Modern History Continues In The Middle East
It’s a region painted in the stories of the beginnings of our civilization, from towering columns carved into the pink sandstone cliffs of Petra to the holy land of Israel and the ancient pyramids of Giza. Steeped in mystery and conspiracy, inquiries into the origins of the world’s oldest landmarks often seem to present more questions—a seductive narrative that can distract us from appreciating that the significance of this ancient region isn’t rooted solely in the past.
As home to some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth, the Middle East is a manifestation of the blossoming of civilization in real-time. From the world-famous nightlife scene in Tel Aviv to modern art in Cairo and the multinational business mecca of Amman, read on to discover the modern side of three Middle Eastern cities.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Possibly the most legendary city across the world’s three great monotheistic faiths, Jerusalem tends to overshadow Israel’s former joint capital of Tel Aviv. As the country’s financial and economic beating heart, Tel Aviv boasts its own brand of modern magnetism: European modernist art, high fashion, vibrant nightlife and abundant Bauhaus architecture.
There is plenty of intriguing history in Tel Aviv outside the Old City of Jaffa. For example, the UNESCO-designated White City of Tel Aviv has more Bauhaus sites than any other city in the world—over 4,000 buildings built in this iconic style by German Jewish architects who immigrated to the area in the 1930s. Nearby, visit the upscale boutiques on Dizengoff Street, eat your way through the food stalls and delis of Sarona Market or view a wealth of post-impressionist and modern works at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Art lovers won’t want to miss visiting the first official neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Neve Tzedek, a quirky maze of narrow, winding streets, eclectic architecture and numerous art galleries. Navigate the colorful stalls of Carmel Market or check out the urban art scene at Nachalat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall before wandering to Tel Aviv’s picturesque beach.
Egypt’s sprawling capital is more than just pyramids. As the world’s largest desert metropolis and the capital of the Arab world, Cairo is a bona fide megacity, complete with a thousand minarets and over 20 million inhabitants alongside the world’s longest river.
Cairo’s historical importance cannot be overstated, from ancient Byzantine roots to dynastic, Ottoman and British imperial rule. Nonetheless, its history does not end there. The 20th century brought sweeping change to the city—possibly more than any other period. Riverfront expansion plus a large subway system modeled after the Paris metro sent the city sprawling north into the Nile River delta, connecting the city like never before.
Today, the Nile still represents Cairo’s lifeblood and is arguably one of the best ways to experience the full spectrum of its historical clout paired with modern-day comforts. Discover the Nile’s many treasures with a cruise by felucca or riverboat. Voyages range from single night dinner cruises to multi-stop voyages traveling between Cairo as far as Aswan or reverse with stops at sites such as Kom Ombo Temple, Luxor Temple, the Temple of Edfu, Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple and more.
Templed out? If you’ve had your fill of Egyptian antiquities and ancient tombs, cross over to the picturesque Gezira Island. Located on the Nile between downtown Cairo and Giza, the island is known for its abundant exotic gardens and upscale local attractions. Spend the day browsing small boutiques and modern art galleries, dining at trendy cafés or sipping cocktails at hip nightclubs. Save time for must-do experiences like seeing the panoramic view atop Cairo Tower or catching a performance at the famous Cairo Opera House.
“The beauty of traveling with Lakani is the extent of personalization and flexibility affordable with a private car and expert English speaking guide. We will create an itinerary to match the interests of travelers. For example, for those interested in art and music, we’ll build in a visit to the Ein Hod Artists Colony, in the Carmel region in northern Israel, and take them along the Sculpture Road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We’ll include concerts and private viewings at art galleries, and visits to artists’ workshops.”
– Heidi Lakani, Lakani World Tours
Jordan’s cultural capital since Roman times, Amman is often defined by its links to the past—the historic citadel atop Jabal al-Qala’a hill, palace ruins dating back to the 8th century, its hillside Roman Amphitheatre. Within the same country as Wadi Rum and Petra, many people mistake Amman for just another ancient Jordanian destination—which it is, yet with a seriously underrepresented modern flair.
Amman is one of the most progressive cities in the Arab world, second only to Dubai as the most popular location for multinational corporations to establish their regional headquarters. Historically speaking, however, its regional resurgence is relatively new. It wasn’t until the early 20th century when Amman became a stopover on the new Hejaz Railway between Damascus and Medina that the city truly began to expand. In the early 1920s, it became the center of the Emirate of Transjordan when King Abdullah I made it his permanent residence. By 1950, many Palestinians had already settled in when it was officially declared the capital of the Hashemite kingdom.
The subsequent flourishing of the kingdom is evident in many of Amman’s modern markers, from the many art galleries, shops and cafés along downtown’s Abu Bakr al Siddiq or Rainbow Street to glitzy rooftop bars, pulsating underground nightclubs and cozy shisha pubs. Additional examples of its modern flare are delightfully unexpected, like the King Abdullah Mosque, one of few grand Mosques in the world to embrace tourism and welcome non-Muslims into its spectacular interior. At the curious Royal Automobile Museum, a rare collection of official cars used by the royal family displays the treasures of a late king who ascended the throne at the age of 17. With ancient ruins sprinkled among contemporary attractions, Amman is bursting with the many curious symbols of the city’s quick path to modern prosperity.