Union for the Mediterranean: Bon voyage!

Saturday, 12 January 2019 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Editorial, European Union, General, UNESCO World Heritage, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  93 minutes

Union for the Mediterranean © AndrewRT/cc-by-sa-3.0

Union for the Mediterranean © AndrewRT/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is an intergovernmental organization of 43 countries from Europe and the Mediterranean Basin: the 28 member states of the European Union and 15 Mediterranean partner countries from North Africa, the Middle East (the western and middle part of the Middle East & North Africa region (MENA)) and Southeast Europe. It was created in July 2008 at the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, with a view to reinforcing the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euromed) that was set up in 1995 and known as the Barcelona Process. The Union has the aim of promoting stability and prosperity throughout the Mediterranean region. It is a forum for discussing regional strategic issues, based on the principles of shared ownership, shared decision-making and shared responsibility between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Its main goal is to increase both North-South and South-South integration in the Mediterranean region, in order to support the countries’ socioeconomic development and ensure stability in the region. The actions of the organization fall under three, interrelated priorities—regional human development, regional integration and regional stability. To this end, it identifies and supports regional projects and initiatives of different sizes, to which it gives its label, following a consensual decision among the forty-three countries. The region has 756 million inhabitants and is scenic, architecturally and culturally very diverse. Cities, lakes, mountains, beaches and national parks offer everything that promises fun, recreation and perfect vacations. The cultural offers are numerous. In addition to many UNESCO World Heritage sites, there are numerous galleries, museums, theaters and opera houses. Of course, there are plenty of shopping and entertainment possibilities. However, holiday pleasure is not untroubled in all countries. At present, Syria and Libya in general, Mauritania (Sahara and Sahel) and Lebanon (North Lebanon and the border regions to Syria and Israel), Palestine (Gaza Strip) should be partly avoided. In all other countries of the Levant and North Africa, increased caution, vigilance and prudence are recommended. At the end of each country portrait is a link to the U.S. Department of State, in order to be able to find out about the current security situation on the ground.


Tirana from South © Albinfo/cc-by-sa-3.0

Tirana as seen from above and overlooking Mount Dajt in the background © Albinfo/cc-by-sa-3.0

Albania is a country in Southeastern Europe. It spans 28,748 square kilometres (11,100 square miles) and had a total population of 3 million people as of 2016. The capital in Tirana, the country’s most populous city and main economic and commercial centre, followed by Durrës. The country’s other major cities include Vlorë, Sarandë, Shkodër, Berat, Korçë, Gjirokastër and Fier (cities in Albania). Albania is in the southwestern portion of the Balkan Peninsula, bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south and southeast. Much of the country is mountainous, including the Albanian Alps in the north, the Korab Mountains in the east, the Ceraunian Mountains in the south and the Skanderbeg Mountains in the center. Its coast touches the Adriatic Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the southwest, forming the Albanian Riviera. Albania is less than 72 km (45 mi) from Italy across the Strait of Otranto, which connects the Adriatic to the Ionian. Albania has a diverse history.

Albania’s regions are:

  • Coastal Albania: the long narrow strip of between about 10 and 30km wide along the whole of the Albanian coast, bordering both the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea.
  • Northeastern Albania: the inland region to the north of the Shkumbin River, bordering Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia.
  • Southeastern Albania: the inland region to the south of the Shkumbin River bordering Macedonia and Greece, and including the great border lakes, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.

Cities are:

  • Tirana: the capital. Trees and mountains surround the city. Mount Dajt is a popular tourist site with a great view of the city.
  • Berat: Thought to be one of the oldest towns in Albania, it is a new member of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Berat has long been known as the “city of 1001 windows” because of its unique Ottoman/Albanian architecture. It has a well-preserved castle with residents still living inside its protective walls.
  • Gjirokastër: Another UNESCO city located in the south and known for its unique Ottoman period architecture. There is a large castle on the hill in the middle of the city which served as a jail for many generations. A military museum and art gallery are now located inside. Gjirokastër is also the birthplace of former communist leader Enver Hoxha and Albania’s most internationally famous author, Ismail Kadare. Their homes now serve as museums.
  • Korce: Located in southeast Albania, several miles from the Greek border, this city is full of life during the summer, when you can find couples and families strolling through the city’s main park, Parku Rinia. You can hike to the top of the beautiful mountain Moravia and view the city and its surrounding landscape. Don’t miss the Korca Brewery, famous throughout Albania, which sponsors a week-long beer festival every August. Also see the old houses and the Bazaar dating in the late 15th century and burned 3 times. most of the buildings are rebuilt in the 19th and 20th century.
  • Kruje: Ancient city of the national hero Skanderbeg, Kruje consists of beautiful mountains. Skanderbeg’s castle is now a museum. Kruje also contains an old style bazaar with shops selling traditional goods amid cobblestone streets.
  • Pogradec: Although overshadowed by its glitzy neighbors on the Macedonian side of the lake, the town of Pogradec has been experiencing a revival recently.
  • Sarandë: A city in southern Albania known for its unforgettable beaches and colorful spring blooms.
  • Shkodra: The biggest town in northern Albania. The “Migjeni” theater is located here. The first cycling race and the first football match in Albania were held here, and the first photograph was developed here (by Marubi). The Rozafa Castle is a major tourist attraction here, as is The Great Cathedral, the Ebu Beker Mosque, etc.
  • Elbasan: A large, poor, intriguing industrial city that is full of life. The market is fascinating, and the breakfast “Bugace” legendary. The Via Ignatia, an old Roman road to Istanbul, runs through the city.
  • Vlorë: A lively seaside city with nice beaches in the southern part of the town. Passenger ferries to and from Italy dock here.
  • Ersekë: A city hidden within the Gramozi Mountain range, Erseke is located in the southeast region of Albania. It surrounding natural beauty is what separates it from the other city, while also having old Albanian villages surrounding it.
  • Librazhd: A small town, but with a beautiful countryside. ‘The Red Mountains’ is an attraction for every tourist. It is a UNESCO heritage in tentative. there are located beautiful villages such as Stebleva with 200-year old houses.A very funny way to go to Librazhd is by train from Elbasan.

Other destinations are:

  • Albanian Alps: This mountainous complex on the north of the country forms the border between Albania and Montenegro. Rich on rainfalls, sheep, bare rocks and scenic views it is one of the places in Albania you should see. One of the places where you can be less than 10 km away from the nearest village and still have a day long trip there.
  • Thethi: National park and village in Northern Albania
  • Albanian Riviera: Featuring crystal clear waters, unspoiled beaches, and picturesque villages, this is the Mediterranean coastline as it once was.
  • Dhërmi: One of the finest of the many beaches along the coastal road between Vlore and Saranda, perfect for camping.
  • Vuno: Small town feeling on the Albanian riviera.
  • Butrint: Largest archaeological site from Greek era in Albania. It lies on the coast in the southernmost tip of the country, near the Greek border. Minibuses are available from Saranda.
  • Durres: Is Albania’s main entry port and one of the most ancient cities. The town’s ancient amphitheater is the biggest in the Balkans.
  • Ksamil: An absolute gem on the edge of the Butrint national park.
  • Leskovik: Town in the beautiful mountains of Southeastern Albania.
  • Lura National Park: A 1,280 hectare national park with high mountains, big meadows, and glacial lakes.
  • Llogara National Park: The park covers an area of 1,010 hectares (2,500 acres) and protects the forests on the north side of the Llogara Pass between a height from 470 to 2,018 m (1,542 to 6,621 ft) above sea level and only a 16 km ride from the nearest beach.
  • Shëngjin: A growing beach town located in northwest Albania known for its Adriatic Sea views.
  • Tomorr: Mountain ridge in the southern part of Albania, not far from Berat. This part of the country is formed by parallel mountain ridges (up to around 2000–2500 m) separated by valleys. Although the ridges are not very long, they offer few days of hiking with enormous scenic beauty and fantastic panoramic views. Tomorri is one of the most known ridges with a Bektash monastery and chapel on the very top.
  • Palasë, near Himara: Is a beautiful village in Himara with great beaches and amazing nature. This is the place where Julius Caesar rested his legion at the pursuit of Pompey. There are no touristic resorts, but you can ask for an apartment at the local caffe. The apartments usually are with two rooms and a toilette, but usually clean, safe and comfortable.
  • Pustec: Contains Albania’s share of Lake Prespa, which forms Prespa National Park. This is also an area of much history, evidenced by the multiple cave churches found near its villages as well as on the island of Maligrad.

