Image 1 of 18: The soaring (65m) Minaret of Jam sits in a deep river valley amidst towering mountains in Ghur province, Afghanistan. Built in the 12th century, its elaborate brickwork and blue-tiled top inscription represent the architectural and artistic tradition of this region. High elevation won’t protect it from river flooding!
Image 1 of 18: The Phoenicians set up a trading-post in the 4th century at the spectacular coastal site of present-day Algiers, but it had been inhabited for centuries before. See the remains of the citadel, old mosques and Ottoman-style palaces. Rock this kasbah while it’s still on dry land!
Image 1 of 18: Qal’at al-Bahrain is a “tell”, a mound created by layers of continuous human presence from 2300 BC to 1500 AD in (gasp!)-Bahrain. Excavation of the former trading port has revealed residential, commercial, religious and military structures. The site was the capital of the Dilmun, perhaps the region’s most important ancient civilization.
Image 1 of 18: Tucked inside modern urban Cairo lies one of the world's oldest Islamic cities, with its famous mosques, madrasas, hammams and fountains. Founded in the 10th century, it became the new center of the Islamic world. The 14th century is considered Cairo’s “golden age”, but this city is never out of the headlines!
Image 1 of 18: The lavish Golestan Palace, located in the heart of Tehran, is a masterpiece of the Qajar era, integrating early Persian crafts and architecture with Western influences. Many trace the origins of the modern Iranian artistic movement to the inventive art and architecture of this late 19th century palace complex.
Image 1 of 18: The city of Hatra laid out on a circular plan in Iraq, the capital of the first Arab Kingdom, withstood 2nd century invasions by the Romans thanks to double-thick walls reinforced by towers. The city was a major staging-post on the oriental silk road, and its remains - impressive gates, towers and temples - attest to its greatness.
Image 1 of 18: Tel Aviv’s White City - designed by European-trained architects - was built from the 1930s until the 1950s. An outstanding architectural ensemble of the West’s modern architecture movement in a new cultural context,the White City boasts the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings.
Image 1 of 18: Inhabited since prehistoric times, the Nabataean caravan-city of Petra located in present-day Jordan was an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Half-built, half-carved into rock amidst mountains and gorges, it is one of the world's most famous archaeological sites, and instantly familiar to fans of Indiana Jones.
Image 1 of 18: One of world’s most important early Christian monastic settlements, Lebanon's Qadisha Valley’s rugged landscape, natural caves, and remains of the great cedar forest are a perfect place for meditation and refuge. Venue for the next UN Climate Change conference, maybe?
Image 1 of 18: A colony of the Greeks of Thera, and later Romanized, Cyrene remained a great capital until a massive earthquake hit in 365. Rediscovered in the 18th century in what is now present-day Libya, a thousand years of history is written into its ruins - one of the most impressive archeological sites in the world.
Image 1 of 18: Home to the world’s oldest university (and most recognizable hat!), Fez peaked in the 14th century, replacing Marrakesh as the Moroccan kingdom’s capital. The main elements in any medina – madrasas, fondouks, palaces, mosques and fountains - date from that period. Rabat is now the capital, but Fez remains the country's cultural center.
Image 1 of 18: Ever hear of the “Incense Road”? It was the Route 66 of the ancient frankincense trade. The incense industry was big business in the ancient and medieval world, and Oman was its Silicon Valley. The frankincense trees (Wadi Dawkah), caravan oasis (Shisr/Wubar) and ports (Khor Rori and Al-Baleed) remain.
Image 1 of 18: This church was erected in 339 AD on the site identified as the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, and rebuilt after a 6th century fire, retaining elaborate floor mosaics from the original building. The site includes Latin, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian convents and churches, and a well-trodden pilgrimage route.
Image 1 of 18: This was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, located north-west of Riyadh. By the 19th century, its political and religious role increased, and the at-Turaif citadel became the center of power for the House of Saud. The property includes the remains of many palaces built on the edge of the ad-Dir’iyah oasis.
Image 1 of 18: Five thousand year old Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited Middle East cities with some 125 listed monuments from different periods of its history – one of the most spectacular is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads. There is scant intel as to how these are surviving three years of civil war.
Image 1 of 18: Founded in the 9th century B.C. on the Gulf of Tunis, Carthage grew into a great trading empire covering most of the Mediterranean. Its brilliant civilization was conquered by Rome following the long Punic wars, and a second – Roman – Carthage was established on the ruins of the first. It was Hannibal’s hometown!
Image 1 of 18: The collective cultural sites of Al Ain in present-day Abu Dhabi map the transition of prehistoric cultures from hunting and gathering to sedentary living. We’re not talking couch potatoes, more a single-zip-code lifestyle with circular stone tombs, adobe towers and palaces, and one of the oldest examples of an Iron Age irrigation system.
Image 1 of 18: Four islands and two rocky islets form Yemen's enchanted Socotra Archipelago in the northwest Indian Ocean, a biodiverse site with rich flora and fauna: 37% of its plant species, 90% of its reptiles and 95% of its snails don’t occur anywhere else in the world. Its marine life is equally diverse, but sadly, so are its pirates!
Thinking about visiting the Middle East’s ancient monuments? Break out your snorkel and flippers! Scores of UNESCO World Heritage Sites will be underwater in 2,000 years’ time according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. It’s hard to get hopped up over that extended timeline – or – is it? Just think of everything we'd never have seen if historical seas rose at that clip!
“Our analysis shows how serious the long-term impacts for our cultural heritage will be if climate change is not mitigated,” said Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He co-authored the study with climate scientist Ben Marzeion from the University of Innsbruck.
Public interest in climate change mostly centers on the ecological and urban impacts; this study puts full focus on devastating effects on cultural heritage. It predicts that 136 out of 720 UNESCO-listed monuments will be affected in the long-term; dramatic ocean encroachment on heritage sites may result in 2014 tourists seeing the pyramids from a glass-bottom boat!
The scientists computed the likely sea-level rise for each degree of global warming and concluded that a one degree Celsius increase in average world temperature will directly threaten over 40 sites over the next two millennium. (Average temperature has already increased by 0.8°C on pre-industrial levels!)
“If large ice masses are melting and the water is dispersed throughout the oceans, this will also influence the Earth’s gravitational field,” said Levermann. “Sea-level rise will therefore vary between regions.” Tides and storm surges, which were not considered in the analysis, would hasten the damage.
War, earthquakes and natural disasters, pollution, and uncontrolled urbanization pose major problems to World Heritage Sites. As climate change converts currently populated land into oceans, future archaeologists will need to dive underwater to explore our cultural legacy. Even sites located at higher elevations and drier locales will be vulnerable as rising seas affect inland aquifers; creating risks of increased flooding and changed soil conditions. Hello sinkholes and mudslides!
So what's this mean for the Arab world? Here's a sampling of Middle Eastern treasures that ought to feature on your bucket list - even if you think climate change is filled with hot air. See them before you need that bucket to bail!