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Iraq… Ancient Mesopotamia & The Jewels of Assyria

November 09 to 26, 2019

Mesopotamia—the land between the great rivers Tigris and Euphrates—was the home to the world’s earliest civilization. To walk on such sites as Eridu, Uruk, Ur of the Chaldees and Babylon is to trace the history of the first cultures to build cities, invent writing, develop the wheel, and to rule the known world. Some have claimed that the Garden of Eden was located in Iraq, and biblical history touches this land too. When it became an independent country in 1932, Iraq had been home to ancient Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, and had been conquered by Persians, the Macedonian army of Alexander the Great, the armies of the Islamic conquest, the Mongol hordes, and the Ottoman empire of Turkey. At many points in its history, Iraq could be said to have been at the center of the civilized world, and you will see elements of this ancient history along with remnants of more recent times, including the regime of Saddam Hussein and the Coalition occupation.

For the first time in our history selling tours to Iraq, we are now pleased to visit sites that we have never been able to see before .. the Assyrian ancient cities of the north: Nimrud, Nineveh, Hatra, and Khorsabad. With many of them having suffered heavily under the occupation of ISIS the last few years, and now that ISIS has been mostly pushed out of this region, there are multiple international projects focusing on restoring part of the glory of those ruins.

Nimrud and nearby Nineveh are the sites where two Assyrian kings, Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) and Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.), recorded successful military campaigns on the walls of their palaces, according to the World Monuments Fund, a group dedicated to saving the world's most treasured places. "The palaces of Sennacherib at Nineveh and Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud are vestiges of the political, cultural and artistic height of the Assyrian Empire," the WMF says on its website under the heading, "Why it Matters." The group had helped preserve the treasures at Nimrud following the 2003 Iraq war.

You will marvel at Khorsabad, a former Persian capital which is 2500 years old. The core structures at Korsabad were built around 725 BC by King Sargon II, who was involved in the exile of the Jewish people from Judea, Samaria, and Israel.

A large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab Kingdom, Hatra withstood invasions by the Romans in A.D. 116 and 198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers. The remains of the city, especially the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern decorative features, attest to the greatness of its civilization.

The tour was wonderful and excellent in every way. At another time will write more, but Heider and Basim were superb, the visits to the monuments extraordinary. We had a great time and were thrilled with what we saw and experienced. This is a a great adventure and we hope those going now appreciate the efforts as much as we did. – Dr. James Strain (March 2017)

Escorted by Scholar Bruce Wannell

Per person sharing in double occupancy:  
(Air and Land – based on NYC departure): $8,995.00

Single Supplement: $995.00       
Credit for not using our included airfare $750.00

Price based on group size minimum of 6 participants and maximum of 16 participants

Your tour Includes:

  • All transfers with assistance and luggage porterage.

  • Airfare from the East Coast (options are via Istanbul, Doha, Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Amman)

  • Transportation within country using A/C motor coach.

  • All mentioned accommodations in best (and safest) hotels available (some 4 and some 5 stars).

  • All meals are included (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner) and Bottled water on the bus and at meals.

  • All entrance fees to visited sites (mentioned in the itinerary).

  • Service of accompanying local guide/escort.

  • Accompanying security personnel in Iraq (if and when needed).

  • All gratuities to guides, porters, drivers, and hotel staff, etc.

Your tour Does Not Include:

  • Airline taxes, fuel surcharges and security fees (approx. $500.00).

  • Iraq Visa (Currently obtainable from embassy in DC for $40 fee plus handling & shipping (approx. $100).

  • Beverages with meals and meals not noted.

  • Any flights from hometown to your gateway airport.

  • Items of a personal nature, i.e. souvenirs, camera fees, laundry, phone calls, emails, etc.

  • Dayroom or extra hotel nights necessitated by airline flight schedule changes or misconnections.

  • Travel insurance (VERY highly recommended for your own peace of mind).

Tour Notes

The US Department of State has warnings for travel to Iraq and by joining this trip; you are accepting and admitting awareness to such warnings. Please visit their web site at www.travel.state.gov/travel

Iraq offers no frills such as super highways and comfortable roads but you will be immersed in Mesopotamia and its sites and the historical value is stunning. The trip will be faced with a big number of check points (daily between a couple of them up to possibly 5 or 6); some will be quick ones and others will entail up to an hour wait, hence absolute patience is paramount, and questioning or complaining about such conditions will not be appreciated! Accommodations have developed and improved a lot in the last years and now “most of the hotels we use are very comfortable and pleasant. You also must understand that our guides cannot compare to the “classical” definition of guides in the well-touristy places like Europe or Egypt and Morocco, they act mostly as tour managers and coordinators as the country does NOT have any official and licensed expert guides in the real sense of the word.

