Category Middle East

A golden age

The city of Jerash is an archaeological titan among the Roman relics of the east. But what sparked its monumental constructions?


In their magnificent forum, one can only wonder what the wealthy citizens of Jerash got up to. The city became a booming trade centre in Roman times, as evident by its grandiose facilities: paved and colonnaded streets, towering temples, fine theatres, public squares, city gates, fountains and baths. It became a prime example of Roman urbanism. How? Well, because it could afford it.

The city is among the best preserved ancient civilisations known to man. For reasons to be explained, it was gradually abandoned after the eight century. It was later covered in sand, and remained undiscovered until the early 1800s...

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Strange world

Described as the most alien-looking place on earth, Socotra Island is a treasure chest of endemic species. But its future is at a crossroads.


Imagine waking up on an empty beach, not knowing where you are. You notice the quiet azure waters beside you; the harsh rock formations towering above. You climb them and discover a dusty and undeveloped landscape. The trees look strange, like giant mushrooms, or flying saucers planted on a stilk. Other trees have stocky, inflated trunks. There are animals you have never seen before. You observe the trails of humans, but there is no infrastructure in sight.

This is Socotra Island, a remote 700-million-year-old island located 380 kilometres (235 miles) off the south-east coast of Yemen...

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Royal ruins

The ancient city of Persepolis once served as the capital of the Persian Empire. Today it is regarded among the world’s finest archaeological treasures.


It was the grandiose symbol of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Since the reign started in 550 B.C., initiated by Cyrus the Great, the Persians came to rule large parts of the Middle East, and territories as far as western Pakistan. Between 518 and 516 B.C., the empire’s third king, Darius, decided to build Persepolis: a city worthy of governing and entertaining the royalties of the member nations. It was a magnificent temple: stairways, gates and ceremonial halls. But as the empire fell, Persepolis went with it: in 330 B.C., less than two centuries after its construction, Alexander the Great, conquered and looted the city...

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Green revolution

As plans finally get underway to make Sharm el-Sheikh carbon neutral by 2020, the Egyptian ministry of tourism says its country is moving towards a green future. 


All has not been well of late in Sharm el-Sheikh; the 35,000-strong city on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula regarded as the jewel in the crown of Egyptian tourism. After a series of shark attacks in late 2010, in which an elderly woman was killed and four snorkelers injured, the uprising against president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 provoked further unrest among its visitors. It did elsewhere in Egypt too, with the number of tourists visiting the country falling by a third that year. Although Egypt has started to reclaim some of its popularity from 2010, when it welcomed 14...

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Manhattan of the desert

The desert floor of a Yemeni valley is not the first place you’d associate with the world’s first skyscrapers. But in Shibam – a city made entirely of mud – they have stood firm for 500 years. 


When British explorer and writer Freya Stark visited Shibam in the 1930s, she must have thought it was a mirage. On a hillock in a giant flash-flood valley, miles away from the nearest city, hundreds of skyscrapers tower above the landscape. Some have eight storeys and are 30 metres tall. What is more, they are all made of mud. No wonder she dubbed it the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’.

While not quite as famous as the New York borough, Shibam – located in the Hadhramaut Governorate of Yemen – is valued highly for its appearance and remarkable construction...

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The desert lab

On the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, the world’s most ambitious green project is gradually taking shape. Welcome to Masdar City. 


The oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi may appear an unlikely driving force behind an initiative to create a zero-emission centre for clean-tech innovation. But with Masdar City, an £11billion project aiming to provide the blueprint for tomorrow’s renewal energy sources, it is just that.

Here, in what will be a city of six square miles some 17 kilometres outside Abu Dhabi’s city centre, next to Abu Dhabi International Airport, everything is designed to optimise natural energy; high-tech solar towers, driverless zip pods jetting people across the city, and an automatic ‘energy police’ that alarms you whenever water or electricity is overused...

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