AlUla, just a short flight from Riyadh, is an astonishing architectural and historical landmark of Saudi Arabia and the whole Arabian peninsula. It probably played an important role in human history and we’ve just started scratching the surface of the pre historical events that took place here because scientific research started here not long ago.
This area of Arabian Peninsula witnessed Roman rule, and in the 600s the Islamic period started. However before that many other historical events took place right here, in AlUla. Now AlUla is being transferred into a national open air museum with not only the heritage sites but also hotels, places to eat and to enjoy the surroundings to the fullest. Let’s familiarise with some of them I was lucky to explore during my trip to Saudi Arabia with Tourism Saudi Arabia.
Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Hegra, or Madain Salih, was a city of the Kingdom of Nabateans (from 100BC to 106AD when they were conquered by the Romans) that stretched over an enormous territory. Nabatean cities were part of the silk trade coming all the way from China to Greece with spices being the main product for shipping.
Hegra on the south of the Kingdom was almost on its periphery but it didn’t stop the emergence of fantastic monuments of that time. If you remember my trip to Petra, you probably recognised the same architecture that includes carvings within the rocks? Then you are already familiar with this style of the monuments: they were traditionally carved from the very top down, and one tomb was usually meant for one family burial. In total, there are at least 110 (or at least 130, according to some sources) of them.
One of the main areas of Hegra is Jabal Ithlib mountain with a narrow canyon (does it remind you of Petra’s Siq too?) where there is a huge chamber for meetings called Diwan and small shrines to different gods accompanied by ancient inscriptions. Nabateans were quite relaxed about the worshipping practices: it was allowed to worship any god who’s not presented in a human form. For instance, as our guide told us, there are religious sites at Jabal Ithlib dedicated to Ara god and to a god represented as a falcon.
Also you can visit an 22 metres high unfinished solitary tomb of Lihyan Son of Kuza (it’s also called Qasr Al-Farid, or ‘The lonely castle’) which is probably the most famous tomb of Hegra, cluster of tombs named Jabal Al Banat – the story behind it is said to be similar to Rapuzel’s story but with the tragic ending.
Dadan and Lihyan heritage
Before Nabateans AlUla was a capital of Dadanite and Lihyanite Kingdoms: not clear whether they were successive kingdoms or dadan refers to topography and Lihyan to the population. And Dadan was the capital of both. It was inhabited at least for the 8-1 century BC. The kingdoms thrived on caravan trade: spices, myrrh and frankincense were the most important transported goods.
Their heritage in AlUla showcases the high level of skills among these people: you can find there carved in rock tombs – lion tombs are especially famous – and big statues (up to 2,6m!) of people important to the society. Their architecture and sculptures remind us of the culture connections with areas such as Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt because those antique areas’ co-influences are very evident. The archeological research is going on very actively right now, and there are plans to construct a museum of Dadan.
Jabal Ikmah not far from Dadan visiting Centre is often called “a library” because the rocks there contain few hundreds of inscriptions in Aramaic, Dadanitic, Thamudic, Minaic and Nabataean of the spiritual mode mentioning the king’s names, offerings gods including the ‘knowing god’ of sun and sky. You can just into the canyon and see the inscriptions right on the walls of the canyon around you!
To be honest, there is not much to say about the Elephant rock: it’s a beautiful rock formation famous for its resemblance with an elephant: it has a ‘trunk’ and a ‘body’. You can visit it during the day or at night time up to the mid-night when the rock gets highlighted byprojectors. It’s a free to enter area, and you can enjoy food or drink (not open all day) there in the cosy surroundings.
Older civilisations in AlUla
And even before that, about 6-7 thousands years ago this area was populated. As per the recent research in AlUla, archeological evidence from mustafil (huge rectangular constructions) and other stone remains of the human activity as well as from the carvings on the walls, we can even probably say that this is one of the places where the cattle became domesticated and the population led complex religious and social lives! If you’re interested in more detailed overviews of what’s been found there, please check the following article. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that part of AlUla heritage but we attended the Adventure trail tour…
The Adventure Trail
If you’re looking for a promenade among the rocks, the Adventure Trail (by Husaak Adventure) is probably what you’re looking for. You might get confused by the word ‘hike’ but actually there is a flat surface (as it is mainly the sand, walking is not as easy as on tarmac though) where you can just rewind and observe the nature and rock formations around.
There are special zones for meditation as well (and our program was called ‘silent hike’ because we were advised to lower our voices during this promenade). Also you can perform some bird and other animal watching! There are lots of natural wonders to spot despite it clearly being a desert: you can spot various birds, bats, other animals’ traces and plants!
However, the most exciting part of the Adventure trail is 1500-2000 years old rock art! Those petroglyphs represent both humans and animals and are a part of exciting Saudi heritage. I’m not sure about the exact location of those pictographs but this is the best I could find: 43523, AlUla, Al Madinah Province
You might also like my other blogs about the Arabic Middle East:
- Amman, Jordan
- Dead Sea
- Dubai guide
- Dubai: traditional souks
- Dubai: observational points
- Desert trip and hot balloon ride, Dubai
Hope you enjoyed my new blog!