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Iraq… Ancient Mesopotamia & The Jewels of Assyria

March 07 to 23, 2020

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)

This trip can be an extension to Kurdistan trip (March 23 to 30, 2020) 

Led by Professor Tobin Hartnell, Archaeologist, American University of Iraq in Sulaimani

Per person sharing in double occupancy (Air and Land 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.

  • 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 professional local guide/escort.

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

  • All gratuities to guides, porters, drivers, hotel and restaurant 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 $215.00 including fees and handling & shipping.

  • 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).

Important Notes about travel to Iraq:

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.

We still monitor any security issues around and if there is any need to alter the itinerary, we will do that if needed.

About your lecturer...Prof. Tobin Hartnell… As a student at the University of Chicago, Dr. Tobin Hartnell directed an archaeological survey of Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), where he also runs the AUIS Center for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (CACHE). His most recent archaeology project is at the Assyrian religious capital of Ashur, where he will use remote sensing and geophysics to detect buried archaeological structures. He has worked in the region since 2000 and lived in Iraqi Kurdistan since 2014.

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/Superior: Comfortable, usually small. Some have decent amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)

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

View Tour Itinerary

Sat-Sun, Mar 07-08
USA to (Baghdad) 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)

Monday, Mar 09

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)

Tuesday, Mar 10

After breakfast, head out for sightseeing in the old city along the stretch of the canal lined with Ottoman Shenashil Houses. It is a sad shadow of Basra’s former glory as most of them are unoccupied and falling apart. Possibly visit one of them which was owned by a wealthy Greek merchant in the 19th century. Then visit one of Saddam’s deserted opulent palaces. Dinner and overnight in Basra. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Mar 11
Basra - Marshes – Nasiriya

In the morning, visit the ancient Mesopotamian town of Al-Qurnah which claims to be the site of the Garden of Eden and contains Adam’s Tree, also known as the Tree of Knowledge. Continue to the Marshes for a canoe ride. This immense wetland at the entrance of the Shatt Al-Arab, the river formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is one of the largest ecosystems in the world. A rare aquatic landscape in the desert, it is home to the Marsh Arabs and also provides habitats for important wildlife populations. The Marsh Arabs, descendants of ancient Sumerians, live in secluded villages of elaborate reed houses that often are reachable only by boat, and practice fishing, buffalo breeding, and reed-weaving. As shown in Sumerian bas-reliefs, this region was already inhabited 5,000 years ago. The Marshes is currently being rehabilitated after the aggressive drainage policy of Saddam Hussein. Continue 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, stroll around the souk of Nasiriya before dinner. Overnight at Gudea Hotel, Nasiriya (B,L,D)

Thursday, Mar 12
Nasiriya - Ur -Al-Shatrah –Tello

In the morning, drive to the Ziggurat of Ur. Its architectural characteristics are similar to the Tower of Babel mentioned in the Bible, and there are 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, visit the ancient site of Girsu (today, Tello), former capital of the State of Lagash. The city was developed primarily at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, between the archaic dynastic period and the end of the Ur III dynasty. The major area of interest is not the architectural remains, but the important archives and the objects discovered on the site, including 2,000 tablets from the archives of the domain of the goddess Ba‘U, and the Stele of the Vultures. Return to Nasiriya for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Mar 13
Nasiriya - URUK – Najaf

Depart for Samawah, settled on both sides of the Euphrates River by the Himyarite tribe of Banu Quda'a around the 3rd century AD. Tour the excavated site of the ancient Sumarian city of Uruk, dating back to 4,000 BC. The first written script was discovered here, the oldest of it dating back to 3300 BC. See the Mask of Warka (also known as the Lady of Uruk). Dating from 3,100 BC, it is one of the earliest representations of the human face. In the afternoon, visit Najaf, one of Iraq’s two holy cities (the other is Karbala). It is home to one of Shi’ism’s greatest shrines, the mosque containing the tomb of Ali ibn Abu Talib (Imam Ali), Prophet Mohammad's cousin and son-in-law, and the fourth caliph. Imam Ali was the spiritual founder of the Shi’ite sect, and is revered as a martyr and saint, and the shrine has been an important Shi’a pilgrimage site since his death in 661. Check into your hotel. In the evening, visit the covered market around the shrine complex. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. Barada Hotel, Najaf (B,L,D)

