For over 30 years, we have run tours for anyone with a general interest in Near Eastern culture and history. Fully escorted by leading experts who share their personal love of travel and archaeology with their tour participants, our program is run in conjunction with Sydney-based companies Academy Travel and Alumni Travel.

Egypt 2019: Cairo to Abu Simbel

This tour from Cairo to Abu Simbel provides a wonderful blend of traditional Upper & Lower Egyptian sites as well as exploring the several sites of Middle Egypt.

It encompasses great monuments of the ancient Egyptian world such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, the glories of Upper Egypt including the Temple of Karnak and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens with their many tombs and lesser known funerary temples.

As well it includes visits to Middle & New Kingdom sites in the Faiyum, Beni Hasan, Tel el Amarna (the ancient capital of Akhenaten), Tuna el-Gebel and Abydos.

A special feature of the tour is a 5-day cruise down the Nile with visits to a number of Ptolemaic temples, Aswan and Abu Simbel. Travellers will also have a chance to explore the colour and bustle of Islamic Cairo with its medieval mosques, quaint museums and maze-like Khan el-Khalili Bazaar.

China 2019: Western China, Along the Silk Road

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In 2019, NEAF members retraced the ancient Silk Road across China from Xi’an in the Chinese heartland to Kashgar in far western China.

This trip is an examination of the ancient and modern faces of a mighty nation whose time has come again. Just as we marvelled at beautiful Buddhist frescoes pained over 1500 years ago, we also marvelled at modern engineering feats as China relentlessly builds awe-inspiring freeways through mountainous terrain or sparklingly new cities where only 10 years ago was farmland. This juxtaposition of the old and new is what makes this tour so interesting: while we enjoy the remains of China’s previous four great periods – the Han, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties – we are also acutely aware that we are eye-witnesses to China’s fifth great age which will undoubtedly be remembered for centuries, if not millennia, to come. So too was the modern relevance of the Silk Road along which we travelled. As we moved to the west, we constantly saw reference to the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet project: the one belt, one road initiative. Again, harking back to the age old link between the east and west, the modern world is remaking and rethinking this link albeit with bullet trains and four lane highways. In short this tour is an eye-opener and while we enjoyed the best of what ancient China has to offer – from Great Walls to terracotta armies – we also came to understand and appreciate modern China: a nation that means so much for us here in Australia.

Morocco 2018

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In March/April 2018 20 NEAF members travelled to Morocco to find the country bursting with the vibrant colours of one of the best spring seasons the country has seen in many years.

The three week tour has time to take in the very best of what Morocco has to offer. It starts in Casablanca, and rather than immediately departing like many tours do, we had a day to find our Moroccan feet, visit the stupendous Mosque of Hassan II and walk along the corniche with the Atlantic rollers thundering in. Travelling north we visited Rabat, a lovely town on the Bou Regreg and once home to the famous Sallee Rovers - a dreaded band of Barbary corsairs in the 17th century. From Rabat we turned inland to visit Meknes - famously constructed by the ruthless Moulay Ismail - Roman Volubilis bedecked in its finest spring bloom, and finally the hustle and bustle of Fes: one of the great oriental cities.

From Fes the tour crossed the Middle and High Atlas Mountains and entered a different world of deserts, verdant palm plantations and kasbahs. The great river systems that bring life to Saharan Morocco - the Ziz, Todra and Draa - form visually stunning panoramas with crumbling mudbrick villages and lush green gardens framed by barren, red hills. From Erfoud to Ouarzazate we saw the desert, camels, fossils (and more fossils), most of the thousand kasbahs that are meant to be in this area, and heard the Muslim call to prayer sung for us in an old mosque overlooking the gardens at Tinghir.

Crossing the High Atlas again but this time heading north, we returned to the more agricultural Morocco and one of its great cities: Marrakesh. After stocking up in the endless markets at Marrakesh, we headed to Essaouira for some well earned R&R at the old Phoenician port of Mogador. Then, in what seemed like a twinkle of an eye, we were back in Casablanca and getting ready to return home. But while the tour seems to go fast, the memories of this diverse and beautiful country will stay with us for much longer.

China 2017: Western China, Along the Silk Road

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In September 2017 20 NEAF members retraced the ancient Silk Road across China from Xi’an in the Chinese heartland to Kashgar in far western China.

