The Middle East has long been a region rich in history and culture with natural untouched landscapes. While exploration has traditionally been dominated by male adventurers, there have been numerous brave and trailblazing women who have ventured into the region, breaking barriers and leaving their mark. In this article, we will focus on the achievements of some remarkable female explorers in the Middle East.

Gertrude Bell 

Gertrude Bell, (photo above) often referred to as the “Queen of the Desert,” was a pioneering British explorer, archaeologist, and writer. She explored the Middle East extensively in the early 20th century. She traversed the deserts of Arabia and Mesopotamia. Bell also played a crucial role in shaping the political landscape of the region. She contributed to the establishment of modern-day Iraq. Her extensive knowledge and understanding of the Middle East’s inhabitants and their culture made her an influential figure in her time. 

The BBC currently has a radio programme, Lines in the Sand, Journeys of Gertrude Bell   

In 2015 Werner Herzog made a film (with Nicole Kidman) about the life of Gertrude Bell called “Queen of the Desert” 


Freya Stark

Freya Stark was an intrepid British explorer and writer. She embarked on numerous expeditions throughout the Middle East in the 20th century. She explored remote regions of Iran, Syria, and Iraq, often venturing into areas seldom visited by outsiders. Stark’s vivid travel writings and detailed observations of the local cultures earned her widespread acclaim. Her determination to discover uncharted territories together with her deep respect for the Middle Eastern people made her a prominent figure in exploration and travel literature.

Check out the Open Library for the numerous books by Freya Stark.

Isabella Bird

Issabella Bird was a British explorer and writer who made significant contributions to our understanding of the Middle East in the 19th century. She embarked on a journey to Persia (modern-day Iran) and Kurdistan, documenting her experiences in her book “Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan.” Bird’s vivid descriptions of the landscapes, people and the cultures she encountered provided valuable insights into a relatively unknown region at the time, making her an important figure in early Middle Eastern exploration.


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