The country is host to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The bulk of the tourist industry is concentrated along the Adriatic and Ionian Sea in the west of the country. However, the Albanian Riviera in the southwest has the most scenic and pristine beaches, and is often called the pearl of the Albanian coast. Its coastline has a considerable length of 446 kilometres (277 miles). The coast has a particular character because it is rich in varieties of virgin beaches, capes, coves, covered bays, lagoons, small gravel beaches, sea caves and many landforms. Some parts of this seaside are very clean ecologically, which represent in this prospective unexplored areas, which are very rare within the Mediterranean.

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Albania, Albania Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Albania, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Albania and Wikivoyage Albania.

Algiers © flickr.com - Damien Boilley/cc-by-2.0

Algiers © flickr.com – Damien Boilley/cc-by-2.0

Algeria is a in North Africa on the Mediterranean coast. The capital and most populous city is Algiers, located in the far north of the country. Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world, and the largest in Africa since South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011. Algeria is bordered to the northeast by Tunisia, to the east by Libya, to the west by Morocco, to the southwest by the Western Saharan territory, Mauritania, and Mali, to the southeast by Niger, and to the north by the Mediterranean Sea. Ancient Algeria has known many empires and dynasties, including ancient Numidians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Idrisid, Aghlabid, Rustamid, Fatimids, Zirid, Hammadids, Almoravids, Almohads, Spaniards, Ottomans and the French colonial empire. Berbers are the indigenous inhabitants of Algeria (History of Algeria). Algeria’s regions are Central Algeria (the metropolitan area around the capital), Northeast Algeria (the extensive mountains and high plains east of Algiers), Northwest Algeria (the mountainous coastal area west of Algiers), Saharan Atlas (the mountain range inland of the high plateaus), and Saharan Algeria (the vast desert in the south of the country). Among the cities (cities in Algeria) are:

  • Algiers – With nearly 3 Million inhabitants Algiers is the Capital but also political and cultural centre of Algeria. Beautiful mix of white-washed French buildings, narrow streets of the UNESCO listed Casbah, beautiful parks and the magic Bay of Algiers.
  • Annaba – A town with 200,000 inhabitants located in the east of Algeria next to the border of Tunisia. Annaba enjoys nice colonial building, a very nice church on a hill built for Saint-Augustin and amazing beaches.
  • Batna – A modern city in the Aures region, in the East of Algeria. Near can be found Timgad, one of the most beautiful Roman ruins in the world, but also the Ghoufi Canyons.
  • Bechar – Small city in the Sahara, not far away from the Moroccan border.
  • Constantine – An impressive city in the East, full of history and traditions, on huge and dramatic cliffs and crossed by various bridges.
  • Oran – Biggest city after Algiers also called second Paris by Algerians, with many impressive buildings from the colonial time. Oran is the city of partying and leisure with its beaches and nightclubs and the worldwide famous Raï music.
  • Sétif – South of Kabylia with quite moderate temperatures and occasional snow falls in the winter. Near can be found Djemila, a beautiful ancient Roman city.
  • Tamanrasset – Largest town in the South and starting point for expeditions to the Sahara and the Hoggar mountains.
  • Bejaia – Second largest city in Kabylia, with an amazing coastline, gorgeous beaches and nice architecture, a castle can be visited on the Gourara mountain.
  • Ghardaia – A UNESCO listed city where the desert starts with its marvellous Mzab architecture and its art.
  • Tipaza – A very nice city next to Algiers with beautiful beaches and Roman ruins next to the sea.
  • Mostaganem – A very touristy city next to Oran, known in the whole country for its culture and its numerous and very nice beaches.
  • Tlemcen – A sophisticated city full of history, the most Moorish city of Algeria with its mosques and Muslim architecture.
  • Timimoun – A small Saharan oasis town which makes a good base for trips to the desert.

Other destinations and remarkable tourist sites are:

The development of the tourism sector in Algeria had previously been hampered by a lack of facilities, but since 2004 a broad tourism development strategy has been implemented resulting in many hotels of a high modern standard being built. The country is host to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Read more on U.S. Department of State: Algeria, Algeria Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Algeria, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human rights, Wikitravel Algeria and Wikivoyage Algeria.

Sarajevo © Julian Nitzsche/cc-by-sa-4.0

Sarajevo © Julian Nitzsche/cc-by-sa-4.0

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country in Southeastern Europe located on the Balkan Peninsula. Sarajevo is the capital and largest city. Bordered by Croatia to the north, and west; Serbia to the east; Montenegro to the southeast; and the Adriatic Sea to the south, with a coastline about 20 kilometres (12 miles) long surrounding the town of Neum. In the central and eastern interior of the country the geography is mountainous, in the northwest it is moderately hilly, and the northeast is predominantly flatland. The inland is a geographically larger region and has a moderate continental climate, with hot summers and cold and snowy winters. The southern tip of the country has a Mediterranean climate and plain topography. Today, the country maintains high literacy, life expectancy and education levels and is one of the most frequently visited countries in the region, projected to have the third highest tourism growth rate in the world between 1995 and 2020. Bosnia and Herzegovina is known for its natural environment and cultural heritage inherited from six historical civilizations, its cuisine, winter sports, its eclectic and unique music, architecture and its festivals, some of which are the largest and most prominent of their kind in Southeastern Europe. The country is host to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The country’s regions are Bosanska Krajina (northwest of the country “hugged” by Croatia), Central Bosnia, Herzegovina (south of country, traditionally inhabited by Croats mostly), Northeastern Bosnia, Posavina (along the Sava River), and Sarajevo Region (the capital and its environs). The largest cities are Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica, Bijeljina, Mostar, Prijedor, Brčko, Doboj, Cazin, Zvornik, Živinice, Bihać, Travnik, Gradiška, Gračanica, Lukavac, Tešanj, Sanski Most, and Velika Kladuša (cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina). Some of the tourist attractions in Bosnia and Herzegovina include:

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Bosnia and Herzegovina, LonelyPlanet.com – Bosnien und Herzegowina, lonelyplanet.com – Bosnia and Herzegovina, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Bosnia and Herzegovina and Wikivoyage Bosnia and Herzegovina.

View from Cairo Tower © Raduasandei

View from Cairo Tower © Raduasandei

Egypt is a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the Red Sea to the east and south, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, and across from the Sinai Peninsula lies Saudi Arabia, although Jordan and Saudi Arabia do not share a land border with Egypt. Egypt emerged as one of the world’s first nation states in the tenth millennium BC. Considered a cradle of civilisation, Ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanisation, organised religion and central government. Iconic monuments such as the Giza Necropolis and its Great Sphinx, as well the ruins of Memphis, Thebes, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings, reflect this legacy and remain a significant focus of scientific and popular interest. Egypt’s long and rich cultural heritage (Culture of Egypt, Egyptian literature, Media of Egypt, Cinema of Egypt, Music of Egypt, and Museums in Egypt) is an integral part of its national identity, which has endured, and often assimilated, various foreign influences, including Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman, and European. The country is host to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Egypt was an early and important centre of Christianity, but was largely Islamised in the seventh century and remains a predominantly Muslim country, albeit with a significant Christian minority.