This trip is an examination of the ancient and modern faces of a mighty nation whose time has come again. Just as we marvelled at beautiful Buddhist frescoes pained over 1500 years ago, we also marvelled at modern engineering feats as China relentlessly builds awe-inspiring freeways through mountainous terrain or sparklingly new cities where only 10 years ago was farmland. This juxtaposition of the old and new is what makes this tour so interesting: while we enjoy the remains of China’s previous four great periods – the Han, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties – we are also acutely aware that we are eye-witnesses to China’s fifth great age which will undoubtedly be remembered for centuries, if not millennia, to come. So too was the modern relevance of the Silk Road along which we travelled. As we moved to the west, we constantly saw reference to the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet project: the one belt, one road initiative. Again, harking back to the age old link between the east and west, the modern world is remaking and rethinking this link albeit with bullet trains and four lane highways. In short this tour is an eye-opener and while we enjoyed the best of what ancient China has to offer – from Great Walls to terracotta armies – we also came to understand and appreciate modern China: a nation that means so much for us here in Australia.

Iran 2017: Iran in Depth

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

Margaret (second from left) and Marilyn (second from right) with locals at the old city of Yazd.

In April/May 2017 21 NEAF members travelled to Iran to explore this extraordinary country so often misrepresented in the western press.

This tour began in Tehran, Iran’s capital: a busy, often smoggy city but with some fantastic museums to help us prepare for the trip ahead. Leaving Tehran we headed to the Caspian Sea and the very different world of Iranian Azerbaijan. Here rice paddies dominate the landscape framed by wooded mountains to the west and the Caspian to the east. Next, making Tabriz our base, we explored this unvisited but important city and journeyed out to Maragheh: home to a Mongol Period observatory and some fine Seljuk Period tower tombs. From Tabriz we then travelled to Zanjan visiting the incomparable Mausoleum of Oljeitu along the way. This towering edifice dates to the Mongol Period and demonstrates the ‘Persianization’ of the conquering Mongols superbly. From Zanjan we travelled up into the Zagros Mountains on a beautiful Spring day to visit one of my favourite sites, Takht-e Soleiman, once the home of one of the four imperial fires of the Zoroastrian religion.

Returning to Tehran we flew to Shiraz to complete the triangle of Shiraz-Yazd-Isfahan. We were now back on the tourist route – but with good reason as some of Iran’s most famous sites and cities are in this area: Sassanian Bishapur and Firuzabad, Achaemenid Persepolis and Pasargadae, Timurid Yazd, Safavid Isfahan and some very early mosque complexes at Fahraj and Na’in. In between we wandered the bazaars in Shiraz and Isfahan, explored Yazd’s old city and even got to see some of the sand dunes that typify Iran’s desert regions.

By the time we returned to Tehran we felt we had seen a lot of what this amazing country and its friendly, cosmopolitan people have to offer.

Morocco 2016

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In October 2016 21 NEAF members travelled to Morocco to explore the land of a thousand kasbahs, the Atlas Mountains and the legendary cities of Fes and Marrakesh.

Morocco can easily be divided into two zones: the area north of the Atlas where the majority of the population have traditionally dwelled, and the areas to the south of the Atlas on the fringes of the Sahara Desert and the home of the Touareg peoples. In the north are the royal cities of Rabat, Meknes, Fes and Marrakesh where, at various times, Morocco’s ruling families have established their capitals. This has left a rich architectural legacy spanning from the ninth century CE to the present day in the cities, as well as the hustle and bustle of markets in places like Fes along with quiet residential gardens and agricultural vistas. Across the Atlas, date palms dominate, as do the wonderfully exotic mudbrick kasbahs that dot the fertile river valleys in an otherwise forbidding environment.

The group, over 20 days, were able to gain an appreciation of both these faces of Morocco, along with time in the modern entrepot of Casablanca and delightful Essaouira whose ramparts hold back the mighty Atlantic. Along the way we enjoyed a variety of foods (some good, some not so, with the ubiquitous tagine never far away), saw some splendid historical monuments including the Roman period Volubilis and a wide range of people, both Berber and Arab. The variety present in Morocco has to be seen and we hope the group came away with a great impression of what this marvellous country in north-western Africa has to offer.

Iran 2016: Iran in Depth

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In April/May 2016 21 NEAF members explored the highways and byways of Iran: from the little-visited north to the sensational sights of Persepolis and Isfahan in the south.

Iran is a delightful country to visit, notwithstanding the common comment from friends before departure: “is it safe?’, or “Why would you want to go there?”. In fact Iran is very safe (well, apart from crossing the street as the traffic in Iran has to be seen to be believed) and for those who visit the country there are stunning landscapes, fantastic archaeological sites, and a fascinating modern culture and cuisine (even if you do get a bit overloaded with rice and kebabs).

