National Geographic Traveler
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November/December 2006
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World Heritage Destinations: Middle East and
North Africa

Introduction    Africa (sub-Saharan)     Asia      Australia & New Zealand

    Middle East & North Africa   North America & the Caribbean  

South and Central America

Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These lightly edited excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.

Egypt: Islamic Cairo district
Score: 53

"The heat, dust, and chaos are what tourists expect in this busy district which provides homes and livelihoods as well as tourist souvenirs. It works; it is in balance."

"It is still a delight to enter into this Islamic enclave … where life goes on as it has seemingly done forever."
"The air is polluted and the buildings need repair and restoration. There is no planning, and newer buildings are not in harmony with the old. When 'restored,' the older buildings seem too new, almost glossy."

"Although having very distinctive archaeological sites, Islamic Cairo is not well employed in the Egyptian tourist programs—the focus is still on Pharaonic Egypt. To sustain the Islamic Cairo district, the whole area needs social, cultural, and economic development."

"Aesthetic appeal is high as it evokes past centuries in a natural manner. Yet tourism development is at best haphazard, chaotic, and detached from a policy for conservation. Very limited information for tourists, who always seem lost. Sustainability very problematic."

Egypt: Pyramids of Giza
Score: 50

"The visitation pressure here is enormous, and vendors of souvenirs are a constant distraction. Nonetheless, the experience of being in a landscape dominated by the pyramids transcends all of this. Nothing anyone has read or seen can truly prepare one for this."

"Truly a world-class resource but lacks the definition of a special place. The modern suburb over-washes the experience. There is seldom a quiet moment to contemplate the significance of the pyramids."

"The most notable news is the construction of a new home for the Egyptian Museum, perhaps the greatest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world. This may have dire consequences for Cairo, but should be a benefit for the Pyramids region of Giza. The design looks, on paper, very smart. Protection of the Sphinx rates high, and the control of illegal vendors keeps the area from devolving into mayhem."

"Of all the major sites in the world, this is the one where the most people seem to come away disappointed. The slums march right up to the base of the
pyramids, the smog gets worse every year, and the touts are relentless. Not a pleasant experience for visitors."

"Poor signage and interpretation. Lots of hassling of tourists—difficult to look at the structures for a minute without being offered something. In spite of some 'no climbing' signs, still lots of tourists go up the blocks. Very visible encroachment of urban areas in the vicinity."

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Egypt: Thebes/Luxor
Score: 58

"Fascinating like the pyramids, and the area around still has a lot of authenticity. The main problem of the site is the people factor—the local merchants, taxis, etc. are harassing tourists too much and giving a bad image to the area."

"The architecture and the landscape in which it is set are magnificent. A way to lessen the friction between visitor and vendor would do much to render the experience at these sites a more contemplative one."

"Site management has improved, the pressure of tourist flow seems to be more under control by closing particular tombs for some time and by indicating the visitor paths."

"Serious concern because of overcrowding at sites without obvious capacity limits; damage to sites now and over time is of great concern. Too many visitors, too many vendors, and too many boats on the Nile."

"Large problems persist related to ground water issues affecting historic monuments on both sides of the Nile in Luxor. Things have improved at the Valley of the Kings in the past three years with better site interpretation and tourist management."

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Israel: Masada
Score: 69

"As a historic site away from an urban center, its cultural integrity has been preserved. The site is well-maintained, and the signage is adequate. It offers vistas of the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley rock formations of unprecedented beauty. The risk for commercial overdevelopment is high and needs to be addressed before it spoils the site."

"Breathtaking and well worth the visit. Sunrises at Masada are especially beautiful. It benefits the local population both as an economic development tool and as a reminder of the population's connection with its past."

"Over the past decade management has improved enormously. The interpretation center and the parking areas at the base of the rock have now been rebuilt in a better style and relocated so as to be largely invisible from the top of the rock, whilst the cable car is now far less obtrusive."

"Tourist volume and cable cars—which allow much greater access—are minor problems. The evaporation of the Dead Sea presents more major long-term concerns to the area."

Jerusalem: Old city and its walls
Score: 54

"Most beautiful light of any city, and a unique place. Building codes in new city requiring Jerusalem stone exterior was a great idea. Barrier fence and TV towers intrude on old city. Archaeology is amazing in the tunnel along the wall."

"Confusing as to what is history and what is now a modern Israeli interpretation. Guides do not provide accurate historical information—highly politicized. Local community has little benefit other than employment and shop revenue."

