By David Light
That cross is an important artifact. It belongs in a museum.”
The curtain had just risen on the Steven Spielberg epic Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade followed by those couple of lines uttered by a young Indie (River Phoenix) and I immediately fell hook, line and sinker for history. While many would have taken away an admiration for trilby hats or Sean Connery’s Scottish lilt, I, aged four and far too young to be watching the picture, firmly set my sights on personally running an eye over as many ancient destinations and relics as humanly possible.
Why? Because it took Dr Jones across the world and, even at a young age, travel was incredibly exhilarating. Of course, Dr Jones employs his archaeological talents to solve mysteries and rescue his father (Connery). My takeaway, however, was that the hero’s historical knowledge enabled him to adventure to exotic destinations in which lay more interesting treasures and vistas than Hampshire, England, could ever provide. Plus, I hoped to pick up a smattering of Latin or Ancient Greek along the way.
My linguistic ambitions largely failed, but the opportunity to tread in antique footsteps has only increased since moving to the UAE over a decade ago. Dotted around the Middle East, prior civilisations toiled to withstand the occasionally harsh climes by constructing everything from simple one-story huts to vast cities, the remnants of which remain on view today. Here are a few you things should bear in mind if chronicling the past piques your interest or if you fancy a more educationally rigorous upcoming Eid Al Adha break than a run-of-the-mill hop over to Thailand or Bali for a lie-down on the beach.
Straight out of the gate, parts of The Last Crusade were actually filmed right on our doorstep in Petra, Jordan. The idyllic country is just a three-and-a-half hour flight from Dubai and not only contains the iconic Nabataean temples carved out of red rock, but its capital Amman boasts some of the best Roman ruins I have ever seen — the Temple of Hercules — not to mention Jesus’ baptism site a short drive away down by the Dead Sea. Oh yeah… it also boasts the Dead Sea!
Head an hour’s flight east and you can discover Oman’s archeology efforts on display in Salalah’s uncovered fortified city of Khor Rori. This World Heritage Site makes up part of the town’s Land of Frankincense initiative, which includes more ruins on the beautiful shoreline.
Bahrain’s Barbar Temple is worth a look if an island holiday is up your alley. Dating back to 3000 BC, the limestone buildings in the north-west of the small state are very well preserved, as is the lesser-known Qasr Al Bint in Saudi Arabia’s Mada’in Saleh, which, if you are allowed access to the country, should be on top of your list.
Closer to home, the UAE provides a few gems too. The church site on Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, dates back to the seventh century. It takes some organising to get there, though your fascination should keep you sustained.
Sharjah’s Archeological Museum is a bargain at Dh10 entry and may be preferable during these hot months, though for the real ‘histo-heads’ there are a pair of interesting, archeology plots in Al Sufouh and Jumeirah. Set in Al Sufouh Gardens opposite an Emirates Coop supermarket, you won’t see an awful lot at this first location, but if you’re passing just pop a glance. The second site, between Jumeirah and Al Wasl Road, is far more visitor-friendly. You can park up and have a nose around.
Wherever you end up, may your exploration be thought-provoking and fruitful and please don’t forget to pack your leather jacket and khaki pants. Whip optional.
David is an avid traveller. Give him half a chance and he’s off exploring