Iraq… ancient Mesopotamia
November 05 to 17, 2018
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.
This trip can be an extension to Kurdistan trip (Oct 31 to Nov 07, 2018)
Tour Escort: Led by Michel Behar
Per person sharing in double occupancy (Air and Land): $6,995.00
Single Supplement: $750.00
Credit for not using our included airfare $750.00
Price based on group size minimum of 6 participants and maximum of 12 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 $40 fee plus 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).
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... Michel Behar boasts an impressive list of credentials and just reading through it makes you want to meet this person and share the road with him. A Dutch citizen, after his studies of Russian and Arabic in the Netherlands he took a course of advanced Arabic at the University of Khartoum in Sudan. Fluent in 12 languages including Farsi, English, Turkish, and Hebrew, he has an understanding of 7 others. He has been a tour manager since 1987 leading groups for US, Dutch, Swiss, German, and British companies. He has accompanied custom tours as a leader/photographer for many prestigious institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, Harvard Museum of Natural History, the American Institute of Archaeology, and the universities of Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton and Wellesley. He has traveled extensively throughout the world and visited all 21 Arab countries and for the last 20 years has turned his passion for photography into a second career. Touring has afforded him the opportunity to capture stirring images from out of the way places in Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia just to name a few. His work has been exhibited in museums in the Netherlands and New York. He currently lectures on current affairs related to the Near East and the ethnic groups inhabiting this region. During this same period he has dabbled in journalism writing for several European newspapers on topics as varied as technology and economics. He maintains a travel blog has done freelance work for travel guides and likes of course what else World Music. He also is an expert in Sahara led tours such as in Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and West-Africa.
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
Monday, Tuesday, Nov 05-06
USA to (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 (Mar. 15). You will be met and transferred to your hotel for check-in and dinner (if arrival time is reasonably early)
Wednesday, Nov 07
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)
Thursday, Nov 08
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)
Friday, Nov 09
Basra to Marshes to Nasiriya
In the morning, depart to the Marshes for a full day tour with a canoe ride. 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)
Saturday, Nov 10
Nasiriya to Al-Shatrah city, Tello & Ur
In the morning, drive 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 3rd millennium 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, 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. Stroll in Nasiriya bustling souk before dinner. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Nov 11
Nasiriya to URUK to Najaf
Depart for Samawa, settled on both sides of the Euphrates River by the Himyarite tribe of Banu Quda’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)
Monday, Nov 12
Najaf to Kifl, Kufa & back
Begin your day with a visit to Al-Najaf Sea. Continue touring the old city of Al-Najaf and stop at the mausoleum of Imam Ali, Then visit the town of Al Kifl with its shrine dedicated to prophet Ezekiel, and in the afternoon, proceed 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 before returning to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Nov 13
Najaf to Ukhaider to 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)
Wednesday, Nov 14
Karbala to Babylon to 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)
Thursday, Nov 15
Baghdad and 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 Taq Kisra, 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 by the 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)
Friday, Saturday, Nov 16-17
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 dome and is encircled by a large complex to house and feed pilgrims. Some free time for shopping. Late night transfer to the airport for flights back to USA via Dubai, Doha or Istanbul leaving late PM November 16th OR very early morning November 17th. (B,L)
“We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed.”