Egypt’s climate is generally classified as desert. It is an extension of the great Sahara that bands North Africa, and except for the thin strip of watered land along the Nile River, very little could survive there. As the ancient Greek historian Herodotus stated: “Egypt is the gift of the Nile”. Beware that from March till May, sand storms may occur, particularly during daytime. These storms not only make the air sandy and very dry, but also temporarily raise the temperature. Sand storms at other times of the year can still erupt but rarely and in winter, usually they won’t raise the temperature. Generally, the summers are hot, rainless and extremely sunny, but the air can be humid at the coasts and very dry at the south, away of the coasts and away of the Nile Delta. The winters are moderate. November through March are definitely the most comfortable months for travel in Egypt. Only the north coast (stretching from the sea to 50 km southwards) receives a little rain in winter; the rest of Egypt receives negligible or no rain. So, you won’t need wet weather gear! Thunderstorms along with heavy rain showers that often last several hours are not uncommon in Alexandria, Marsa Matruh and all other northern coastal areas, and even the Delta. In some years the rainstorms can last for a whole day or so, though the rain tends to be lighter. Hail is also not uncommon, especially out in the desert where the weather is usually colder and allows for soft hail to fall and even frost to form on non-rainy days. In the Sinai Mountains and also the Red Sea mountains, which stretch along the east side of the country along the shore of the Red Sea, there is generally more rain than the surrounding desert, as rain clouds tend to develop when warm air evaporates and rises as it moves across higher terrain. Floods in these areas are a common weather phenomenon as so much rain can fall in a very short amount of time (often a day or two), with thunder and lightning as well. Because of the desert and lack of abundant vegetation, the water from the rain quickly falls down across the hills and mountains and floods local areas. In fact, every year there are stories in the local newspapers about flash floods in areas of the Sinai and also in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt) such as in Asyut, Luxor, Aswan, and Sohag. These floods, however, only generally happen two or three times a year, and do not happen at all in some years. When they happen, though, it is often in early times of the season such as in September or October, or in late winter such as February. Because of this risk, one should be careful when venturing out into the desert or camping in certain areas, as water can suddenly rush down from the nearby mountains and hills. It can sometimes carry a quite strong current that has been known to break down homes of rural people who build their homes from mud, bricks, and other weak materials. Poor people might drown in the floods, which is strange for a desert country that doesn’t receive much precipitation. Also, in higher elevations such as on top of the Sinai mountains, temperatures can drop much more than the surrounding areas, allowing for snowfall in winter months, since temperatures can drop down to below freezing, as well as formation of frost even in the low lying desert areas where the temperatures are generally several degrees colder than in the cities. December, January and February are the coldest months of the year. However, winter days of southern places at the Nile Valley are warmer, but their nights are as cool as northern places. Visitors should be aware that most houses and apartments in Egypt do not have central heating like countries with colder climates, because the main weather concern in Egypt is the heat. Therefore, even though the weather might not be so cold for a western traveller, inside the apartment it might be colder at day but the temperature indoors is more stable than outdoors. In Cairo, in indoor buildings without air-conditioning, temperatures are about 15°C (59°F) in the coldest winter days and about 34°C (93°F) in the hottest summer days.

The country’s regions are Lower Egypt (containing the northern Nile delta, and the Mediterranean coast), Middle Egypt (the area along the Nile where the historical Upper and Lower kingdoms met), Upper Egypt (a string of amazing temple towns located on the southern stretch of the Nile), Western Desert (location of the Western Oases: five pockets of green, each with their own unique attractions), Red Sea Coast (luxury beach resorts, diving and marine life), and Sinai (rugged and isolated peninsula, with fascinating relics of the past, high mountains and great scuba diving). The largest cities are Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, Shubra El Kheima, Port Said, Suez, El Mahalla El Kubra, Luxor, Mansoura, Tanta, Asyut, Ismailia, Faiyum, Zagazig, Damietta, Aswan, Minya, Damanhur, Beni Suef, and Hurghada (cities and towns in Egypt). Other destinations are:

  • Abu Simbel – a very remote town in the far south, with some beautiful ancient temples
  • Dahab – backpacker central, with excellent scuba diving
  • Karnak – scattered temples built with an emphasis on size, an impressive avenue of ram-headed sphinxes runs through the middle
  • Memphis and Saqqara – both filled with relics and ruins of ancient Egypt, they’re often combined as a day trip from Cairo
  • Nuweiba – small village with a number of camps, eco lodge and basic accommodation styled hotels
  • Sharm El Sheikh – a hugely popular resort town on the Sinai peninsula, with some of the best scuba diving in the world
  • Siwa – a stunning remote oasis near the Libyan border
  • Mount Sinai – home to the oldest continually inhabited monastery, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai and Mount Katherine (highest mountain in Egypt) and truly Bedouin culture
  • Taba Heights – purpose built resort with views of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia
  • Valley of the Kings

Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Egypt’s economy. The Giza Necropolis is one of Egypt’s most well-known tourist attractions; it is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence. Egypt’s beaches on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, which extend to over 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles), are also popular tourist destinations; the Gulf of Aqaba beaches, Safaga, Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Luxor, Dahab, Ras Sidr, and Marsa Alam are popular cites.

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Egypt, lonelyplanet.com – Egypt, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human rights, Wikitravel Egypt and Wikivoyage Egypt.

Mea Shearim district - Shabbat Square © Djampa/cc-by-sa-4.0

West Jerusalem – Mea Shearim district – Shabbat Square © Djampa/cc-by-sa-4.0

Tel Aviv © Amos Meron/cc-by-sa-3.0

Tel Aviv © Amos Meron/cc-by-sa-3.0

Israel is a country in the Middle East, on the southeastern shore of the Levantine Sea and the northern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza Strip) to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel’s economy and technology center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and self-proclaimed capital is West Jerusalem. The country was founded in 1948, making it the youngest state in the region, while at the same time being part of one of the longest lasting armed conflicts. Israel’s diverse culture stems from the diversity of its population: Jews from diaspora communities around the world have brought their cultural and religious traditions with them, creating a melting pot of Jewish customs and beliefs. Israel is the only country in the world where life revolves around the Hebrew calendar. Work and school holidays are determined by the Jewish holidays, and the official day of rest is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Israel’s substantial Arab minority has also left its imprint on Israeli culture (List of Israeli museums) in such spheres as architecture, music, and cuisine. Israel possesses a number of diverse regions, with landscapes varying between coast, mountain, forest, and desert landscapes, with just about everything in between. On a single winter day, for example, you could go skiing at the small Mount Hermon resort on the Syrian Golan Heights
(where the Golan Heights Winery is located at as well. Syrian wine from this region has always been of great quality), and then sunbathe next to the Dead Sea. The metropolitan areas of West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv form very much their own regions; from north to south, however, Israel’s regions are as follows:

