LONDON: Gulf Cooperation Council member states have the most powerful passports in the Arab world, according to the latest edition of the Henley Passport Index.
The UAE has the most powerful passport in the Arab world, ranked joint 12th with Cyprus out of 199 passports worldwide, according to the index, which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Authority.
Emiratis are able to travel to 179 out of 227 destinations visa-free. “The UAE has added an impressive 107 destinations to its visa-free score since 2013, resulting in a massive leap of 44 places in the ranking over the past 10 years from 56th to 12th position,” said Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners.
“This is almost double the next biggest climber, Colombia, which has enjoyed a jump of 28 places in the ranking to sit in 37th spot.”
Among the GCC states, the UAE was followed by Qatar (ranked 52nd), Kuwait (joint 54th), Bahrain (joint 59th), Oman (60th) and Saudi Arabia (joint 61st).
Iraq has the weakest Arab passport and the second-weakest in the world, ranked 102nd ahead only of Afghanistan. Iraqis can travel to only 29 destinations visa-free.
Of the 10 weakest passports in the world, five were from Arab countries, including Syria (ranked 101), Yemen and Somalia (both ranked 99), and Palestine (98).
According to Henley & Partners, the index “is considered the standard reference tool for global citizens and sovereign states when assessing where a passport ranks on the global mobility spectrum.”
A guide to uncovering Europe’s Islamic heritage this autumn
Updated 35 min 24 sec ago
As the leaves begin to fall and Europe’s landscapes are painted in autumnal hues, a captivating expedition awaits travelers. It is a voyage that invites you to retrace the steps of Arab-Muslim pioneers who left an indelible mark on this continent, from the bustling bazaars of Sarajevo to the elegant Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.
Day 1: Arrival in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
As the first light of dawn breaks over the horizon, your journey begins in the heart of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This city, where East meets West, is an emblem of resilience and cross-cultural heritage. The echoes of its Ottoman past resound through the labyrinthine streets of the Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of the city built in the 15th century. The air is infused with the fragrant aroma of spices, and the calls of merchants create a symphony of languages as diverse as the goods they offer.
The 500-year-old multi-domed Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque stands as a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, a silent witness to the history that unfolded within its walls. The intricate details of the mosque’s facade tell stories of faith, culture, and the intertwining of civilizations.
Day 2: Sarajevo Exploration
The sun rises over Sarajevo, casting a warm glow on the city’s rich history. Today, you will embark on an exploration that delves deeper into the layers of this dynamic city. Svrzo’s House stands as a living museum, offering a glimpse into the daily life of an Ottoman-era family. The Sarajevo War Tunnel, constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War, is a stark reminder of the city’s recent past and speaks to its enduring spirit and resilience.
Day 3: Travel to Skopje, North Macedonia
It is time to journey to the captivating city of Skopje in North Macedonia. A short flight whisks you away and as you land, you’re greeted by the majestic Vardar River, which has witnessed the ebb and flow of history.
One of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans is Skopje’s Old Bazaar, a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and artisan shops. It beckons with its Ottoman-era charm. Here, you’ll find hidden courtyards and intricately designed facades that harken back to a bygone era. Built on Roman foundations under the patronage of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, the Stone Bridge, an iconic symbol of the city, spans the river, connecting the past with the present.
Day 4: Skopje and its surroundings
Today, you’ll delve further into Skopje’s rich history and venture beyond its borders. A day trip to Tetovo offers a glimpse of the Arab-Muslim influence in the region. The 600-year-old Painted Mosque, adorned with vibrant frescoes and intricate designs, is a testament to the enduring cultural exchanges that have shaped North Macedonia.
Returning to Skopje, the city’s architectural wonders continue to unfold. Situated on the highest point in the city overlooking the Vardar River, the Kale Fortress with foundations dating back to the early 6th century offers panoramic views of the cityscape. As the sun sets, you’ll find yourself immersed in the enchanting blend of cultures that defines Skopje.
Day 5: Journey to Granada, Spain
Your journey takes a new turn as you bid farewell to Skopje and set your sights on the sun-drenched landscapes of Granada, Spain. A flight transports you to a land where Moorish architecture and European charm intertwine harmoniously. As you check in to your accommodation, the Alhambra Palace looms in the distance, promising a glimpse into a world of architectural marvels.
Dating back to 1238, Alhambra, a masterpiece of Islamic art and culture, is your gateway to centuries past. The Nasrid Palaces with their intricate stucco work and delicate mosaics showcase the artisans’ dedication to perfection. The Generalife Gardens, a tranquil oasis of fountains and greenery, provide respite as you traverse this living testament to history.
