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BellaOnline's Middle Eastern Culture Editor


Middle Eastern Places You Aren't Likely to Find on a Map

Guest Author - Julie L Baumler

Anatolia and Rumelia, the Maghreb, Andalusia, the Levant, Mesopotamia – you aren't likely to find any of these places marked on a map, but they come up again and again in discussing the Middle East. Where are they? Why are these names used?

Satellite Image of Anatolia
Satellite Image of Anatolia (NASA)

Anatolia is the Asian peninsula between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It is the Asian portion of present day Turkey. Sometimes the European area of present day Turkey is referred to as Rumelia, but Rumelia is properly used historically for a larger area of the peninsula between the Mediterranean and the Balkan Sea including much of Greece as well. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Rumelia means “land of the Romans,” referencing the Byzantines.

Maghreb (or Maghrib), sometimes called “The Maghreb” refers Northern/Mediterranian Africa west of Egypt, the present day countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, parts of Libya and sometimes Mauritania. The term Maghrib is also occasionally meant to be inclusive of Islamic (Moorish) Spain (also called Andalusia or Al-Andalus.) In Arabic, Magrhreb means “the west” and essentially, it refers to the Western Islamic lands. The terms Maghreb and North Africa are often used as synonyms, although North Africa includes Egypt and all of Libya.

The Levant is a name given to the land around the Eastern Mediterranean by the Italians and adopted by much of the rest of the Mediterranean peoples. According to Wikipedia, the term “Levant” means “Where the Sun Rises” or “Where the Land Rises Out of the Sea”, referring to how this area looks from the Mediterranean. This area has had a variety of names, including Canaan, Israel, Palestine, “Syria Palaistina”, Phoenicia, and the Holy Land. The present day nations of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan are in this area.

Mesopotamia is the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the location of present day Iraq. The name Mesopotamia is similar to the Greek for “between the rivers.” (Stefoff) These are two of the four rivers referenced in Genesis as coming from the river in the Garden of Eden, so you can see that humans have been familiar with this area for a very long time.

All of these names are used because many of the national boundaries of the Middle East have been formed more by politics and diplomacy than by natural boundaries. These names refer to areas formed by natural boundaries of climate, terrain, and ease of travel. Additionally, the term “the Levant” is often used because the other historical names for that area carry political or religious baggage.
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