  • Galilee (Western Galilee, Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee, Galilee Panhandle, and Sea of Galilee region)
    A hilly forested region, known for its beautiful landscapes and religious history. The Galilee is composed of five sub regions – the Western Galilee (the northern coastal plain), the Upper Galilee (characterized by mountains, the highest of which is Mount Meron), the Lower Galilee (characterized by relatively low hills separated by valleys), the Galilee Panhandle (in the far northeast), and the Sea of Galilee (the largest freshwater lake in Israel).
  • Carmel Range, Jezreel Valley and Beit She’an Valley
    From west to the east; the Carmel Range extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the south-east, containing various towns and villages, as well as Haifa, the third largest city in Israel; the Jezreel Valley is a large valley bounded by the Lower Galilee in the north and the mountains of Palestine in the south; and the Beit She’an Valley lies between the Gilboa mountain range and the Jordan River.
  • Israeli Coastal Plain (The Sharon plain, Gush Dan and the Southern Coastal Plain)
    A planar region which stretches along the Mediterranean coast which is the most developed part of the country and in which about 70% of Israel’s population lives. This region is characterized by sandy shores and Mediterranean climate. This region contains many cities, towns and villages, as well as Tel Aviv, which is the second largest city in Israel.
  • Jerusalem Hills
    A mountainous region located in the center of the country, which is actually a sub-region of of ​​the Judaean Mountains. This region includes Israel’s capital, West Jerusalem, which is the largest city in the country.
  • Shfela
    The fertile, hilly hinterland bounded by the Coastal Plain in the west, the Judaean Mountains in the east, Samaria in the north, and the Negev in the south.
  • Dead Sea Valley
    The Dead Sea, which receives its water from the Jordan River, is the lowest point on earth (427 meters below sea level as of early 2013). Technically, the northern half of the western Dead Sea Valley lies in the West Bank and thus Palestine. However, it is part of Area C and therefore under full Israeli control.
  • The Negev, Southern Judaean Mountains, Southern Judaean Desert, and the Arava Valley
    The Negev region is a desert area covering much of the south of Israel and includes among other the Ramon Crater. The southern parts of the Judaean Mountains region and the Judaean Desert region (the northern parts are located within the West Bank) are located between the West Bank the Negev regions. The Arava Valley is the section of the Great Rift Valley that is located between the Dead Sea in the North and the Gulf of Eilat in the South and forms part of the border between Israel to the west and Jordan to the east.
  • Syrian Golan Heights
    Mountainous area north-east of the Sea of Galilee region. Occupied in 1967 by Israel, unilaterally annexed in 1981, but claimed by Syria. The annexation of the Golan is not recognized by the United Nations. Israeli law applies in the region.

The largest cities are: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon LeZion, Petah Tikva, Ashdod, Netanya, Beersheba, Holon, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Rehovot, Ashkelon, Bat Yam, Beit Shemesh, Kfar Saba, Herzliya, Hadera, Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut, Eilat, and Nazareth (cities in Israel and the Syrian Golan Heights). Other destinations are:

Prominent national parks are:

  • Masada – high on a plateau above the Dead Sea, the scene of the Zealots’ last stand against the might of Rome. A UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Ein Avdat – beautiful steep canyon and a popular hiking spot
  • Caesarea National Park – an ancient Roman and Crusader city with well-preserved remains
  • Beth Shean Valley – the core of the north Jordan River valley
  • Belvoir Fortress – a Crusader fortress located on a ridge in the eastern edge of the Galilee
  • Nimrod Fortress – remains of a medieval fortress located in the northern Golan Heights, 800 meters above sea level
  • Rosh Haniqra – spectacular caverns located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast in the Western Galilee in the north of Israel, near the northern border with Lebanon

Prominent nature reserves are:

  • Ramon Crater – 40 km long crater-like landform in the middle of the Negev desert, the largest of three similar craters found in Israel. Offers breathtaking desert vistas
  • Mount Hermon – The mountain is partly located within Israel and partly located within Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli summit of the mountain is 2,224m above sea level and is the highest location in the country. The total area of the Hermon nature reserve is 76,250 hectares. Most of the nature reserve is located within a restricted military area (except for Hermon Ski resort and the Banias springs area at the slopes of the mountain which are popular visited destination)
  • Carmel Range – a forested hilly region along the Mediterranean coast, southeast of Haifa

Tourism, especially religious tourism, is an important industry in Israel, with the country’s temperate climate, beaches, archaeological, other historical and biblical sites, and unique geography also drawing tourists. Israel’s security problems have taken their toll on the industry. 68% of the tourists are visiting the Western Wall in East Jerusalem. The country is host to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Read more on U.S. Department of State: Israel, Israel Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Israel, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Israel and Wikivoyage Israel.

Le Royal Hotel in Amman © flickr.com - Mahmood Salam/cc-by-2.0

Le Royal Hotel in Amman © flickr.com – Mahmood Salam/cc-by-2.0

Jordan is a state in Western Asia, on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north, Israel and Palestine to the west. The Dead Sea lies along its western borders and the country has a small shoreline on the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba) in its extreme south-west, but is otherwise landlocked. Jordan is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, with a rich and diverse history. The capital, Amman, is Jordan’s most populous city as well as the country’s economic, political and cultural centre. Jordan is a relatively-small, semi-arid, almost-landlocked country with an area of 89,342 km² (34,495 sq mi) and a population numbering 10 million, making it the 12th-most populous Arab country. Sunni Islam, practiced by around 92% of the population, is the dominant religion in Jordan that coexists with an indigenous Christian minority. Jordan remained to be considered as among the safest of countries in the Middle East, even after the deteriorating situation of the region following the Arab Spring in 2010s. Jordan prides itself on being an “oasis of stability” in a turbulent region. In the midst of surrounding turmoil, it has been greatly hospitable, accepting refugees from almost all surrounding conflicts as early as 1948, with most notably the estimated 2.1 million Palestinian and the 1.4 million Syrian refugees residing in the country. The kingdom is also a refuge to thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing persecution from the Islamic State. While Jordan continues to accept refugees, the recent large influx from Syria placed substantial strain on national resources and infrastructure.

The country’s regions are Northern Jordan, King’s Highway, Eastern Desert, and Southern Desert. The largest cities are: Amman, Zarqa, Irbid, Russeifa, Al Quwaysimah, Wadi as-Ser, Tilā’ al-‘Alī, Ajloun, Aqaba, and Khuraybat as-Sūq (cities in Jordan). Other destinations are:

  • Holy Land – is an area roughly located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that also includes the East Bank of the Jordan River. Traditionally, it is synonymous with both the biblical Land of Israel and historical Palestine. The term usually refers to a territory roughly corresponding to the modern State of Israel, State of Palestine, western Jordan, and parts of southern Lebanon and southwestern Syria. It is considered holy by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
  • Ajloun Castle – impressive ruins of a 12th century castle
  • Azraq – Oasis in the desert, an illustration of how water brings life even at places like a desert
  • Dana Nature Reserve – stay in a traditional village and enjoy unforgettable hiking in an offshoot of the Great Rift
  • Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth and the most saline sea
  • Desert Castles – once getaways for caliphs from the Umayyad period
  • Petra – Jordan’s top attraction, an ancient city carved out of sandstone and one of the new 7 Wonders
  • Umm Qais – a Roman era settlement, close to the ruins of the ancient Gadara
  • Wadi Rum – barren, isolated and beautiful, granite cliffs contrasting with desert sand
  • Mount Nebo – the place mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land
  • Al-MaghtasBethany beyond the Jordan — the Baptism Site of Jesus Christ, where 2000 years ago Jesus came to be baptised by John.

The tourism sector is considered a cornerstone of the economy, being a large source of employment, hard currency and economic growth. In 2010, there were 8 million visitors to Jordan. The majority of tourists coming to Jordan are from European and Arab countries. The tourism sector in Jordan has been severely affected by regional turbulence. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Jordan is home to around 100,000 archaeological and tourist sites. Some very well preserved historical cities include Petra and Jerash, the former being Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction and an icon of the kingdom. Jordan is part of the Holy Land and has several biblical attractions that attract pilgrimage activities. Biblical sites include: Al-Maghtas, a traditional location for the Baptism of Jesus, Mount Nebo, Umm ar-Rasas, Madaba and Machaerus. Islamic sites include shrines of the prophet Muhammad‘s companions such as ‘Abd Allah ibn Rawahah, Zayd ibn Harithah and Muadh ibn Jabal. Ajlun Castle built by Muslim Ayyubid leader Saladin in the 12th century AD during his wars with the Crusaders, is also a popular tourist attraction. The country is host to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Modern entertainment and recreation in urban areas, mostly in Amman, also attract tourists. Recently, the nightlife in Amman, Aqaba and Irbid has started to emerge and the number of bars, discos and nightclubs is on the rise. However, most nightclubs have a restriction on unescorted males. Alcohol is widely available in tourist restaurants, liquor stores and even some supermarkets. Valleys like Wadi Mujib and hiking trails in different parts of the country attract adventurers. Moreover, seaside recreation is present on the shores of Aqaba and the Dead Sea through several international resorts. Jordan has been a medical tourism destination in the Middle East since the 1970s. Jordan is the region’s top medical tourism destination, as rated by the World Bank, and fifth in the world overall. The majority of patients come from Yemen, Libya and Syria due to the ongoing civil wars in those countries. Jordanian doctors and medical staff have gained experience in dealing with war patients through years of receiving such cases from various conflict zones in the region. Jordan also is a hub for natural treatment methods in both Ma’in Hot Springs and the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is often described as a ‘natural spa’. It contains 10 times more salt than the average ocean, which makes it impossible to sink in. The high salt concentration of the Dead Sea has been proved as being therapeutic for many skin diseases. The uniqueness of this lake attracts several Jordanian and foreign vacationers, which boosted investments in the hotel sector in the area. Read more on U.S. Department of State: Jordan, Jordan Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Jordan, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Jordan and Wikivoyage Jordan.