Day 6: Granada’s Albaicín and Albayzín
The allure of Granada extends beyond the Alhambra’s walls. The Albaicín and Albayzín neighborhoods, with their narrow winding streets and white-washed houses, transport you to another era. The Mesquite Mayor de Granada, a former mosque, reflects the city’s multicultural history and spiritual significance.
Day 7: Travel to Lisbon, Portugal
Leaving behind the enchanting vistas of Granada, you board a flight to Lisbon, Portugal – a city that echoes with tales of explorers, poets, and a rich mosaic of cultures. Settle into your accommodation and venture into the Alfama district.
As you wander through the tangled alleys of Alfama, the Moorish influence is palpable. It’s in the graceful archways that frame your path and the ornate tilework that adorns the buildings, each tile whispering stories of centuries past.
The soulful strains of fado music fill the air, evoking a deep sense of nostalgia and longing. This genre of music, with its roots in Portuguese-Arabic poetry, encapsulates the complex emotions of saudade — a deep, melancholic yearning for something lost.
Alfama’s essence is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Moors and Arabs who once called this district home. Their architectural marvels and cultural contributions continue to shape the identity of Lisbon and remind us of the rich tapestry of influences that have shaped Europe’s heritage.
Day 8: Algarve Adventure
Your journey takes you south to the Algarve, where the golden beaches and rugged cliffs meet the azure waters of the Atlantic. Silves, a town with a rich history, showcases remnants of Arab-Muslim influence in its red sandstone castle and archaeological sites. In Faro, the Algarve’s capital, the Arco da Vila gate serves as a gateway to the past, inviting you to explore its charming streets.
As your nine-day journey draws to a close, take a moment to reflect on the threads of history you’ve traced through these remarkable destinations. Cherish the memories of Sarajevo’s bustling bazaars, Skopje’s Ottoman architecture, Granada’s Alhambra, Lisbon’s Alfama, and the Algarve’s coastal splendor.
From the bustling markets to the serene courtyards, from the opulent palaces to the humble neighborhoods, each step you’ve taken has been a step through time.
Trfan Al-Khamali, the rangers’ team leader, told Arab News: “Heritage Rangers is a team composed of specialists and experts in heritage and antiquities
Updated 21 September 2023
MAKKAH: A specially trained team of Heritage Rangers is playing its part in promoting and preserving AlUla’s historic sites.
The Royal Commission for AlUla’s crack group of visitor guides provides in-depth knowledge on the natural and cultural highlights of the area.
Trfan Al-Khamali, the rangers’ team leader, told Arab News: “Heritage Rangers is a team composed of specialists and experts in heritage and antiquities.
“Established by the Royal Commission for AlUla in 2018, our mission is to cater to archaeological sites and their visitors, who come from all corners of the world, including Saudi visitors.”
• The Heritage Rangers team was established by the Royal Commission for AlUla in 2018.
• The commission had a five-year plan in place to train and upskill teams.
He noted that while some tourists were avid history buffs others had little knowledge about the conservation work that was taking place in the desert area’s natural and archaeological sites.
He said: “We provide instructions at the entrances and exits of these historical and archaeological sites, especially since they may be susceptible to deterioration.
“Every conceivable effort must be made to preserve this human heritage, ensuring it remains a significant testament for future generations.”
He pointed out that the commission had a five-year plan in place to train and upskill teams to deal with the millions of tourists expected to visit AlUla over the coming years.
He described the Heritage Rangers as “heroes” in defending the cultural and historical heritage of the area.
“We take pride in this remarkable team and in contributing to the preservation of our past and rich history,” he added.
Every conceivable effort must be made to preserve this human heritage, ensuring it remains a significant testament for future generations.
Trfan Al-Khamali, Heritage Rangers team leader
The Heritage Rangers were also involved in raising awareness about AlUla among the local population.
David Vela, a former US national park service director, said the fundamental duty of any park ranger was to serve and protect.
“There is no question in my mind that the leadership team here on the ground is committed to doing that and assessing every opportunity to talk to people to explore new ideas to make that happen.
“Park rangers around the world have a consistent mission and message, and that is to protect their nations, their Kingdom, their world’s history, their heritage, but most important of all, the stories that they can save for posterity, but especially for younger generations yet to come,” he added.
