On the site of mighty Mesopotamia, off the coast of the Persian Gulf, in the valley of the full-flowing Tigris and Euphrates, mysterious Iraq is located. It was here that human civilization was once born, it was here that the legendary Babylon flaunted with the gardens of Babylon and that same tower, but the strife in the ancient land did not subside with its destruction.
Persians, Hellenes, Parthians, Romans, Arabs and Mongols fought for power to the last drop of blood. The 20th and 21st centuries were shaken by revolutions, humanitarian disasters and fierce wars – with Iran, the USA, the terrorists of the Islamic State. And only today Iraq comes to life again on the tourist map of the world – a state with a rich history, magnificent architecture and original traditions has something to surprise guests with.
Cities and regions of Iraq
According to Wholevehicles, the capital is Baghdad, a kaleidoscope of mosques, palaces and madrasahs, the political and cultural center of the country. Tourists are safest in the vicinity of the “green zone”, where hotels, restaurants, foreign and government institutions and iconic sights are concentrated.
Outside the center, it is better to travel with tour groups or local companions, avoiding public transport and deserted places if possible.
Mosul, where Agatha Christie once visited, is famous for its wide streets, giant palaces and the royal library with a collection of cuneiform tablets. Basra is the birthplace of Sinbad the Sailor, one of the most sultry cities on the planet and the alleged address of the Garden of Eden from the Bible. Erbil is the center of the autonomous region of Kurdistan with a grandiose citadel protected by UNESCO. And Sulaymaniyah is a cultural treasure trove of Kurds who are proud of their music and the Sorani language.
Iraq, with its sharply continental climate, changing from subtropical to tropical, is not the most suitable place for summer travel: the average July temperature is +34 ° C, but the thermometer often rises above +50 ° C, the air is dry and hot, to the southern regions dust storms hit. It is cool and rainy in winter, +7…+12 °С in January, down to −10 °С in the north, the peaks are covered with snow. The best time for a trip is the off-season with the most comfortable weather.
How to avoid problems
Despite the improvement in the political situation, traveling to Iraq is still extreme. The crime rate is high, the streets are patrolled by police and coalition forces, but they are far from a guarantor of security. Terror attacks, kidnappings, robberies, violence from religious extremists and gangs are everyday life here, and tourists are the easiest and most tempting target.
Especially restless on the outskirts of Baghdad, in the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din and Ninewa, but in the south and in Kurdistan the situation is more stable.
To save life, health and property, you will have to play by local rules. Iraqis are generally friendly and hospitable, they treat foreigners with interest, but demand unquestioning respect for religion and traditions. Clothing should be modest, covering the body as much as possible; it is better for women to have a scarf with them.
You can not photograph military and strategic objects (even airports and bridges), policemen and local women, and men – please, but with permission.
It is good if there will always be a guide, translator or even a security guard nearby: private and public services provide their services. In cities and beyond, you can stumble upon mines and explosive devices: even where sappers have already worked, terrorists can lay a charge again. The most serious risk is at military bases, government complexes, infrastructure facilities and mosques.
Do not pick up coins and other objects that seem interesting from the ground: it is possible that these are booby traps.
There are outbreaks of dysentery, malaria, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A and B in the country, so it is better to get vaccinated before traveling. You can not drink tap water, meat, fish and milk should be consumed only after heat treatment, and vegetables, fruits and greens should be thoroughly washed with boiled or bottled water.
Shopping and stores
Iraqi markets are a shopaholic’s dream: bargaining is possible and necessary, eyes widen from a variety of curiosities. The most famous bazaars are noisy in Baghdad: Souk al-Saray pleases with national clothes and shoes, handmade carpets and interior decorations, the Copper Market with dishes, Shorja with tea, coffee and incredible oriental spices. Mutanabbi Street is famous for its bookstores, and it is better to look for products of world brands in shopping malls like Babylon or Al-Mansoura. Shops are open from 8:00-9:00 to 18:00-20:00 (malls until 22:00-23:00), 13:00-15:00 – lunch break.
The list of popular purchases includes men’s dishdashi shirts and women’s atag dresses, leather goods, gold jewelry, textiles, ceramics, sweets and tobacco. And the most original, albeit controversial, souvenir is any thing with the image of Saddam or one of his “great” quotes.
Cuisine and restaurants
Iraqi cuisine is a child of different times and peoples: the Sumerians, Assyrians, Arabs, Turks and others involved have contributed. The dishes are hot and spicy, the portions are generous, the most popular ingredients are rice, cereals, legumes, vegetables and meat.
The first recipes discovered in Iraq were written on clay tablets over 5,000 years ago.
You can eat only one meze appetizer – assorted salads, vegetable compositions and sauces. But there is still a thick soup “margo” with meat, tomatoes and lemons “numi-basra” and hot dishes: from lamb on a spit “tikka masala”, roasted lamb “kuzi” and fish “masgouf” borrowed from Jews to more familiar dolmas, barbecue and kebab. For dessert – pumpkin pudding, baklava, candied fruits or stuffed dates.
The cost of lunch in a Baghdad cafe is from 8,000-10,000 IQD per person, a dinner of several changes in a restaurant is from 30,000 IQD for two.
Baghdad and Erbil have eateries for every taste: traditional Iraqi, American, Chinese and Indian, pizzerias and steakhouses, sushi bars and gelaterias, for vegetarians, gourmets and fast food lovers. In small towns, food is mainly served in family cafes: tasty, inexpensive and home-style.
Sights of Iraq
Iraq is several thousand years old, and almost every era has left a bright mark. Archaeological artifacts, ruins of forgotten settlements, luxurious palaces and mosques – these wonders can be used to study the history of the East.
The best place to explore Baghdad is the Old City, with labyrinths of streets that weave around the banks of the Tigris. Next, you should pay attention to modern symbols – a 205-meter Arabic-style TV tower, a giant blue dome of two halves of Al-Shahid in honor of the fallen soldiers, the Swords of Qasidia monument, which marks victory in the war with Iran. And then return to the past again: the richly decorated Golden Mosque, the mausoleum of Zubaida, madrasas and Christian temples that look like a brick tent.
The main museum is the National Museum, which contains priceless finds from all over Mesopotamia.
The most spectacular fortress is Ukhaidir, or the palace of the Abbasids, built in 775 near Karbala. Its scale is amazing, as is the decor: colorful mosaics of marble, glass and mirrors, patterned masonry, fancy details of bronze, plaster and wood. And the most famous sight is Babylon with the ruins of the gardens of Babylon.
Pilgrims from all over the world come to An-Najaf to the mosque-tomb of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and to Karbala, where his grandson was beheaded. Of the archaeological sites, Borsippa and Nineveh, which suffered at the hands of militants, and Ur with the well-preserved ziggurat of the moon god Nanna are impressive. In Samarra, the grandiose mosque of Al-Askari miraculously survived, and in the village of Amedia, a fragile peace between Kurds, Chaldeans, Jews and other neighbors: peace, which is so long awaited in this beautiful, long-suffering country.