Amazingly internet is available almost everywhere in Iraq but service can be very frustrating, sporadic, slow, and interrupted, same like their electric service, which will be cut multiple times a day for a few minutes at a time.

Everyone joining must be in good state of health, with an open mind and a sense of adventure. Please note that although this trip is not necessarily physically demanding by way of exertion, the remoteness of some sites, the back roads we sometimes have to take, the delays, the security arrangements, the sudden changes in itinerary or hotels due to unforeseen conditions and sometimes even the heat, can take its toll and participants must be open-minded and prepared for all eventualities.

Southern Iraq is comparatively very safe and we do not anticipate any security problems or concerns though we reserve the right to alter the program or change the routing or sequence of visits depending on any unforeseen events.   

About your lecturer...Scholar Bruce Wannell has been traveling for over 40 years through North and East Africa, the Levant, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, Northern India and the Deccan sometimes living in such places for an extended period of time. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Africa, Asia, the Near East and the Islamic world and is a linguist fluent in French, German, Italian as well as Arabic and Persian languages. Mr. Wannell was educated at Wellington College near Sandhurst in Surrey and at Oriel College, Oxford, in the UK. His background has served him well as he regularly translates and gives lectures related to his field of expertise. He has also worked as a teacher with refugees. Bruce enjoys an eclectic array of pastimes, from gardening to French cuisine and chamber music (piano and harpsichord, accompanying instrumentalists and singers in the classical and Baroque style). We believe he is the perfect companion to accompany you across this rich historical crossroad of civilizations. His engaging, captivating personality and eloquent, narrative style will entertain as he seeks to enlighten you on the interdisciplinary subjects related to the history of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Sumerians and Syriacs.

Trip Grade

III Challenging: Parts of the trip are physically challenging, involve hiking on rough terrain or in sand or climbing to sites. There will be long drives on some bumpy rough roads; weather conditions with high heat or humidity, presence of insects. You may have simple picnic lunches, primitive bathroom facilities along the road and remoteness from modern towns or cities.

Lodging Level: **Delightful: Comfortable yet on the Spartan side, usually small but usually with private facilities. Some stays in private homes or small inns that may lack western style amenities. (2 or 3 stars)

Airline options: We may use Turkish Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways or Etihad and you can make stop overs in any of the connecting cities if you wish.

View Tour Itinerary

Sat-Mon, Nov 09-11
USA - (Basra) Iraq

Depart your hometown arriving in your connecting city the next morning. Transfer to your flight to Basra, arriving very late evening or early morning the following day. You will be met and transferred to your hotel for check-in and dinner (if arrival time is reasonably early)

Tuesday, Nov 12

After an early morning arrival, transfer to the hotel for check-in and balance of the day at leisure. If everyone arrives early enough, after lunch ride in a boat on the Shatt Al-Arab, which is the river following the merge of the Euphrates and the Tigris. (L,D)

Wednesday, Nov 13

After breakfast head out for sightseeing in the old city, along the stretch of the canal lined with the Ottoman Shenashil Houses. It is a sad shadow of Basra’s former glory. Most of them are unoccupied and falling apart and possibly visits one of them which were owned by a wealthy Greek merchant in the 19th century. Then visit one of Saddam’s deserted opulent palaces to witness the lavishness that he experienced in his hay days. Dinner and overnight in Basra. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Nov 14
Basra - Marshes – Nasiriya

In the morning, depart to the Marshes, on the way we visit the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates in Garden of Eden and Adam Tree. Continue for a day tour with a canoe ride in the Marshes. Have a day-long excursion to the Tigris and canoe excursion into the Marshes. It is one of the largest ecosystems in the world and one of its strangest aquatic environments, where man lives alongside animals, birds and fish. The region is currently being rehabilitated after the dramatic and aggressive drainage policy conducted under the regime of Saddam Hussein. This immense body of water at the entrance to the Shatt-el-Arab, covered with reeds and dotted with lake-dweller villages, is home to the Marsh Arabs. This region was already inhabited 5,000 years ago, as witnessed by the Sumerian bas-reliefs. Since then, the population has retained a lifestyle built essentially around fishing, buffalo breeding and reed weaving. Proceed to Nasiriya, the capital of the province of Dhi-Qar, near the ruins of the ancient city of Ur on the Euphrates River. In the afternoon, continue to Nasiriya for a stroll in its bustling souk before dinner. (B,L,D)