This tour took us from the rice paddies along the Azerbaijan border (yes, who would have thought Iran would have rice paddies!), past the Mongol capital at Tabriz and deep into the Zagros Mountains to visit the Zoroastrian complex at Takht-i Suleiman. These places we had virtually to ourselves as they are seldom on the regular tourist trail. However, we also needed to see the highlights of Iran: Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd and Isfahan. While fellow travellers were more conspicuous at these places, tourist numbers are still low and at no time do you feel you are on the ‘tourist treadmill’ as you may experience elsewhere.

In the north we were cold but in the south the desert lived up to its reputation and the weather markedly warmed – but it is all relative. In Yazd the group talked to the locals who said “what lovely weather we’re having”. When our people replied, “But it’s so hot!”, the locals replied, “You call this hot?”!

To repeat, Iran is a safe travel destination and the one common comment from the group was, “it’s so different to what I expected”. NEAF has been taking tours to Iran for over 20 years now – all without incident. Like the 2016 tour, a trip to Iran settles misconceptions and introduces you to a cosmopolitan nation with a deep and fascinating history.

Western China 2015: Along the Silk Road

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In May 2015 17 NEAF members retraced the ancient Silk Road across China from Xi’an in the Chinese heartland to Kashgar in far western China.

The Silk Road in China is a defined path linking oasis towns separated by inhospitable desert. On our journey we appreciated that it was not only goods, but also ideas, that flowed along this ‘road’. By way of example we saw many monumental and superbly decorated Buddhist caves – at Maijishan, Binglingsi, Bezeklik and the incomparable Mogao Grottos – all a legacy of the introduction of Buddhism from far-off India. At Xi’an we marvelled at the archaeological wonder of the Terracotta Warriors and in Urumqi we saw the famously well-preserved Taklimakan mummies while at any number of museums we were struck by the range and diversity of artefacts produced by China’s long history. Although concentrating on the ancient, we also could not avoid modern China: including travelling across the Gobi Desert in a high-speed train at over 200km/hr. This juxtaposition of a long and fascinating ancient history with the nascent rebirth of China made this trip a delight for the senses in more ways than one.

Turkey & Iran 2014: In the Footsteps of Alexander

Tour Leader: John Tidmarsh

During late September and early October 2014 twenty NEAF members traced part of the route traversed by Alexander the Great through Turkey and Iran during his great eastern conquests between 334 – 323 BCE.

In Turkey we explored many of the cities conquered by Alexander (often only after a prolonged siege) including Sardis, Miletos, Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassos, home to the renowned Mausoleum) as well as mighty Ephesos and exquisite Priene, where Alexander dedicated a temple to Athena at his own expense. We visited the Pamphylian cities of Side and Aspendos which rose to prominence under the rule of Alexander’s successors, and climbed high into the mountains of Pisidia to the wonderfully picturesque remains of Termessos, whose impregnable citadel defied even the Macedonian king.  

We then flew to Iran and entered the world of the formidable Persian empire destroyed by Alexander. We visited the great palaces of Persepolis and Pasargadae, the awe-inspiring Achaemenid royal burial ground of Naqsh-i Rustam, the wonderfully preserved Median fortress of Nush-i Jan( whose columned hall finds close parallels in the audience halls of Persepolis) and the ancient Achaemenid summer capital of Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana) where Alexander arranged for the execution of his old general Parmenio and mourned his closest companion, Hephaisteion. We also explored the vast city of Bishapur, capital of the great Sasanian king Shapur I who attempted to emulate the conquests of his Persian ancestors, as well as Isfahan (‘Pearl of Islam’) among whose earliest inhabitants were those Jews from Babylon freed by the Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid empire.

Although much of his route through these two countries was not travelled by us, this tour served to emphasise once again what a remarkable general and leader of men Alexander must have been.

Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan 2014

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

NEAF and Academy Travel’s May 2014 tour Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan: A Journey through Central Asia has successfully concluded with 16 NEAF members enjoying warm but fine spring weather throughout Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The tour focussed on the major sites in these countries including the living Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, as well as the ruined metropolis of Merv. In between times we walked in the footsteps of both Alexander the Great and Tamerlane (Emir Timur), visited ancient Bronze Age settlements in the Kyzylkum (Red Sand) Desert, Parthian capitals (Nisa) and desert fortresses built to protect the agricultural centres based around the Amu Darya River (ancient Oxus). Both countries were central to the ancient Silk Road and, for a brief time in the early fifteenth century, were the centre of an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the western borders of China.

Travel in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is not easy as the tourist trade is in its infancy but our group handled the rigours with aplomb, not even complaining (too much) about having to wheel their suitcases the 1.5km across no-mans land between the Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan borders!

