Saudi Arabia

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Saudi Arabia.

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Old Jeddah – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

A Gateway to Mecca Holds On to Its History

The timeless stream of Muslims en route to Mecca, Islam’s holiest of cities, long ago transformed the Red Sea gateway of Jeddah into a thriving metropolis.

It is the Rome of Arabia in terms of pilgrim traffic and trade. Unlike much of the Arab world, Jeddah has managed to build around, instead of on top of, its history. In the Old Jeddah dis­trict, where silk route merchants would still feel pretty much at home, the original walls have been torn down, though the gates were left standing.

The rest remains a protected urban area; many of the houses are made of coral quarried from reefs in the Red Sea. The more impressive homes, of traditional carved wooden architecture, belonged to the merchant clans who filled their coffers from the pilgrim trade. Today some of these houses are museums; others are crumbling because their successful owners have moved their families to modern high-rises.

Old Jeddah’s souk is considered the best left in Saudi Arabia; with most souks having morphed into shopping malls hawking Western-made goods and fashions, this vibrant place has retained much of its tradi­tional flavor.

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Mada’in Saleh – Saudi Arabia

Remnants of Past Glory Endure

Comparisons to Jordan’s pink-stone city of Petra are inevitable, although Mada’in Saleh is more compelling in many ways.

Less known, less acces­sible, and therefore less visited than Petra, Mada’in Saleh, carved out of large outcrops of rock in the Arabian Desert, is known for tombs dating back to 100 B.C. Though their design is considered less spectacular than those in Petra, the local stone is more resistant to the elements, so the tombs are slightly better preserved.

However, ero­sion has resulted in some bizarre formations, and multicolored mineral strata are revealed and warmed by the changing light of the day. Due north of the Wadi Hadhramamawt in what is now Yemen, Mada’in Saleh was a stopover on the famous frankincense route for caravans transporting the precious cargo and other aromatics and spices to the Mediterranean ports of Syria.

But Mada’in Saleh’s heyday was short-lived (the last tomb was built in A.D. 76); the Romans, always ingenious, began to ship their cherished incense by boat on the Red Sea directly to Egypt.