Saturday, Mar 14
Najaf -Kifl, Kufa

Begin your day with a visit to the Great Mosque of Kufa. Dating from 670 AD, it is one of the earliest surviving mosques in the world, and the place where Imam Ali was fatally wounded while praying. It contains the tombs of Muslim ibn ‘Aqil (Imam Ali’s cousin), Hani ibn ‘Urwa (his companion), and the revolutionary, Mukhtar al-Thaqaf. One legend claims Adam’s bones were buried on the site; another Islamic tradition says it is the place where Noah lived and build the Ark. Also visit the Al-Imara Fort and palace, and see the outside of Imam Ali’s house. Visit the town of Al Kifl with its shrine dedicated to the 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel. The shrine was originally a place of Jewish pilgrimage until 1316 when it passed into Muslim guardianship. It remained a Muslim pilgrimage site until the early 19th century when it was converted back into a Jewish site. In the afternoon, return to Najaf and visit the artificial Al-Najaf Lake, then continue touring the old city. Return to Najaf for dinner and overnight at your hotel. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Mar 15
Najaf -Ukhaider – Karbala

In the morning, visit Ukhaider Palace, an Abbasid fortress erected by Isa ibn Musa, nephew of the Abbasid caliph As-Saffah in 775AD. Located some 50 km south of Karbala, it represents architectural innovation in the structures of its courtyards, residences, and mosque. and was an important stop on the regional trade routes. Excavations there were conducted in the late 19th century by the British explorer, Gertrude Bell. Proceed to Karbala, one of the holiest sites in the world for Shi’a Muslims, in the same category as Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, as it is home to the shrine of the Imam Hussein ibn Ali, who was defeated and killed here in 680. He was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Fatima the Prophet’s daughter. Although Muhammad made statements before his death that appeared to name Ali as his successor, three others were chosen in turn before Ali became caliph in 656. His rule was marked by rebellions, and he was assassinated four years after taking office. As a result of his death, Shi’ites (from the Arabic for “the party of Ali”) split from the majority Muslim community, called Sunnis. Today, tens of millions of Shi’ites visit the shrine twice each year. Dinner and overnight in Karbala. Baron Hotel (B,L,D)

Monday, Mar 16
Karbala - Babylon – Baghdad

Depart after breakfast for the city of Babylon. Babylon was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th century when the Amorite king Hammurabi built Bablyon into a major city, to the 6th century BC. It is estimated to have been the largest city in the world at various times, but it waned, was destroyed, was rebuilt, came under the rule of various civilizations, and was pillaged numerous times. The original remains of Babylon are broken mud and debris, and the Babylon of today was totally rebuilt under Saddam. The entire central palace of Babylon is made of 20th century fired bricks, but it is fascinating to reflect that Alexander the Great died in the throne room, surrounded by his mourning generals. The famed Ishtar Gate is displayed at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, but here you can see the processional way with its magnificent carvings. One of the most impressive palaces of Saddam is situated just behind Babylon, with beautiful views over the Babylonian ruins and the Euphrates, and is open to the public. 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 was there, symbolizes the extent of his madness and waste. Continue to Baghdad for dinner and overnight. Palestine Hotel (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Mar 17
Baghdad– Ctesiphon

In the morning, visit the Archaeological Museum of Iraq. In the afternoon, visit Ctesiphon, an ancient city some 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. Founded in around 128 BC, it was the winter capital of the Parthian Empire and then the Sasanian Empire until the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651, after which it fell into decay. The only visible remaining structure of the ancient site is the Taq Kasra, a majestic vaulted hall that was part of the royal palace of the Sasanian philosopher-king, Khosra I. The archway is one of the largest single-span vaults of unreinforced brickwork in the world. In the 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 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir. In 1235, the hours of prayer were announced day and night by a monumental water-powered alarm clock located in the entrance hall. Following expansion and restructuring in 1927, the madrassah has continued to function and is now part of the Al-Mustansiriya University. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Mar 18
Basra – Baghdad

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)

Thursday, Mar 19
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.(B,L,D)

Friday, Mar 20
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.(B,L,D)

Saturday, Mar 21
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.(B,L,D)

Sunday, Mar 22
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 labor 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. (B,L,D)

Monday, Mar 23
Erbil – USA

Transfer to the airport for your flight back home. (B) OR extend and take our Kurdistan post tour (Mar. 23-30, 2020)

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