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The Pinar del Rio province in the far west of our mystery country is the country’s prime tobacco growing region. Tobacco has been a major segment of the country’s economy since it was first discovered by Spanish colonists in the 16th century. Prior to colonization, natives knew the plant well and used it for medicinal and ritual purposes. Today, most tobacco is produced on small private farms and exported in the form of premium cigars.

 

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Shobak is the Arabic name for the 12th century crusader fortress of Montreal. It sprawls across a lonely hilltop in the southwest of the country, the area known as Edom in the Bible. The castle was built in 1115 by King Baldwin I, the first king of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Like Kerak, its sister fortress to the north, Shobak was built to guard the King’s Highway, an ancient trade route used by crusader armies and pilgrims traveling between Damascus and Egypt. The castle fell to the army of Saladin in 1189 after a 2-year siege.

 

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In the remote M’Goun Valley, high in the Atlas Mountains, early May is rose festival time. Three-four thousand tons of super-fragrant Damask and Cabbage roses are hand-picked in the valley each spring. Most of the harvest is processed into rose oil bound for the perfumeries of Europe. The rose festival in the town of El Kelaa M’Gouna celebrates the harvest with three days of music, dancing, and food, a parade, the coronation of a Rose Queen and, of course, every rose product imaginable.

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These city walls, built by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, are only the latest fortifications to protect our mystery city. The city and its walls were destroyed in 587BCE during the Babylonian siege and much of the population was deported to Babylon. When the Persians took control of the region some 50 years later, the exiled citizens were allowed to return and the walls were rebuilt. The walls were extended in the 2nd century BCE by the Hasmonean dynasty and by Herod the Great and his son Agrippa in the following century or so. The city and its walls were destroyed again in 70CE, this time by the Romans, who occupied the city and renamed it Aelia Capitolina. The Roman walls built over the following four centuries were destroyed in an earthquake in the 11th century. The walls went up and down again several times more, with invasions and occupations by the Islamic Fatimid and Ayyubid dynasties and Christian crusaders. The existing walls have stood, more or less as they are today, for 400 years.

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Pictured above is a mortuary temple built for the female king, Hatshepsut, who ruled some 3,500 years ago. She was among her country’s most successful rulers, reigning for over 21 years. The temple is located at the base of towering cliffs at Deir el-Bahri in the Theban necropolis, not far from the Valley of the Kings.

After her death, Hatshepsut’s successor had her image and name stricken from most monuments and she was lost to history until modern times.

 

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This theater of Dionysus is tucked into the slopes of the world’s most famous acropolis. Although often overlooked in favor of the famous structures on top of the hill, such as the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, the theater is an impressive remnant of the  influential ancient civilization of this mystery country.

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Pamukkale is located in southwestern Anatolia, a 4 to 5-hour drive inland from coastal attractions such as Ephesus, Bodrum, Marmaris and Antalya. The closest major attraction is Aphrodisias, roughly halfway between the coast and Pamukkale (less than 2 hours driving). Pamukkale is known as the “Cotton Castle” because of its dramatic travertine terraces formed by hot-spring deposits of calcium carbonate. The Romans built the thriving spa town of Hieropolis here and besides the natural wonders there are some nice ruins to explore.

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