Spanning the coast of Israel to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the Middle-East is filled with some of the most extraordinary landscapes and cities in the world. From awe-inspiring natural phenomenon to exquisite historic sites reflecting each country's heritage and culture, here is a list of fourteen of the most beautiful places in the Middle-East.
THE DEAD SEA: Bordered by Jordan, Palestine and Israel, The Dead Sea is, in fact, a saltwater lake, known for being one of the world's most saline bodies of water, as well as one of its most stunning. Thanks to its high salt content, The Dead Sea's shores are filled with extraordinarily striking salt deposits and mineral formations, which beautifully contrast with its soft sands and the clear tranquility of its water.
Image: The Dead Sea | © Israeltourism/Flickr
THE DOME OF THE ROCK: Located on Haram Al-Sharif, in the heart of Jerusalem, 'The Dome of the Rock' is one of the world's holiest sites and a stunning example of Islamic architecture. Built in the 7th century, the shrine features an octagonal structure, a magnificent golden dome and stunning tile work inspired by the Byzantine style. Inside the Dome is the Foundation Stone, a holy artifact of immense importance to those of both Muslim and Jewish faiths.
Image: The Dome of the Rock | Asim Bharwani/Flickr
ERBIL CITADEL: On a mound, raised about 30m above the rest of the city, lies Erbil Citadel –the ancient center of the Iraqi city of Erbil, and the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the world. The houses along the exterior of the citadel form a fort-like structure, while the interior is filled with narrow alleys, archways and intricate brickwork. Erbil Citadel was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, in 2014, recognizing its immense cultural and historic significance.
Image: Erbil Citadel | David Stanley/Flickr
HEGRA: Located in modern day Saudi Arabia, Hegra was one of the largest cities in the Nabatean Kingdom, second only to Petra in Jordan. The city was built in the 1st century AD, and originally consisted of a residential area and a necropolis. Of these 131 colossal, astonishingly detailed tombs remain, cut into the rock faces. Hegra was considered for a long time to be cursed and was avoided by locals and travelers, leading to its extraordinary preservation.
Image: Nabataean Tomb, Mada'in Saleh (Cities of Salih)
JEITA GROTTO consists of two interconnected limestone caves located in the Nahr al-Kalb valley, in Lebanon; the upper grotto, which is accessible by walking, and the lower grotto, which is viewed from a rowboat on a lake winding through the cave. Both grottos feature awe-inspiring natural creations, including stalactites and stalagmites, mushrooms, columns and curtains. The glittering water, multi-colored rocks and dramatic formations create an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere rarely experienced elsewhere.
Image: Jeita Grotto | kcakduman/Flickr
KHOR AL-UDAID: One of the Middle East's most unique landscapes, Khor al-Udaid features an extraordinary juxtaposition of desert and sea on the Qatari coast of the Persian Gulf. By day, the sea smoothly draws up amongst the soft white sand dunes, creating a beautifully clear and still inland sea, before retreating again at night. During sunsets, the landscape becomes all the more glorious, reflecting a myriad of rich colors on the sparkling sands and waters.
Image: Khor al Udaid Beach near Doha Qatar
LUXOR: Often called the world's greatest outdoor museum, Egypt's Luxor overflows with beautiful ruins, mosques and temples, which come together to make the city one of the most extraordinary in the Middle-East. The Karnak Temple features iconic rows of sandstone columns and wonderfully preserved friezes, while over 50 tombs lie in the dramatic 'Valley of the Kings', including the stunning tomb of Tutankhamen, surrounding visitors with glimpses into Egypt's rich cultural past.
Image: Columns Karnak Temple
MUSANDAM FJORDS: Separated from the rest of Oman, by the UAE, the Musandam Fjords, located on the Strait of Hormuz, incorporate the dramatic scenery of the famous Norwegian fjords with the natural beauty of the Arabian Peninsula. Ragged, rocky mountains descend to the water in sheer cliff faces, with tiny coastal villages interspersed among the crags. Although the mountain scenery is quite sparse, the water teems with wildlife, making it one of the best places for scuba diving in the area.
Image: Khasab, Musandam Governorate
NASIR AL-MULK MOSQUE: Also known as the Pink Mosque, the Nasir al-Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran has become famous for its intricate tile work and extraordinary use of colored glass in its windows, making it one of the most striking houses of worship in the world. As the early morning sunlight streams in through the windows, it casts extraordinary pools of jewel-bright color over the tiles and Persian carpets, creating a never-before-seen patchwork of patterns, light and color.
Image: Nasir al-Mulk Mosque | © tamra hays/Flickr
PETRA: Known as the rose-red city for the vibrant color of its sandstone, Petra is one of the world's most famous archaeological sites and was named one of the Wonders of the World by the New7Wonders Foundation. The capital of the Nabatean Kingdom, Petra was an important trade and cultural center for several centuries before being largely abandoned. Although much of the city has been destroyed, the numerous tombs, temples and streets which remain are indescribably beautiful.
SHAH SQUARE: The monumental Shah Square, in Isfahan, Iran is one of the largest and most impressive squares in the world. Constructed in the early 17th century and featuring buildings from the country's Safavid era, the square brings together some of Isfahan's most beautiful and culturally important sites, with the stunning Shah Mosque, the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, the regal Ali Qapu Palace and the bustling Isfahan Grand Bazaar forming the square's four sides.
Image: Shah Square | © Arad Mojtahedi/WikiCommons
SHEIKH ZAYED MOSQUE: The Sheikh Zayed Mosque, in Abu Dhabi, is a marvel of contemporary Islamic architecture. Inspired by Arab, Moorish and Persian design, the mosque sets itself apart from its predecessors, thanks to its vast size, built to accommodate over 40,000 worshippers, it's pure white exterior dazzlingly reflected in pools of water, and the spectacular richness of its interior, with marble columns inlaid with mother of pearl, Swarowski crystal chandeliers and beautifully woven Persian carpets.
Image: Sheikh Zayed Mosque | © ashraful kadir/Flickr
SOCOTRA ARCHIPELAGO: Lying midway between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, the Socotra Archipelago is a collection of four small islands belonging to Yemen, and features some of the world's most stunning landscapes. Due to its isolated nature, a third of the plant life is unique to the island, including the striking dragon blood tree and large exotic coral reefs, while undisturbed beaches and crystal clear waters make the islands a tropical paradise.
Image: Socotra Archipelago | © Martin Sojka/Flickr
THE WHITE DESERT: Situated in the dramatic Farafra depression, in Western Egypt, the White Desert is astoundingly beautiful, featuring miles upon miles of unusual, otherworldly rock formations formed millions of years ago, when the surface of the desert was covered in a layer of chalk. Today, they teeter above the soft sand, punctuating the otherwise typical landscape with their dramatic forms. The White Desert is particularly spectacular at night time, when the moonlight and stars lend it an ethereal glow.