Saint George Bay Towers (Marina Towers, Platinum Tower, Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel) and Marina at Zaitunay Bay in Beirut © Wusel007/cc-by-sa-4.0

Saint George Bay Towers (Marina Towers, Platinum Tower, Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel) and Marina at Zaitunay Bay in Beirut © Wusel007/cc-by-sa-4.0

Lebanon is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon’s location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity. At just 10,452 km² (4,036 sq. mi.), it is the smallest recognized country on the entire mainland Asian continent. Despite its small size, the country has developed a well-known culture and has been highly influential in the Arab world. Before the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), the country experienced a period of relative calm and renowned prosperity, driven by tourism, agriculture, commerce, and banking. Because of its financial power and diversity in its heyday, Lebanon was referred to as the “Switzerland of the East” during the 1960s, and its capital, Beirut, attracted so many tourists that it was known as “the Paris of the Middle East“. At the end of the war, there were extensive efforts to revive the economy and rebuild national infrastructure. Beirut features many different and distinct nightlife neighborhoods, such as Gemmayze district, mostly full of bars and restaurants, or the Monot Street which features nightclubs and bars. Lebanon is also known for it’s open-air nightclubs such as Sky Bar, White, and Iris. Greater Beirut is a sleepless city, as the great majority of it open 24 hours a day. Lebanese nightclubs are widely diverse, as one can find both the “oriental” and “occidental” style, and in some cases, a mix of both. Lebanon also has a huge beach party scene having exquisite beaches and beach resorts such as Sporting Club, Oceana, Laguava or Edde Sands and Janna Sur Mer. Lebanon has six ski resorts with groomed slopes, catering to skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Beyond the ski-able domains await you kilometers of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails waiting to be explored; Lebanon has something for everyone. Each of the ski resorts has a different flavor. Lebanon is one of the oldest sites of wine production in the world and today enjoys a burgeoning industry producing award-winning wines for export throughout the world, mainly in the UK, Europe and the United States. Wine Tasting is an absolute must with any visit to Lebanon. Some of the wine producers are Chateau Musar, Chateau Ksara, Chateau Kefraya, Domaine Wardy, Vin Héritage, Chateau Fakra, Domaine de Baal, Chateau Nakad, Massaya, Domaine des Tourelles, Clos Saint Thomas, Cave Kouroum, Clos de Cana, Nabise Mont Liban, Enotica, Chateau Khoury, and Couvent St. Sauveur.

Lebanon can be divided into five regions: Beirut, Bekaa, Mount Lebanon, North Lebanon, and South Lebanon. The largest cities are: Beirut, Tripoli, Zahlé, Sidon, Aley, Tyre, Nabatieh, Jounieh, Batroun, Jezzine, Byblos, and Baalbek (cities and towns in Lebanon). The country is host to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Other destinations (tourism in Lebanon) are:

  • Batroun – an old city on the Mediterranean shore, with a city center offering many restaurants, cafes, bars, and nightclubs
  • Bsharri – surrounded by mountains, it’s a gateway to the Cedars of God forest and Cedars ski slopes
  • Ehden – mountainous town with beautiful scenery and some sights. It’s home to Ehden Nature Reserve
  • Barouk – famous for its cedar forest
  • Jeita – known for its Grotto
  • Kadisha Valley – you can visit the home of the (now deceased) Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran
  • Beit ed-Dine – famous for its palace
  • Deir al-Qamar – traditional village in Chouf district
  • Baskinta – village at the foot of Mount Sannine
  • Qurnat as Sawda’ – highest peak in the country
  • Mzaar Kfardebian – known for its skiing slopes
  • Qaraoun – known for its lake located in the Beqaa Valley
  • Kefraya – known for its vineyards
  • Brummana – a traditional town often considered a summer resort with pleasant weather, spectacular views of Beirut and a good nightlife
  • Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve – this 550 km² (210 sq mi) natural reserve offers hiking tracks among millenarian Cedars. Accessible from Niha Bekaa, Barouk, Maasser el-Shouf, Ain Zhalta and Aammiq

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Lebanon, Lebanon Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Lebanon, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Lebanon and Wikivoyage Lebanon.

JW Marriott as seen from Tripoli Municipal Beach © Abdul-Jawad Elhusuni/cc-by-sa-3.0

JW Marriott as seen from Tripoli Municipal Beach © Abdul-Jawad Elhusuni/cc-by-sa-3.0

Libya is a state in the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. With an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres (700,000 sq mi), Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa, and is the 16th largest country in the world. Libya has the 10th-largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world. The largest city and capital, Tripoli, is located in western Libya and contains over one million of Libya’s six million people. The other large city is Benghazi, which is located in eastern Libya. Other cities are Misurata, Bayda, Al Khums, Zawiya, Ajdabiya, Sabha, Sirte, and Tobruk (cities in Libya).

Libya has been inhabited by Berbers since the late Bronze Age. The Phoenicians established trading posts in western Libya, and ancient Greek colonists established city-states in eastern Libya. Libya was variously ruled by Carthaginians, Persians, Egyptians and Greeks before becoming a part of the Roman Empire. Libya was an early centre of Christianity. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the area of Libya was mostly occupied by the Vandals until the 7th century, when invasions brought Islam. In the 16th century, the Spanish Empire and the Knights of St John occupied Tripoli, until Ottoman rule began in 1551. Libya was involved in the Barbary Wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. Ottoman rule continued until the Italian occupation of Libya resulted in the temporary Italian Libya colony from 1911 to 1943. During the Second World War Libya was an important area of warfare in the North African Campaign. The Italian population then went into decline (history of Libya, culture of Libya, music of Libya, and Libyan literature).

The country’s regions are:

Other destinations are:

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Libya, Libya Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Libya, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Libya and Wikivoyage Libya.

Saudi financed Great Mosque in Nouakchott © Initsogan

Saudi financed Great Mosque in Nouakchott © Initsogan

Mauritania is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwestern Africa. It is the eleventh largest country in Africa and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara in the north, Algeria in the northeast, Mali in the east and southeast, and Senegal in the southwest. The country derives its name from the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania, which existed from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century in the far north of modern-day Morocco and Algeria. Approximately 90% of Mauritania’s land is within the Sahara; consequently, the population is concentrated in the south, where precipitation is slightly higher. The capital and largest city is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast, which is home to around one-third of the country’s 4.3 million people. The government was overthrown on 6 August 2008, in a military coup d’état led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. On 16 April 2009, Aziz resigned from the military to run for president in the 19 July elections, which he won (History of Mauritania, music of Mauritania, Islam in Mauritania, and status of religious freedom in Mauritania).

