Incredible! I’d love to see these ruins one day.
AL-HIJR, Saudi Arabia — Fully draped in a black veil, Irish blonde
Angela Miskelly stares out in awe as she strolls through Al-Hijr, the
ancient Saudi city of tombs carved into rose-coloured sandstone
“Spectacular… wonderful… breathtaking,” she says. “But where are the
tourists? If we had a site like this in my country, we would have
millions of tourists!”
Dating back to the second century BC, the Nabataean archaeological
site, also known as Madain Saleh, has long been hidden from foreign
visitors in this ultra-conservative kingdom that rarely opens up to
Saudi Arabia is thought to have been wary of archaeologists and
scientists seeking to study its ancient ruins for fear their findings
could shine the spotlight on pre-Islamic civilisations that once thrived
In recent years, however, Saudis have increasingly ventured to these
sites and the authorities are more tolerant of their curiosity.
Described as the largest and best preserved site of the Nabataean
civilisation south of Petra in Jordan, Madain Saleh is the first Saudi
archaeological site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
It lies 320 kilometres (200 miles) north of Medina, the Islamic holy
city of western Saudi Arabia, and extends for some 15 square kilometres
(six sq miles).
According to UNESCO, it includes 111 tombs, most of which boast a
decorated facade, cave drawings and even some pre-Nabataean
It also boasts intricately designed water wells that serve as a prime
example of the Nabataeans’ architectural and hydraulic genius.
The Nabataeans first inhabited the area in the second century BC, but
their ancient civilisation existed as far back as the eighth or seventh
century BC in the countries of the Levant, including Lebanon, Syria and
Jordan, and at times even extending into the Sinai peninsula in Egypt.
Originally nomads from the Arabian peninsula, the Nabataeans were
masters of trade, dominating the incense and spice routes in the
pre-Islamic period. Their civilisation collapsed in 106 AD at the hands
of the Roman empire.
After decades of prohibiting visitors, Saudi authorities are now
increasingly allowing entry into pre-Islamic archaeological sites in the
kingdom, though Western tourists are still a rare site.
In February 2007, four French citizens were murdered while returning
from an outing to Madain Saleh. The victims were in a party of nine
French people from three families living in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
They were killed when two people opened fire on them with machine guns after they lost their way 90 kilometres from Medina.
No group ever formally claimed responsibility but authorities at the
time said that the mastermind behind the attack was a 23-year-old
suspected Qaeda militant who held Saudi citizenship.
Officials at Madain Saleh say that the number of visitors to the site
reached 40,000 last year, most of them Saudis and foreign residents of
They hold hopes that figure will double in 2012 with the government relaxing entry restrictions.
Though prior consent is required for access to Madain Saleh, it can
now be obtained more easily from the nearby town of Al-Ola, or from
The highest volume of visitors is between December and March, given
the lower temperatures in the otherwise scorching desert heat.
Two museums also exist on site, including one devoted to the famous
Hejaz railway built by the Ottomans in the early 20th century that ran
from Damascus to Medina and passed through Al-Hijr.
The second museum, which opened its doors to visitors just two months
ago, traces the pilgrimage route to Islam’s holiest city of Mecca.
On his first visit to the ancient site, Saudi national Tareq al-Adawi
from the northwestern city of Tabuk says he was “overwhelmed.”
“I encourage all Saudis to come visit this place,” he says of Madain Saleh.
Another Saudi tourist, Ahmed al-Moghrabi, says he was “shocked by the majesty of the place.”
A small team of French archaeologists in partnership with their Saudi
colleagues are now carrying out excavations on the site in an effort to
preserve and better understand its ancient history.
Madain Saleh, though likely one of Saudi’s most famous archaeological sites, is not its only one.
The area bears evidence of other ancient civilisations.
Just 22 kilometres from Madain Saleh is Al-Ola, located on the
ancient incense route. The city served as the capital of Lihyan, an
ancient Arab kingdom.
It is home to archaeological remnants that date back thousands of years, including it’s citadel which is some 8,000 years old.
Thanks to: http://2012thebigpicture.wordpress.com