Friday, Nov 15
Nasiriya - Ur -Al-Shatrah –Tello

In the morning, drive to visit the Ziggurat built with similar characteristics as the Tower of Babel mentioned in the Bible and the towers of a temple complex dedicated to the lunar god Nanna. Tour the archeological city of Ur, believed to be the birthplace prophet Abraham. In the afternoon, drive back to visit the nearby ancient site of Girsu (today Tello), former capital of the State of Lagash. The city developed mainly between the archaic dynastic period and the end of the Ur III dynasty (that is at the end of the 3rdmillennium BC). The major interest of the city is not the architectural remains, but rather the important archives and the objects discovered on the site, the 2,000 tablets from the archives of the domain of the goddess Ba‘U and above all the famous Stele of the Vultures. Come back to Nasiriya, Stroll in Nasiriya bustling souk before dinner. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Nov 16
Nasiriya - URUK – Najaf

Depart for Samawa, settled on both sides of the Euphrates River by the Himyarite tribe of BanuQuda'a around the 3rd century AD. Tour Warka, the excavated site of Uruk, the first city on earth, where writing was invented. In the afternoon, depart for Najaf an Islamic holy city and home to the shrine of Imam Ali, Prophet Mohammad's cousin and son-in-law and the fourth caliph (656-661). Check into the hotel and in the evening visit the souk around the glittering shrine complex. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Nov 17
Najaf -Kifl, Kufa

Begin your day with visit to Kufa to view the Mosque which contains the tombs of Muslim ibn ‘Aqil, Hani ibn ‘Urwa, and Mukhtar al-Thaqaf. Also visit the Al-Imara Fort and palace as well as the outside of Imam Ali’s house. Then visit the town of Al Kifl with its shrine dedicated to prophet Ezekiel, In the afternoon, proceed to a visit to Al-Najaf Sea. Continue touring the old city of Al-Najaf and stop at the mausoleum of Imam Ali, before returning to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, November 18
Najaf -Ukhaider – Karbala

In the morning, drive to visit Ukhaider Palace, an Abbasid fortress located roughly 50 km south of Karbala, Iraq. It is a large, rectangular fortress erected in 775 AD with a unique defensive style. Constructed by the Abbasid caliph's As-Saffah's nephew Isa ibn Musa, Ukhaider represents architectural innovation in the structures of its courtyards, residences and mosque and was an important stop on the regional trade routes. Excavations at Ukhaider were conducted in the late 19th century by the famous Gertrude Bell. Proceed to Karbala, a holy city for Iraqi Shia because it holds the shrine of the martyred Imam Husayn Ibn Ali, who died here in 680 and the subsequent conflict over succession of the caliphate, distinguished the Shia from the Sunni sects of Islam. Dinner and overnight.(B,L,D)

Tuesday, Nov 19
Karbala - Babylon – Baghdad

Depart after breakfast for the city of Babylon. Upon arrival tour the ancient city and one of the largest of Mesopotamia. Totally rebuilt under Saddam who practically resurrected a site which was nothing but crumbling hills. The entire central palace of Babylon shines in 20th century fired bricks and yes, it is impressive to walk through these vast courts and to think that Alexander the Great died in this same throne room, surrounded by his mourning generals. The same famed Ishtar Gate is displayed at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin but here you can see the original layer of the processional way with the magnificent carvings. Right behind Babylon with gorgeous views over the Euphrates and the ruins towers one of the most impressive Palaces of Saddam. This one is open for people to roam around in. It has been looted to the last light bulb and filled with graffiti. The sheer size and cost of this palace and the fact that he most likely never ever even was there, indicates the magnitude of his madness and waste. Continue to Baghdad for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Nov 20
Baghdad– Ctesiphon

In the morning, visit the Archaeological Museum of Iraq. Afternoon visit Ctesiphon, ancient city located on the left (northeast) bank of the Tigris River about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad, in east-central Iraq. It served as the winter capital of the Parthian empire and later of the Sasanian Empire. The site is famous for the remains of a gigantic hall, the TaqKisra, which is traditionally regarded as the palace of the Sasanian king Khosra I (reigned AD 241-272). Afternoon head to Al-Mutanabi Street named after the 10th century classical Iraqi poet and explore Souk al-Safareen, the famous copper market. Then visit El-Mustansariyya school (Madrassah), one of the oldest Islamic institutions of higher learning in the world, established in 1227 bythe Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir and located on the left bank of the Tigris River. – in 1235 the hours of prayer were announced by day and night by a monumental water-powered alarm clock located in the entrance hall. The Madrasah is still functioning in a new building, and is now part of the Al-Mustansiriya University, following an expansion and restructuring of the original madrasah in 1927. Back to your hotel for dinner and overnight.(B,L,D)

