Travellers to Iraq now are becoming more common as the country stabilises and opens its doors for outsiders to visit its ancient wonders. Upon arrival you will be given a visa which has the header “Welcome to Mesopotamia”. So, what is Mesopotamia?
Mesopotamia is the historic region of southern Iraq which encompasses the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that snake their way through the country. The term comes from Greek, meaning "in between rivers". This area is one of the most important areas for human history and is the site of some of the first large human cities from the Sumerian and Assyrian civilisations.
Is Iraq Mesopotamia?
Yes and no. The term is technically meant for the historic period for the civilisations that lived in southern Iraq roughly 4000+ years ago. This area in the south still showcases relics of these ancient civilisations but these peoples and their empires have been long lost for 1000s of years. Modern day Iraq does however cover this area and so we can now technically find the area of Mesopotamia inside Iraq.
The no part to this answer refers to the fact that northern Iraq and Kurdistan is not included in the geographic description of Mesopatamia. It also refers to the fact that after 1000s of years of human migration and history, while there may be some people that have distant Sumerian cousins, the Arabs of Iraq today are quite different to the people that lived here over 5000 years ago.
Why does my visa then say “welcome to Mesopotamia”?
Well, considering the past history with conflict in Iraq and constant negative mentions in the media, it’s understandable to want to have a bit of an image change. Mesopotamia definitely doesn’t make you think of any of the wars that have happened over the past 30 years. The term also focuses on ancient history and the wonders by previous civilizations that make for amazing tourist sites! Mesopatamia just seems a bit sexier than Iraq, don't you think?
This has also just newly been introduced this year (2023) so hopefully this will mean more and more tourist sites will open as the country itself becomes more open.
What are the sites in Mesopotamia?
The most well-known site will be the ancient city of Babylon, which also happens has one of Saddam’s palaces overlooking the ancient site and is very cool to explore. There is also the city of Uruk (considered to be the first ever big human city), the Ziggurat of Ur (a giant temple dating back to more than 4000 years, and one of the potential birthplaces of Abraham from the bible).
If you are into visiting ancient sites then these will blow you away. The sites are very raw and are scattered with pottery shards that are thousands of years old. Many of these places lack proper infrastructure which means you can roam around these ancient cities without any barriers. Don’t think about pocketing a souvenir though as Iraq has very strict laws about taking items from ancient sites and such an offense could land you up in prison.
Is it safe to visit?
We absolutely think Iraq is safe to travel, however we definitely think the best way to navigate the country’s bureaucracy is to come on a Saiga tour of the country where we will visit all of the main sites in Mesopotamia.