Mexico 2012

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

 

NEAF’s 2012 Mexico tour was a repeat of its successful 2004 tour – and like in 2004, the recent trip was a great success for the 13 participants who joined Ben Churcher in visiting some of the great sites of Mesoamerica. This comprehensive tour visited areas once dominated by the Olmecs, the Zapotecs, the Teotihuacanos, the Mayans and the Aztecs giving all participants the opportunity to explore the varied cultures of ancient Mexico.

Syria and Jordan 2010

Tour Leader: Dr John Tidmarsh

For thousands of years, Syria and Jordan controlled the inland caravan routes along which goods were transported from the Orient to the Mediterranean. From the Nabataeans in their stronghold at the ‘rose-red city’ of Petra to the merchants in the bustling markets of Aleppo, the region has a rich and fascinating history, having been inhabited over time by several civilisations, each of which has left its individual mark.

Tunisia and Libya 2010

Tour Leader Dr. Stephen Bourke and a group of NEAF travellers have just returned from visiting the homeland of Hannibal and along the way saw some haunting desertscapes and oases, pre-Carthaginian stone-age remains, Graeco-Roman and Byzantine-Christian city ruins, Islamic medinas and villages, Medieval fortresses and a fascinating mosaic of vibrant cultures – past and present.

Iran 2009

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

NEAF’s 2009 tour to Iran has just returned after a very successful visit to one of the world’s great travel destinations. Contrary to popular worries, the group encountered no political issues during their visit but, instead, were able to freely enjoy the many delights Iran has to offer. Whether it is the spectatular scenery along the Zagros Mountains, the many and varied ancient sites, the gardens of Shiraz or the incomparible Maydan of Isfahan; Iran has something for everyone. Our guide Mahmoud worked overtime to ensure that we were fully informed about both ancient and modern Iran and he made sure we tasted the regional foods of Iran from Quince stew high in the Zagros to ‘lamb-burgers’ in Isfahan. Iran is a country that always leaves one with indeliable memories and we encourage people to visit this ancient and cosmopolitan country so that the negative image built by governments and media can be moderated by the reality of travelling in a safe, friendly and fascinating country.

Syria & Jordan 2009

In April 2009, 21 travellers accompanied John Tidmarsh for a three week journey through Jordan and Syria. This is now the fifth time that NEAF has run a tour to the Levant and the popularity of this region (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon) for NEAF tourists shows no sign of waning.

On this tour visits to the legendary cities of Damascus and Aleppo, to the spectacular remains of Petra and Palmyra, and to the awe-inspiring Crusader castles of Crac des Chevaliers, Kerak, and Shobak were combined with overnight stays and rambles in the wild and beautiful (and, inexplicably, often neglected) Jordanian nature reserves of Dana and Ajloun.

Oman 2008

This was the first time that NEAF had run a tour to Oman (“Oman: Travels in Old Arabia”) and, in view of the country’s wonderful natural attractions and excellent tourist facilities, it is unlikely to be the last.

In November, 10 NEAF members travelled with John Tidmarsh, the tour leader, through the length of Oman from the Musandam peninsula (‘the fiords of Arabia’) in its northern tip on the Straits of Hormuz to the lush, tropical frankincense country of Dhofar on its southern border with Yemen.

In this 15-day tour we travelled through some of the most stunning natural scenery and picturesque villages in Arabia. With its pristine sandy beaches, spectacular mountain ranges and desert vistas, its vast palm groves and hidden oases whose waters remain absolutely translucent, and its traditional mudbrick villages with their imposing tribal forts and cool palm-roofed souqs, Oman stands in total contrast to the great trading cities of Egypt and the Levant (Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut, Cairo) and represents an environment and way of life which would still be familiar to Bertram Thomas, Wilfred Thesiger, and those other great Arabian explorer-adventurers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Syria 2008

This was the 4th time that NEAF has run a tour to Syria, and this year’s version: “Syria: A Levantine Wonder”, went very well – as always in Syria. The tour is certainly one of historical extremes. From the magnificent early sites along the Euphrates and Mediterranean coast to the jostle of the Aleppo souk, Syria encompasses both the ancient and the modern – and links them together in a unique way.

17 NEAF members completed the trip in April and May 2008. The tour travelled across the length and breadth of Syria visiting well-known, and not so well-known sites: even the cancellation of our visit to Lebanon, on short notice, was dealt with in the flexible spirit that travel demands.

Contacts

Near Eastern Archaeological Foundation
Level 4, CCANESA Madsen F09, University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia
+61 2 9351 4151 neaf.archaeology@sydney.edu.au