Bazaar of Facts: 37 Little-Known Insights into the Middle East

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1The Eternal Fire

The Eternal Fire

A natural gas vent in Iraq known as The Eternal Fire has been burning continuously for over 4,000 years and is mentioned by Herodotus, Plutarch, and in the Old Testament's Book of Daniel.

2. 350 million years ago, there existed a species of 20-foot tall mushroom in Saudi Arabia. It was likely the largest living thing on dry land at that time.

3. Due to its isolation, a third of the plant life on the island of Socotra (Yemen) is found nowhere else on the planet. It has been described as "most alien-looking place on Earth."

4. You can't file for Bankruptcy in Dubai. In turn, people abandon their exotic sports cars in the airport parking lot while fleeing. About 2,000 to 3,000 cars including Ferrari, Porche, Land Rover, and Mercedes are abandoned each year to gather dust in the desert heat.

5. In 1973, Syria had such a powerful air defense system, it almost destroyed the Israeli air force in just 18 days. In 1982 the rebuilt Israeli air force launched the largest air battle since the Korean war, destroying nearly the entire Syrian air defense and air force in under 2 hours.

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Up to 95% of the historic structures in the city of Mecca have been demolished over the last three decades. Many of the sites were over 1000 years old and many were connected to the life and times of the prophet Muhammad and his companions.

7. In ancient Egypt, any books found in ships coming into port would be brought immediately to the library of Alexandria and be copied. The original would be kept in the library and the copy given back to the owner.

8. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology which opened in 2009 is the first mixed-gender university campus in Saudi Arabia. The religious police do not operate on-site, and women are allowed to mix freely with men and to drive on campus, and they are not required to wear veils.

9. There is a youth orchestra called the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of top Israeli and Palestinian musicians to promote peace in the Middle East.

10. A mentally disabled Iranian girl named Leyla Mafi was prostituted by her mom at an young age. At the age of 9 and 14, she gave birth to children. At the age of 19, she got sentenced to death for “immoral behavior.” A lawyer was able to intervene and got the sentence reduced to public beating and imprisonment.

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11Siege of Baghdad

Siege of Baghdad

During the Siege of Baghdad, The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed along with the House of Wisdom. The Tigris waters ran black with ink from the huge quantities of books that were flung into the river.

12. Turkey imprisons more journalists than China and Iran combined.

13. Israel planned to assassinate Saddam Hussein in 1992. Plans were canceled when they accidentally killed their fellow commandos while simulating the method of their attack.

14. Camp 1391 is a secret prison, which is located an hour out from Tel Aviv. It has been dubbed “the Israeli Guantanamo.” It was discovered by accident in 2003 by an Israeli historian who was researching old British police buildings.

15. Sesame is a particle accelerator that is currently being built (as of 2018) in the Middle East. Modeled after the CERN which was set up after World War 2 to bring together scientists from former adversaries in Europe, it will allow researchers from openly hostile countries to collaborate. Israel, Iran, and Palestine are its founding members.

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16Baldwin IV of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV of Jerusalem

The Leper King of Jerusalem: Baldwin the fourth ruled Jerusalem from 1174-1185. He refused to hide his leprosy from his subjects and took an active part in the wars and crusades of that time until his disease progressed enough to cripple and blind him.

17. The state of Kuwait is banned from the Olympics due to government legislation that permits the state to interfere in elections of sporting organizations. As a result, Kuwaiti athletes compete as independent athletes under the Olympic Flag instead of their own flag.

18. Oman has a strong tradition of Scottish bagpipe music, owing to their Sultan having served in a Scottish regiment of the British Army.

19. Qatar, a desert state, is aiming to grow up to 70% of its own vegetables by 2023 thanks to the launch of a new farming system that needs no soil and which recycles irrigation water. The pilot project had been “a great success” and adapted well to Qatar’s harsh growing conditions.

20. Bahrain's government banned Google Earth because it allowed Bahraini citizens to see vast tracts of royal-owned land and palaces next to poor and overcrowded Shi'ite villages.

21Varosha island

Varosha island

There is an abandoned millionaires resort on the island named Varosha in Cyprus. The Turkish military does not allow anyone inside and hasn't done so for nearly 40 years.

22. Around 762 A.D., the demand for books in Baghdad was so high that any traders who brought books were given the weight of the books in gold in return.

23. In ancient Persia, engineers built a type of evaporative cooler that could store ice, even in the middle of summer. It is called a Yakhchal.

24. Saudi Arabia promotes the practice of marriage between close relatives which has resulted in increased incidences of genetic disorders including thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, deafness, and muteness.

25. Petra in Jordan had a more efficient and advanced water collection system compared to ancient Rome. It was capable of supporting 40,000 people in the middle of desert.

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