The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world
UNESCO adds Iran caravanserais to heritage sites list
Iran boasts more than 200 caravanserais on historic trade routes that traverse the country linking Asia and Europe, including the Silk Road
Updated 18 September 2023
TEHRAN, Iran: The United Nations cultural organization on Sunday added many of Iran’s caravanserais, roadside rest stops for travelers along the country’s ancient trade routes, to its World Heritage List.
The decision to register the 56 caravanserais, just a small percentage of the structures built in Iran, was made in Riyadh during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee.
Caravanserais provided “shelter, food and water for caravans, pilgrims and other travelers,” UNESCO said its website.
Iran boasts more than 200 caravanserais on historic trade routes that traverse the country linking Asia and Europe, including the Silk Road.
“They are considered to be the most influential and valuable examples of the caravanserais of Iran, revealing a wide range of architectural styles, adaptation to climatic conditions, and construction materials, spread across thousands of kilometers and built over many centuries,” said UNESCO.
Among them are the caravanserais of Qasr-e Bahram near the city of Semnan, Deyr-e Gachin near Qom, and Anjireh Sangi near Yazd.
Iran now has 27 UNESCO-listed historical sites, including the ancient city of Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire, Armenian monasteries in the northwest and the historic city of Yazd itself.
Al-Urma mountain range: A lofty landmark at the King Khalid Royal Reserve
Al-Urma’s valleys are surrounded by lowlands and floodplains, including Al-Batin in the western part
Updated 17 September 2023
RIYADH: The King Khalid Royal Reserve covers 1,162 sq. km and is situated northeast of the capital city of Riyadh. It is managed by the Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority and has natural attractions, structures, and geological formations that make it a distinctive and alluring tourist destination.
The Khashm Al-Thumama, which rises 810 meters above sea level and is regarded as the most significant khashm in the reserve, is the tallest peak in the Al-Urma mountain range, which spans around 700 km in the east-central region of the Arabian Peninsula.
Sedimentary rocks, some of which are dazzling white in color, make up the mountain range. These rocks break down into white sand that covers several valleys and reefs, including Al-Thumama Valley, as a result of factors related to erosion which creates white valleys with acacia trees and other vegetation. These rocks distinguish themselves from the light brown sedimentary rocks of other groups.
Al-Thumama is attractive for ecotourism activities. It boasts several species of wild trees and shrubs, along with rock formations and cavities filled with white sand, reflecting the beauty of the natural environment.
Additionally, it features paved mountain climbing trails constructed in accordance with international standards and specifications that cover environmental sustainability and visitor safety.
Al-Urma’s valleys are surrounded by lowlands and floodplains, including Al-Batin in the western part. However, most of them are situated in the eastern portion, in places like the Khuraim and Umm Al-Qata floodplains in the royal reserve.
Before arriving at its destination and irrigating the ground, water travels through the valleys for many kilometers. The ground is covered later in the year with seasonal and pastoral plants.
The authority launched Urma Winter Season last year and has adopted Urma as a trademark, registering it with the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property.
It carries great geological significance, with its rocks telling historic tales while featuring stone inscriptions thousands of years old.
Baha’s natural museum of rock formations, caves date from dawn of time
“The wonderful shapes formed over millions of years have given visitors and tourists the opportunity to imagine themselves travelling through the ages as the mountain was formed"
Updated 05 September 2023
RIYADH: The stunning topography of Shada Al-Asfal mountain in Baha’s Al-Makhwah governorate tells the story of a region dating back millions of years.
Nasser Al-Shadwi, a local historian, said the area’s unusual rock formations were the result of constant erosion.
He said: “The formations attract those interested in science and geology. Baha is rich in locations for scientific tourism.
“The wonderful shapes formed over millions of years have given visitors and tourists the opportunity to imagine themselves travelling through the ages as the mountain was formed.
The wonderful shapes formed over millions of years have given visitors and tourists the opportunity to imagine themselves traveling through the ages as the mountain was formed.
Nasser Al-Shadwi, Local historian
“According to a geological study, Shada mountain is about 763 million years old. It marks the beginning of creation through a long, imaginative cosmic journey over millions of years, resulting in the wonderful formations we witness today.”
Many rock surfaces are etched with Talmudic writings, inscriptions, and drawings, some up to 4,000 years old, and several caves have been turned into popular tourist attractions. The area is also well known for the cultivation of Shadwi coffee.
The mountain is around 1,700 meters above sea level, and its smooth rocks give it a pale blue color.