Ancient sites in Saudi Arabia

February 19, 2011by Brenda Pierce

Here is an update from our Saudi Arabia tour participant, Dr. Kiracofe. Thanks for sharing!


Today I visited several most interesting sites in Saudi Arabia, the ancient city of Al Ula in an oasis valley green with palm gardens. The city was an improtant trading center and stop along trade routes. The city has been continuously in existance for at least 2,600 years. What we see today is the surviving mud brick architecture in a protected archaeological zone covering perhaps 20 hectares, with more modern buildings nearby.

I also visited three stations along the Hejaz Railroad built just before World War I by German engineers for the Ottoman Sultan. This historic railroad was part of the system the Germans were trying to build to connect Berlin to Baghdad and the Gulf at Kuwait. The Hejaz Railroad was also an important military asset for the Ottomans and for this reason the Arabs sought to disrupt it as part of their revolt against Ottoman rule. They had encouragement from the British. T. E. Laurence, known as Laurence of Arabia, became famous during this time for his activities in the area that included attacks on the Hejaz Railroad. I was able today to photograph these stations, and a few others yesterday, one with a train still in the station, though much deterioratd. There is one station and maintenance facility that includes about 16 buildings at Madain Saleh, near Al Ula, that has been restored. Inside the old maintenance shed there are some of the old carriages, one now completely rebuilt, and also one of the original steam locomotives. Most interesting. Outside there are several other carriages waiting to be rebuilt and they are carefully converting some of the buildings for use as a hotel, making this a unique tourism destination.

Nearby is the Nabatean city of Madain Saleh, with its famous funerary monuments carved into the cliff faces, just as they did at Petra. This site was built about 2,000 years ago during a time when the Nabatean people controled the trade routes of the Saudi Peninsula by controling
the oasis centers. It is quite a spectacular site, and the surrounding geography is some of the most dramatic I have ever seen. We went deep into the valleys in four wheel drive vehicles to see some amazing sand dunes and rock formations, unlike anything I have ever seen, so dramatic. In a way the area reminds me of parts of Arizona and New Mexico, reddish colored sandstone formations eroded by wind and sand over thousands of years. We watched the sun set over mountains at the far side of the valley, a valley full of unusual rock formations and palm groves….

Today was certainly one of the most spectacular days of adventure I have ever had… just amazing…I strongly recommend visiting Saudi Arabia! If I only saw the things I have seen today it would have been worth all the effort and expense of coming here, many times over…

As soon as I have time I will send along some of the pictures…

Best wishes to all

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