Underrated Historical Places to Visit in the Middle East
By Farah Mahgoub
The Middle East is known for its beauty and culture, yet it’s full of astonishing historical places that we know little about. There’s so much to explore in the region, so here are seven places in seven different countries that are highly underrated and definitely deserve more attention than they get.
Ajloun Castle – Jordan
Placed on a hilltop, Ajloun Castle is a beautiful 12th-century castle built under the rule of the sultan and military leader Saladin. Over the years, the castle has undergone many renovations that have left it with few of its original features. You can explore many areas of the castle and visit the exhibition inside that displays many fascinating artifacts from various time periods. Besides that, the view from the castle is surreal as its strategic location provides visitors with incredible views of the Jordan Valley and the surrounding desert.
Siwa Oasis – Egypt
With a long and ancient past, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements, with a small population, mostly Berbers, who have their own unique culture and language. The oldest monuments in the oasis, such as the Temple of the Oracle, date back to the 26th dynasty when Egypt was invaded by the Assyrians. In the past few years, Siwa is slowly getting the recognition it deserves, though it’s not nearly as popular as other tourist attractions in Egypt.
Matmata – Tunisia
Matmata is best known for its underground caves which house some of the local Berber population. They were built by digging large pits in the ground and the sides of the pits were dug to be used as rooms, while the open pit functions as a courtyard. These caves were initially built to avoid the heat and it wasn’t really known until 1967 that there were regular settlements in this area besides wandering nomadic tribes.
Tombs of the Kings of Pontus – Turkey
The Tombs of the Kings of Pontus are rock-carved tombs of different sizes overlooking the river. Cut deep into the limestone as early as the 4th century BC, the tombs were used for cult worship of the rulers. You can walk up to four of the tombs in the valley and get a magnificent view of Amasya, a city in northern Turkey.
Fin Garden – Iran
This heavenly Persian garden in Kashan, Iran dates back to the 16th century, making it the oldest existing garden in Iran. It contains Kashan’s Fin Bath, where Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor was murdered by an assassin sent by King Nasereddin Shah in 1852. The garden exhibits a great mixture of nature, culture, history, and architecture.
Al Hoota Cave – Oman
Located at the foot of Jabal Shams, Al Hoota Cave is estimated to be over two million years old. It’s the first and only cave in the Arabian Peninsula with a total length of around 4.5km, of which 500m is accessible to the public. The curtains and columns in the cave are truly fascinating, making it one of the most underrated places in the Middle East and the world.
Riffa Fort – Bahrain
Sheikh Salman bin Ahmed Al-Fateh Fort, commonly known as Riffa Fort because of its location in Riffa, is a historic landmark in Bahrain that was built in 1812, though some sources say it dates back to the 17th century. The small museum with raised walkways inside the fort is sure to enhance the visitor’s experience, even though the beautiful architecture of the place is enough to leave you amazed.