Regions of the country are: Coastal Mauritania (the narrow coastal strip with a crashing Atlantic coastline and the capital city), Sahelian Mauritania (semi arid region in the south including the patchily lush Senegal River valley), and Saharan Mauritania (huge northern desert area which is largely very empty). The largest cities are: Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, Kiffa, Mbera, Kaédi, Zouérat, Rosso, Sélibaby, Atar, and El Aioun (cities in Mauritania). A other destination is Banc d’Arguin National Park, a breeding site for many different species of migratory birds, this coastal national park is a world heritage site. The country is host to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The old cities of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Oualata, Tichit and Koumbi Saleh are a vestige of a rich past, that of the Trans-Saharan trade which made these cities part of the city-relays between North Africa and the Black Africa through the Sahara. These cities had a profound religious and cultural influence. The arrival of Europeans on the coasts of Africa gradually diverted commerce towards trading posts which were created little by little on the coasts thus causing the ruin of these cities (tourism in Mauritania).

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Mauritania, Mauritania Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Mauritania, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Mauritania and Wikivoyage Mauritania.

Podgorica © Nije bitno.../cc-by-3.0

Podgorica © Nije bitno…/cc-by-3.0

Montenegro located in Southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the southwest and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east, and Albania to the southeast. Its capital and largest city is Podgorica, while Cetinje is designated as the Old Royal Capital. In the 9th century, three Serb principalities were located on the territory of Montenegro: Duklja, roughly corresponding to the southern half; Travunia, the west; and Rascia, the north. In 1042, archon Stefan Vojislav led a revolt that resulted in the independence of Duklja from the Byzantine Empire and the establishment of the Vojislavljević dynasty. After passing through the control of several regional powers and the Ottoman Empire in the ensuing centuries, it became a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918, which was succeeded by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1945. After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992, the republics of Serbia and Montenegro together established a federation as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, although its status as the legal successor to Yugoslavia was opposed by other former republics and denied by the United Nations; in 2003, it renamed itself Serbia and Montenegro. On the basis of an independence referendum held on 21 May 2006, Montenegro declared independence on 3 June of that year. It was officially named Republic of Montenegro until 22 October 2007 (history of Montenegro, and culture of Montenegro). Montenegro is officially divided into 21 municipalities, which can be grouped into five regions:

The largest cities are: Podgorica, Nikšić, Pljevlja, Bijelo Polje, Cetinje, Bar, Herceg Novi, Berane, Budva, and Ulcinj (municipalities of Montenegro). Other destinations are: Bečići (with a 2 km long fine sandy beach, it is home to numerous resorts and hotels), Biogradska Gora National Park (some of the last remaining untouched forests in Europe, and beautiful small lake), Durmitor National Park (rafting through the Tara Canyon, the deepest canyon in Europe, is one of the most popular activities in Montenegro), Lovćen National Park (beautiful mountain with natural, cultural and historical scenery), Mount Ostrog (the amazing monastery situated on the almost vertical cliff of Mount Ostrog), Perast (beautiful small village, a UNESCO World Natural and Historical Heritage Site), Prokletije National Park (hiking and mountain climbing are this park’s main attraction), Lake Skadar National Park (the largest lake on the Balkans and the natural habitat of the very diverse flora and fauna), Sveti Stefan (picturesque town-hotel, a former fishermen town on the small peninsula near Budva), and the country is host to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Montenegro has both a picturesque coast and a mountainous northern region. The country was a well-known tourist spot in the 1980s. Yet, the Yugoslav Wars that were fought in neighbouring countries during the 1990s crippled the tourist industry and damaged the image of Montenegro for years. It was not until the 2000s that the tourism industry began to recover, and the country has since experienced a high rate of growth in the number of visits and overnight stays. The Government of Montenegro has set the development of Montenegro as an elite tourist destination a top priority. It is a national strategy to make tourism a major contributor to the Montenegrin economy. A number of steps were taken to attract foreign investors. Some large projects are already under way, such as Porto Montenegro, while other locations, like Jaz Beach, Buljarica, Velika Plaža and Ada Bojana, have perhaps the greatest potential to attract future investments and become premium tourist spots on the Adriatic Sea (Tourism in Montenegro).

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Montenegro, Montenegro Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Montenegro, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Montenegro and Wikivoyage Montenegro.

Kasbah of the Udayas and Bou Regreg in Rabat © MarwanAndrew/cc-by-sa-4.0

Kasbah of the Udayas and Bou Regreg in Rabat © MarwanAndrew/cc-by-sa-4.0

Morocco (“The Western Kingdom”) is located in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Geographically, Morocco is characterised by a rugged mountainous interior, large tracts of desert and a lengthy coastline. Morocco has a coast by the Atlantic Ocean that reaches past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Spain to the north (a water border through the Strait and land borders with three small Spanish-controlled exclaves, Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera), Algeria to the east, and Western Sahara to the south. Since Morocco controls most of Western Sahara, its de facto southern boundary is with Mauritania. Morocco has a population of over 33.8 million and an area of 446,550 km² (172,410 sq mi). Its capital is Rabat, and the largest city is Casablanca. Other major cities include Marrakesh, Tangier, Salé, Fez, and Meknes (cities in Morocco). Morocco claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975, leading to a guerrilla war with indigenous forces until a cease-fire in 1991. Peace processes have thus far failed to break the political deadlock.

A historically prominent regional power, Morocco has a history of independence not shared by its neighbours. Since the foundation of the first Moroccan state by Idris I in 788, the country has been ruled by a series of independent dynasties, reaching its zenith under the Almoravid and Almohad dynasty, spanning parts of Iberia and Northwestern Africa. Marinid and Saadi dynasties continued the struggle against foreign domination, and Morocco remained the only North African country to avoid Ottoman occupation. The Alaouite dynasty, the current ruling dynasty, seized power in 1631. In 1912, Morocco was divided into French and Spanish protectorates, with an international zone in Tangier, and regained its independence in 1956. Moroccan culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences (history of Morocco, culture of Morocco, Moroccan architecture, Moroccan literature, music of Morocco). Regions in the country are:

Other destinations are:

  • Chefchaouen – A mountain town inland from Tangier full of white-washed winding alleys, blue doors, and olive trees, Chefchaouen is clean as a postcard and a welcome escape from Tangier, evoking the feeling of the Greek islands
  • Essaouira – An ancient sea-side town newly rediscovered by tourists. From mid-June to August the beaches are packed but any other time and you’ll be the only person there. Good music and great people
  • High Atlas – Regular destination for mountain hikers, ski enthusiasts, or travellers interested in the indigenous Berber culture
  • Merzouga and M’Hamid El Ghizlane – From either of these two settlements at the edge of the Sahara, ride a camel or 4×4 into the desert for a night (or a week) among the dunes and under the stars
  • Tinghir – Desert oasis and access point to the stunning High Atlas
  • Volubilis – Also known as Wallibi and is 30 km north of Meknes, biggest Roman ruins in Morocco, next to the holy town Moulay Idriss
  • The country is host to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Tourism is increasingly focused on Morocco’s culture, such as its ancient cities. The modern tourist industry capitalises on Morocco’s ancient Roman and Islamic sites, and on its landscape and cultural history. 60% of Morocco’s tourists visit for its culture and heritage. Agadir is a major coastal resort and has a third of all Moroccan bed nights. It is a base for tours to the Atlas Mountains. Other resorts in north Morocco are also very popular. Casablanca is the major cruise port in Morocco, and has the best developed market for tourists in Morocco, Marrakech in central Morocco is a popular tourist destination, but is more popular among tourists for one- and two-day excursions that provide a taste of Morocco’s history and culture. The Majorelle botanical garden in Marrakech is a popular tourist attraction. It was bought by the fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980. Their presence in the city helped to boost the city’s profile as a tourist destination. As of 2006, activity and adventure tourism in the Atlas and Rif Mountains are the fastest growth area in Moroccan tourism. These locations have excellent walking and trekking opportunities from late March to mid-November. The government is investing in trekking circuits. They are also developing desert tourism in competition with Tunisia. Read more on U.S. Department of State: Morocco, Morocco Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Morocco, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Morocco and Wikivoyage Morocco.