"The impact for any visitor is still strong, and restoration seems to be in good hands, but crowds are a nuisance and the high security is obtrusive."

"Disastrous. A political football. The way the authorities are developing it is killing the multi-religious nature of the city as well as robbing it of meaning."

"History is politics here, so hugely important Islamic heritage is not given sufficient emphasis (e.g., destruction of area around Wailing Wall to make piazza)."

Jordan: Petra and environs
Score: 59

"Visiting Petra itself was a very positive experience. Accommodations in a budget hotel on the way in were excellent—friendly, family-run with great food. Aesthetically the site is stunning, particularly the initial entry and the views of the monastery as well as from the High Place. There was very little litter about except for horse manure. However, information and interpretation are very weak, even in the museum. There was little visible presence of management in the site itself, even in terms of rangers."

"The hotel developments at the entrance to the Siq have damaged archaeological monuments. Likewise, the roads cut through the monument were not subjected to archaeological assessment in advance. The tatty souvenirs imported from India and Taiwan and sold within the park do not enhance its atmosphere."

"There are ongoing excavations and efforts to conserve and preserve the site and highlight the variety of its archaeological remnants. However, other than at the recently excavated sites, there is no interpretation in regards to the history of Petra. Guides tell stories of the local people who lived in the caves before they were removed."

"Wadi Mousa remains a sprawling mess and new hotels have been allowed on the skyline. Outlook for sustainability is poor. No management plan is in place, there is weak and inconsistent enforcement of regulations, poor staff capacity and little involvement of local people with no incentives to encourage local protection."

"Visitors are given real opportunities to interact with nomadic Bedouin that retain most of the cultural habits that have been developed over many thousands of years."

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Morocco: Medina of Marrakech
Score: 63

"For a tourist, and no doubt for a resident as well, the importance of Marrakech is based as much on the vibrancy of its trading activities as on its significant monuments. There are a mass of hotels, restaurants, and boarding houses catering to every pocket."

"The Medina still seems to retain the historic character of its various quarters, as well as the vibrant cultural activity in the square, including storytellers, teeth pullers, etc. Shops around the square, however, are wholly tourism-related. Too many large, impersonal international hotel chains on the margins of the Medina. They remain empty and impersonal, and could be anywhere in the world."

"Too much tourism spoils the authenticity of large parts of the Medina, which more and more are becoming artificial tourist attractions and less the natural environment of the inhabitants. The space in Jemma-el-Fna dedicated to its original function (games, storytellers, snake dancers, show fighters, etc.) is more and more reduced by parking, shops and restaurants. Most of the monuments are in reasonably good condition, but the traditional housing, which is part of the cultural value of the city, is often in poor condition."

 "Apart from persistent hawkers, wandering round Medina gives the sensation of going back in time. The architecture; the bustle; the small, crammed shops give it a feeling of authenticity, as does the smell of food wafting through the market, the outdoor eating stalls, and the vibrancy of the participation of local people."

"Morocco as a nation is on a major tourism push and is really trying to boost mass tourism, [to the extent] that they could go too far."

Syria: Aleppo
Score: 65

"Aleppo is still a very lively city. New, excellent boutique hotels are opened in old Arabic houses, and they are even cheap to stay in. Shopping the Arabic way in Aleppo souks is among the best there is, but you need to hire a qualified personal guide since there are no good sign postings or other interpretation."

"With few visitors from the outside world, the urban culture of the Arab world persists in the Old City of Aleppo. This is a wonderful place to experience it. The streetscapes in many places are not that much different than they were likely to have been in historic times. The architecture of individual structures is often striking, and superbly evocative of the most charming aspects of Arab culture."

Tunisia: Site of Carthage, near Tunis
Score: 61

"The archaeological site is pretty much intact; the interpretation of the cultural values of the site is very bad, almost nonexistent. Unless you are familiar with this site, it can be perceived as only a pile of old rocks. The locals hardly get any benefits."

"The quality of the archaeological management and information for tourists has improved, but there is a lot to do in terms of local involvement. Tunis has good if bland accommodation and other facilities for tourists."

"So-so explanation of history, but otherwise quiet and inviting atmosphere, not overly crowded."

"Of significant historical interest and continually in need of ongoing conservation/ preservation efforts against the elements, but seems to merit a low place on the list relative to the urgent needs of other sites."

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