Ait Benhaddou | Morocco
Now abandoned, Ait Benhaddou was once a ksar, or magnificent fortified city in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco on the old caravan route from Sudan to Marrakech. Built from baked earth, its high defensive walls, watch towers and clusters of castellated houses were built from the 17th century onwards. Mosques, religious sanctuaries, marketplaces and Jewish and Islamic cemeteries now stand disused in the city that rises above the surrounding landscape. If the picture looks familiar, it’s because Ait Benhaddou has often been used as a filming location in Game of Thrones, Gladiator, and The Living Daylights.
Leptis Magna | Libya
Leptis Magna to the east of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast is one of the best preserved of all Roman cities. Originally, it was a Berber settlement, then held by the Carthaginians before falling to Rome following the Punic Wars. At the end of the 2nd century AD its wealth grew when the native Septimus Severus became emperor. He lavished wealth and buildings on Leptis Magna, including the forum, basilica, theatre and amphitheatre that stand today and the arch of Septimus Severus. From there, lions were sent to perform in the Colosseum in Rome
Siwa Oasis | Egypt
Deep in the Egyptian desert lies the oasis of Siwa, a place of date palms and olive groves. So isolated is Siwa that over millennia it developed its own culture that included a language derived from Berber and the widespread practice of same-sex marriage, whilst Islam was rejected for many centuries. The history of Siwa begins in the 10th millennium BC before it was settled by Egyptians and a temple for the oracle of Amun was established, the latter visited by Alexander the Great. Its ruins still stand along with those of the ancient fortress of Siwa, the Shalil. In the Second World War, it was used as a base for British Special Forces.
Karnak | Egypt
Despite the Pyramids being the iconic image, the Karnak temple complex at Luxor is probably the most spectacular site of ancient Egypt. Karnak was added to by over 30 Pharaohs from 18 dynasties across a period spanning from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom up until the Ptolemaic era and the Roman conquest of Egypt, a timespan of well over 1000 years. The remains of temples and pylons, huge columns and frescoes inscribed with hieroglyphs, and obelisks and statues of gods and Pharaohs still remain, including the famous precinct dedicated to Amun-Re.
El Djem | Tunisia
The small town of El Djem in Tunisia was once the Roman city of Thysdrus, most of which now lies buried by the desert sands. What still stands is the great amphitheatre, once the site of gladiatorial contests and chariot races. It was the largest of its type in the Roman Empire, smaller only than the amphitheatre at Capua and the Colosseum at Rome. Historians believe that around 35,000 spectators could be seated inside. Today the arena, the passages in which were kept the wild beasts and the fighting men, and the three levels of the Corinthian façade remain intact.
Oran | Algeria
On the Mediterranean coast of Algeria, Oran has been a place fought over by French, Spanish, Moors and Turks for hundreds of years. Founded by the Moors of Andalusia in the 10th century, the port passed back and forth between Spanish and Ottoman hands before it was taken by the French in the invasion of Algeria in 1831. More recently, in the Algerian War or Independence of the 1950s it was the site of massacres of French settlers. The legacy of the various invaders and colonists is a townscape where bombastic French baroque buildings of the Second Empire stand side-by-side with the old medina quarter, whilst the Spanish port of Santa Cruz overlooks the whole city from the slopes above.
Essaouira | Morocco
Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, has been a vital trading post since the Carthaginian era, fought over and defended by French, Portuguese and Moroccan forces. In the 16th century the Portuguese established the short-lived fortress of Castelo Real de Mogador at Essaouira, only to be forced away by the Moroccans. The modern walled city was built in the 1760s by Sultan Mohammed III of Morocco using European engineers including a mysterious Englishman named Ahmed el Inglezi. Citadels and ramparts soar above souks and ornate buildings used in the 19th century by British, Dutch, and Spanish diplomats who came to negotiate trading concessions.