Jerusalem Dome of the Rock © Berthold Werner

East Jerusalem with the old town and the Dome of the Rock, seen from Mount of Olives © Berthold Werner

Ramallah Market in the West Bank © Ralf Lotys/cc-by-3.0

Ramallah Market in the West Bank © Ralf Lotys/cc-by-3.0

Gaza City © OneArmedMan

Gaza City in the Gaza Strip © OneArmedMan

Palestine is a de jure sovereign state in the Middle East claiming the West Bank (bordering Israel and Jordan) and Gaza Strip (bordering Israel and Egypt) with East Jerusalem as the designated capital although the administrative centers are located in Ramallah and Gaza City. Most of the areas claimed by the State of Palestine have been occupied by Israel since 1967 in the consequence of the Six-Day War (Arab–Israeli conflict). The population is at 4.7 million.

After World War II, in 1947, the United Nations adopted a Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states and an internationalized Jerusalem. After the establishment of a Jewish state, to be known as the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, neighboring Arab armies invaded the former British mandate on the next day and fought the Israeli forces. Later, the All-Palestine Government was established by the Arab League on 22 September 1948 to govern the Egyptian-controlled enclave in Gaza. It was soon recognized by all Arab League members except Transjordan. Though jurisdiction of the Government was declared to cover the whole of the former Mandatory Palestine, its effective jurisdiction was limited to the Gaza Strip. Israel later captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria in June 1967 following the Six-Day War (history of Palestine and culture of Palestine). Regions of the country are:

  • East Jerusalem
    Capital of Palestine and part of the West Bank, bordering West Jerusalem in Israel.
  • West Bank
    Bordering Israel to the west and Jordan to the east, including a significant coast line on the Dead Sea.
  • Gaza Strip
    The Gaza Strip borders the south-western coast of Israel and Egypt to the south-west. It is de facto under control of Hamas, a rival to Fatah, which is controlling the West Bank.

Important cities are: East Jerusalem (capital of Palestine, site of the Old City with several holy places for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall and Dome of the Rock), Ramallah (the administrative capital of the West Bank and temporary host to the PNA, Ramallah is a magnet for Palestinians seeking for work as well as foreign activists), Bethlehem (a site of Christian holy places such as the Church of the Nativity), Gaza City (the largest city in the Palestine, with 450,000 people, Gaza City is a coastal city and the administrative capital of the Gaza Governorate, but it has been heavily damaged in several wars between Israel and Hamas and, due to border closures by Israel and Egypt, you probably can’t get in/out), Hebron (highlights include a stunning old city and glass and pottery factories), Jenin (the West Bank’s northernmost city, only 26km from Nazareth. Its name’s meaning is The spring of gardens), Jericho (the “Oldest City in the World” and around 400m below sea level), and Nablus (considered the commercial capital of the West Bank, it is known for its old city, its furniture trade and the delicious kanafeh) – (cities n Palestine).

The Palestine, together with Israel, are considered the Holy Land for many of the world’s major religions, including Baha’ism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The Holy Land has attracted tourists and religious visitors for centuries, and this industry remains important for the region. Many sites of religious and archaeological significance are to be found within the boundaries of Palestine, most notably Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus and Jericho. Archaeology, Palestinian culture, political significance, natural scenery, ecotourism, and volunteerism also attract tourists. Lonely Planet travel guide writes that “the West Bank is not the easiest place in which to travel but the effort is richly rewarded.” In 2013 Palestine Tourism minister Rula Ma’ay’a stated that her government aims to encourage international visits to Palestine, but the occupation is the main factor preventing the tourism sector from becoming a major income source to Palestinians. There are no visa conditions imposed on foreign nationals other than those imposed by the visa policy of Israel. Access to East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is completely controlled by the Government of Israel. Entry to the occupied Palestinian territories requires only a valid international passport. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a United Nations agency, declared the West Bank as the most dynamic tourist region of the Levant in 2016. The country is host to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites (tourism in Palestine).

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Palestine, Palestine Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Palestine, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Palestine and Wikivoyage Palestine.

The Umayyad Mosque, the Great Mosque of Damascus © Noor Khayat/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Umayyad Mosque, the Great Mosque of Damascus © Noor Khayat/cc-by-sa-3.0

Syria is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest. The western two-thirds of Syria′s Golan Heights are since 1967 occupied by Israel and were in 1981 effectively annexed by Israel, whereas the eastern third is controlled by Syria, with the UNDOF maintaining a buffer zone in between, to implement the ceasefire of the Purple Line. A country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts, Syria is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups. Its capital Damascus and largest city Aleppo are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In the Islamic era, Damascus was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt (history of Syria and culture of Syria). Syria has 14 governorates, but the following conceptual division used to make more sense for travellers:

  • Northwestern Syria
    Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world, as well as the Dead Cities, 700 abandoned settlements in the northwest of the country.
  • Hauran
    A volcanic plateau in the southwest of Syria, also includes the capital Damascus and its sphere of influence.
  • Orontes Valley
    The Orontes Valley, home to the towns of Hama and Homs.
  • Syrian Coast and Mountains
    Green and fertile, relatively Christian, somewhat liberal, and dominated by Phoenician and Crusader history.
  • Syrian Desert
    A vast empty desert with the oasis of Palmyra, as well the basin of the Euphrates, which is historically associated with the Assyrian and Babylonian history.
  • Golan Heights
    Occupied by Israel in 1967 and formally annexed in 1981, the Golan Heights is claimed by Syria. The annexation is not recognised by the United Nations. A small area of land centred on Quneitra was transferred back to Syria in 1974. This deserted town, kept in its ruined state as a monument to the war, can be visited with permission from the Ministry of Interior (open 08:00-14:00, Sunday-Thursday, authorisation requires your passport and takes around 30min).

The largest cities are: Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Latakia, Hama, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Al-Hasakah, Qamishli, and Sayyidah Zaynab (cities in Syria). Other destinations are:

  • Apamea – a former Roman city which once housed about half a million people. Apamea was hit by an earthquake in the 12th century and much of it was destroyed but it still boasts a long street lined with columns, some of which have twisted fluting.
  • Bosra – a Roman city in southern Syria close to the Jordan frontier noted for the use of black basalt stones and its well preserved theatre.
  • Krac des Chevaliers – the archetypal Crusader castle, magnificently preserved and not to be missed.
  • Dead Cities – a series of towns which once formed part of Antioch. They have long since been abandoned but make an interesting stop for tourists. al-Bara boasts pyramidal tombs and formerly grand archways set on modern farm land. Serjilla is another famous dead city
  • Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian – not a tourist site, but an active Christian monastery actively promoting Islamic/Christian dialogue. Welcomes Christians and followers of other religious traditions. It is 80 km north of Damascus.
  • Palmyra – formerly held the once-magnificent ruins of a Roman city, in the middle of the desert. Once considered the main attraction in Syria, no longer a viable destination as the UNESCO-listed heritage site was destroyed by Daesh extremists in 2015.
  • Saladin’s Castle – a quiet gem in a valley with pine trees about 37 km inland from Latakia.
  • Salamiyah – Salamiyah is an ancient city which was first known during Babylonian times in 3500 BC; contains Shmemis castle, Greek temple of Zeus, the old hammam, the old walls, remains of Roman canals.
  • The country is host to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Although it has some of the oldest cities in Western Asia, such as Damascus and Aleppo, tourism in Syria has been greatly reduced by the Syrian Civil War and its associated refugee crisis. Many former tourist attractions have been destroyed by shelling; flights by all major airlines have been suspended, and many major hotels have closed. It is estimated that considerable investment will be necessary to revive the country’s tourism industry.

