of past rulers.
Turkey, with a history going back to the start of civilization, has one of the biggest stores of antiquities anywhere in the world. All over the country are the remains of cities left by the ancient Romans, Hittites and Byzantines.
Its best-preserved ancient city is rivaled only by Pompeii. Aqueducts, well preserved Roman theaters, temples to the gods and crypts of heroes past are scattered all over the country.
The Aegean coastline has lovely beaches, with crystal clear waters and white cliffed hidden bays. In the countryside strangely formed natural limestone structures have been cut into stone churches by monks who also painted them with vibrant frescoes.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula is a federation of seven emirates each with its own culture.
Dubai was once a fishing village; today it boasts some of the most lavish shops and hotels on earth, and the modern skyscrapers have transformed the skyline. Clues to its past abound, lavish, modern shopping centers stand side by side with outdoor markets, and amongst the modern buildings, houses made from coral brick.
Close to the modern city centers are ancient archaeological sites and traditional fishing villages. Stone tombs and the Great Sepulchre date back five thousand years. Historic mosques and forts are scattered all over the desert.
The beaches in this area offer white sands and clear, warm tropical waters. Surfing and kite surfing are popular attractions. Dhow cruises or deep-sea fishing cruises are also available in the excellent fishing waters of the Gulf.
Yemen has a history and culture that goes back thousands of years. Sana’a, the capital, is two and a half thousand years old and contains six thousand houses built before the eleventh century.
Many of the one hundred mosques in Sana’a are ancient, and beautifully adorned. Intricate white patterns highlight the features of many of the buildings lending the city a rare and splendid outlook. Villages strewn with highly decorative, stone houses are scattered about the countryside. Some date back nine hundred years.
One of the world’s largest sand deserts stretches into Yemen from Saudi Arabia and Oman. Its great white dunes were once covered in water. Today shellfish fossils lie scattered all over the sand. Ruins of temples to the gods of the Sun and the Moon and other ancient relics bear witness to a bygone civilization.
One of earth’s most isolated continental landforms, Socotra Island is home to more than seven hundred species of plant life found nowhere else on earth. It is a short boat ride from the mainland.