Doesn’t Syria look warm and inviting in this vintage Middle East travel poster? It was an alluring destination. Now Syria is the most war-torn place on the planet. Syria used to be:
- Culturally and religiously diverse
- Had four international airports
- A popular destination for ancient monuments
- A revered place of learning Arabic, particularly
- Famous for delicious bakeries on every corner.
Stylised travel posters such as the one pictured above revealed more than the romance of journeys decades ago. Posters also paint a picture of borders, state propaganda, culture, war and peace at the time. Culture in the Middle East remains a bedrock, but war and peace shift like sand.
Once upon a time the Islamic world’s riches and mysteries drew many travellers. Middle East travel was considered as exotic as deepest Africa. Incredibly complex conflicts including the rise and rise of religious extremism and terrorist attacks are reducing the number of countries to be explored. This is the most religiously and politically sensitive region in the world.
- Jordan is still considered a safe haven for travellers
- North Africa’s Tunisia, Algeria and Libya are off the menu
- About 1 million tourists visited Egypt in November and December, down 41 per cent from last year and the lowest number during these peak months since at least 2005, says Bloomberg
- Iran’s tourism is on the increase as other countries become unavailable. Iran had 4,769,000 arrivals in 2013, up from 3, 354,000 in 2011, says world bank.org stats
- Turkey’s tourism, which has seen exponential growth over the past 10 years, has been affected by the Syrian refugee crisis and recent bombings. The Australian government’s SmartTraveller advice: Exercise a high degree of caution.
Since 2011 an estimated 300,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war. Millions of Syrians have been displaced. Their exodus – largely to Jordan, Turkey and the perilous journey to Europe via Greece – is the biggest refugee crisis since WWII. The misery is still almost incomprehensible, even though we read about it daily in the headlines. Forced travel is trauma on a grand scale.
SmartTraveller on Syria: A No Go Zone. Get out or don’t go.
Travel and tourism have a way of adapting to circumstance. The West Bank is periodically wracked by violence but this Middle East travel destination carries on. The hideously deprived Gaza Strip remains a No Go Zone. Ironically, this poster was created by Austrian Jew Franz Krausz in 1936. He fled Hitler’s Germany and made a series of posters for Zionist groups to encourage Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Vibrant Mediterranean colours, a low-rise city, and the Dome of the Rock captured the unique essence of the region. After the creation of Israel in 1948, the poster was forgotten for decades.
It was rediscovered in the 1990s during the Oslo peace process, and has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance ever since, according to news website Slate. Artist/photographer Amer Shomali tweaked the Krausz poster in 2009. The Palestineposterproject.org has other variations, illustrating the continuing conflict.
The Palestinian territories remain a biblical mecca for travellers to see the ancient wonders of East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho. In 2010, 4.6 million people visited. Most were domestic travellers. They and international travellers were more likely to stay only for the day. International tourists – many of them Christian – usually did group tours. Since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 after the six-day war, Israeli authorities have sought to expand the city’s Jewish population and reduce its Palestinian population.
Despite the Israelis running most tourism in East Jerusalem, there’s a Palestinian tourism site.
Round up the best of Palestine – the holy shrines, the historical treasures, the hospitality, the folklore, the hiking, the biking, the culture, the handicrafts, the food, the beer – and you have the building blocks for one of the most interesting journeys you’ll ever take.”
SmartTraveller on the region: Gaza – do not travel. West Bank – reconsider your need to travel. Israel – exercise a high degree of caution.
- Capital city Baghdad in the late 1950s had a population of 1.5 million
- It was an elegant city of wide avenues, with a well-developed cafe culture
- Red buses were still visible
- Women in hijab were the exception rather than the rule
- Education was a priority for men and women alike
- The souks were magnets for shoppers, selling precious metals, copper, silks, spices and carpets.