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Syria, lonelyplanet.com – Syria, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Syria and Wikivoyage Syria.

Place de la Victoire in Tunis © BishkekRocks

Place de la Victoire in Tunis © BishkekRocks

Tunisia is a country in North Africa, covering 165,000 square kilometres (64,000 square miles). Its northernmost point, Cape Angela, is the northernmost point on the African continent. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Tunisia’s population was estimated to be just under 11.93 million in 2016. Tunisia’s name is derived from its capital city, Tunis, which is located on its northeast coast. Geographically, Tunisia contains the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains and the northern reaches of the Sahara desert. Much of the rest of the country’s land is fertile soil. Its 1,300 kilometres (810 miles) of coastline includes the African conjunction of the western and eastern parts of the Mediterranean Basin and, by means of the Sicilian Strait and Sardinian Channel, features the African mainland’s second and third nearest points to Europe after Gibraltar.

In ancient times, Tunisia was primarily inhabited by Berbers. Phoenician immigration began in the 12th century BC; these immigrants founded Carthage. A major mercantile power and a military rival of the Roman Republic, Carthage was defeated by the Romans in 146 BC. The Romans, who would occupy Tunisia for most of the next eight hundred years, introduced Christianity and left architectural legacies like the El Djem amphitheater. After several attempts starting in 647, the Arabs conquered the whole of Tunisia by 697, followed by the Ottomans between 1534 and 1574. The Ottomans held sway for over three hundred years. The French colonization of Tunisia occurred in 1881. Tunisia gained independence with Habib Bourguiba and declared the Tunisian Republic in 1957. In 2011, the Tunisian Revolution resulted in the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, followed by parliamentary elections (history of Tunisia, culture of Tunisia, Tunisian literature, and music of Tunisia). Regions of the country are:

The largest cities are: Tunis, Sfax, Sousse, Ettadhamen-Mnihla, Kairouan, Gabès, Bizerte, La Soukra, Aryanah, and Sakiet Eddaïer (cities in Tunisia). Other destinations are:

  • Carthage – Phoenician colony, biggest trade metropolis of the antique world; famously razed by the Romans; remnants now encased in a museum; site easily reached by train from Tunis.
  • Djerba – a Mediterranean island in the south which is popular with sun-seekers.
  • Dougga – impressive ruins of a remote Roman city.
  • El Djem – one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world.
  • Jebil National Park – a large Saharan National Park with impressive dunes and rock formations.
  • Kerkouane – remnants of the sole untouched Punic settlement which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Ksar Ghilane – on the edge of the sand desert, the saharan oasis known for its hot spring and old roman fort.
  • Matmata – berber village of cave abodes, where Star Wars‘s Tatooine was set.
  • Métlaoui – get aboard the restored Red Lizard vintage train snaking through scenic gorges and hills.
  • Sbeitla – a fairly well preserved Roman settlement in the mid-west area of Tunisia.
  • The country is host to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Tourism in Tunisia is an industry that generates around 7 million arrivals per year, which makes the country among the ones that attract the most tourists in Africa. Tunisia has been an attractive destination for tourists since the beginning of the 1960s. Among Tunisia’s tourist attractions are its cosmopolitan capital city of Tunis, the ancient ruins of Carthage, the Muslim and Jewish quarters of Djerba, and coastal resorts outside Monastir. According to The New York Times, Tunisia is “known for its golden beaches, sunny weather and affordable luxuries.”

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Tunisia, Tunisia Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Tunisia, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Tunisia and Wikivoyage Tunisia.

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul © Carlos Delgado/cc-by-sa-3.0

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul © Carlos Delgado/cc-by-sa-3.0

Turkey is a transcontinental country in Eurasia, mainly in Anatolia in Western Asia, with a smaller portion on the Balkans in Southeast Europe. Turkey is bordered by eight countries with Greece and Bulgaria to the northwest; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the south. The country is encircled by seas on three sides with the Aegean Sea to the west, the Black Sea to the north, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles, which together form the Turkish Straits, divide Thrace and Anatolia and separate Europe and Asia. Ankara is the capital while Istanbul is the country’s largest city and main cultural and commercial centre.

The area of Turkey has been inhabited since the Paleolithic age by various ancient Anatolian civilisations, as well as Assyrians, Greeks, Thracians, Phrygians, Urartians and Armenians. After Alexander the Great conquered these lands, the area was Hellenized, a process which continued under the Roman Empire and its transition into the Byzantine Empire. The Seljuk Turks began migrating into the area in the 11th century, and their victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 symbolizes the start of Turkification in Anatolia. The Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm ruled Anatolia until the Mongol invasion in 1243, when it disintegrated into small Turkish beyliks. From the end of the 13th century the Ottomans started uniting Turkish principalities in Anatolia and then went on to create an empire that encompassed much of Southeast Europe, West Asia and North Africa. The Ottoman Empire reached its peak territorial mass and became a world power during the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent in the early modern period. It remained powerful and influential for two more centuries, until important setbacks in the 18th and 19th century forced it to cede strategic territories in Europe, which signalled the loss of its former military strength and wealth. After the 1913 Ottoman coup d’état, which effectively put the country under the control of the Three Pashas, the Ottoman Empire decided to join the Central Powers during World War I. During the war, the Ottoman government committed genocides against its Armenian, Assyrian and Pontic Greek subjects. Following the war, the conglomeration of territories and peoples that formerly comprised the Ottoman Empire was partitioned into several new states. The Turkish War of Independence, initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues against occupying Allies, resulted in the abolition of monarchy in 1922 and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, with Atatürk as its first president. Atatürk enacted numerous reforms, many of which incorporated various aspects of western thought, philosophy, and customs into the new form of Turkish government (history of Turkey, culture of Turkey, arts in Turkey, Turkish folklore, Festivals in Turkey, Turkish painting, Turkish carpet, Turkish literature, music of Turkey, and architecture of Turkey). Regions of the country are:

The largest cities are: Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Bursa, Adana, Gaziantep, Konya, Antalya, Kayseri, Mersin, Eskişehir, Diyarbakır, Samsun, Denizli, Şanlıurfa, Adapazarı, Malatya, Kahramanmaraş, Erzurum, Van, and Batman (cities and towns in Turkey). Other destinations are:

  • Ani – impressive ruins of the medieval Armenian capital in the far east of the country; known as the city of 1000 churches.
  • Cappadocia – an area in the central highlands best known for its unique moon-like landscape (the “fairy chimneys”), underground cities, cave churches and houses carved in the rocks.
  • Ephesus – well-preserved ruins of the Roman city on the west coast.
  • Gelibolu – site of 1915 Anzac landing and many WWI memorials.
  • Mount Nemrut – a UNESCO World Heritage site with head statues dedicated to ancient gods on its summit.
  • Ölüdeniz – incomparable postcard beauty of the “Blue Lagoon”, perhaps the most famous beach of Turkey which you will see on any tourism brochure.
  • Pamukkale – “the Cotton Castle”, white world of travertines surrounding cascading shallow pools filled with thermal waters.
  • Sumela Monastery – stunning monastery on the cliffs of a mountain, a must-see on any trip to the northeast coast.
  • Uludağ – a national park featuring school textbook belts of different types of forests varying with altitude, and the major winter sports resort of the country.

Tourism in Turkey has experienced rapid growth in the last twenty years, and constitutes an important part of the economy. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism currently promotes Turkish tourism under the Turkey Home name. At its height in 2014, Turkey attracted around 42 million foreign tourists, ranking as the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world. This number however declined to around 36 million in 2015, deteriorated to around 25 million in 2016 and still further in 2017, due to regional uncertanities, political tension with Russia, terrorist attacks and the unfavorable Erdogan regime image abroad. The country is host to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Read more on U.S. Department of State: Turkey, Turkey Tourism, lonelyplanet.com – Turkey, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Turkey and Wikivoyage Turkey (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.

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