Thursday, Nov 21

After breakfast another sightseeing day in Baghdad visiting the tomb of the 12th century Sufi saint Abdel Kader Jilani. The shrine remains the de facto center of Baghdad and the symbolic heart of the Sufi world. The splendid medieval building has a beautiful blue and white domeand is encircled by a large complex to house and feed pilgrims. Some free time for shopping. (B,L,D)

Friday, Nov 22
Baghdad - Samarra – Dohuk

Have breakfast at the hotel then start your day by driving to Dohuk with a stop in Samarra. In the medieval times, Samarra was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate and the only remaining Islamic capital that retains its original plan, architecture and artistic relics. Visit The Great Mosque of Samarra is a ninth-century mosque located in Samarra, Iraq. The mosque was commissioned in 848 and completed in 851 by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil who reigned (in Samarra) from 847 until 861. Then continue to Dohuk The city is encircled by mountains along the Tigris river. Throughout history to the present time, Dohuk has acquired a strategic position historically and geographically. Between the 25th and 22nd century BC, it changed hands between the Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Amorites, Gutians, Hurrians and Hattians, before becoming an integral part of Assyria from the mid-21st century BC until the dissolution of Assyria in the mid-7th century AD after the Arab Islamic Conquest. Dinner and overnight in Dohuk.

Saturday, Nov 23
Dohok – Hatra – Mosul – Dohuk

Start your day visiting Hatra. Hatra defeated the Persians at the battle of Shahrazoor in 238, but fell to the Persia's Sassanid Empire of Shapur I in 241 and was destroyed. The traditional stories of the fall of Hatra tell of Nadera, daughter of the King of Araba, who betrayed the city into the hands of Shapur. then continue and visit the Ancient city of Mosul. Mosul is rich in old historical places and ancient buildings: mosques, castles, churches, monasteries, and schools, many of which have architectural features and decorative work of significance. You will visit old churches and old markets. Also visit alnory mosque it was famous for its leaning minaret, which gave the city its nickname "the hunchback". Tradition holds that the mosque was first built in the late 12th century, although it underwent many renovations over the years. The mosque withstood various hostile invading forces over its 850-year history until it was destroyed with its distinctive minaret in the Battle of Mosul in 2017. Return to Dohuk for dinner and overnight.

Sunday, Nov 24
Mosul –Nimrud - Dayro d-MorMattai - Beth Khdeda – Dohuk

Start your day by visiting Nimrud, which is the name that Carsten Niebuhr attributed for the ancient Assyrian city of Kalhu (the Biblical Calah ), located 30 kilometers (20 mi) south of the city of Mosul. Continue to Dayro d-Mor Mattai is located atop Mount Alfaf in northern Iraq and is 20 kilometers from Mosul. It is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in existence and is famous for its magnificent library and considerable collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts. Then stop at Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah, was a Syriac Catholic monastery in northern Iraq in the village Khidr Ilyas close to the town of Beth Khdeda. It was destroyed on March 19, 2015 by Islamic State. Return to Dohuk for dinner and overnight.

Monday, Nov 25
Beth Khdeda – Khorsabad – Dohuk – Erbil

Dur-Sharrukin, present day Khorsabad, was the Assyrian capital in the time of Sargon II of Assyria. Khorsabad is a village in northern Iraq, 15 km northeast of Mosul. The great city was entirely built in the decade preceding 706 BC. After the unexpected death of Sargon in battle, the capital was shifted 20 km south to Nineveh. Sargon II ruled from 722 to 705 BC. The demands for timber and other materials and craftsmen, who came from as far as coastal Phoenicia, are documented in contemporary Assyrian letters. The debts of construction workers were nullified in order to attract a sufficient labour force. The land in the environs of the town was taken under cultivation, and olive groves were planted to increase Assyria's deficient oil-production. The great city was entirely built in the decade preceding 706 BC, when the court moved to Dur-Sharrukin, although it was not completely finished yet. Sargon was killed during a battle in 705. After his unexpected death his son and successor Sennacherib abandoned the project, and relocated the capital with its administration to the city of Nineveh, 20 km south. The city was never completed and it was finally abandoned a century later when the Assyrian empire fell. Continue to Erbil for dinner and overnight.

Tuesday, Nov 26
Erbil – USA

Transfer to the airport for your flight back home.

“We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed.”