JEDDAH: Madain Saleh or Al-Hijr City, located in Al-Ula governorate, is an important Saudi tourist landmark.
The city of Al-Hijr was the capital of the Kingdom of Lihyan in the north of the Arabian Peninsula. The city dates back to the era of the Nabatean kingdom. It contains the largest southern settlement of the Nabatean kingdom after the city of Petra in Jordan, the capital of the city of Nabateans about 500 km away.
In 2008, Madain Saleh was selected as one of UNESCO’s historic heritage sites, making it the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in Saudi Arabia.
The name of Madain Saleh is attributed to Prophet Saleh and is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an as “Al-Hijr”, described as a region carved from the mountains and rocks. It contains the site of the well from which the prophet’s she-camel drank.
Arab News visited Madain Saleh and wandered among its ancient palaces and graves with a young Saudi named Abdullah Al-Zahofi. He is a tour guide who provides services to tourists coming to visit the province of Al-Ula and its monuments, whether in Madain Saleh or other archaeological sites.
We started our tour by visiting Elephant Rock, a magnet for tourists in Al-Ula.
Elephant Rock is located 7 km to the east of the province of Al-Ula. It is a massive rock about 50 meters above ground and is characterized by its unique elephant-like shape.
Its location is an ideal center for desert sports and mountaineering enthusiasts, given the panoramic richness of the place.
Al-Zahofi said this site is important for tourism in view of its uniqueness in form. Tourists and visitors of different nationalities prefer to spend time here enjoying the atmosphere and tranquility.
The landscape is filled with the smells of orange, tangerine, lemon, and palm trees, which give the place a further splendor, harmonizing with the bright colors of the mountains.
The place plays a big role in boosting desert tourism and horse racing. It attracts many families keen to hike there.
Then we went to Madain Saleh and the so-called Mount Athlab where Madain and its beautiful palaces are located.
When we arrived at the main entrance, we found a gate at which the vehicles wishing to enter the site and information about its drivers are registered. They told us that the gates would be closed at 5 p.m. and we had to leave the site before that.
We headed to the Hijaz railway station of the Ottoman Empire. Al-Zahofi said this is one of the Hijaz railway stations, which linked the Levant to the holy city of Madinah.
It is the second-largest railway station in the Hijaz area after the Madinah station. Madain Saleh was a prosperous city because of its location on the important Incense Route.
The station consists of a large workshop to repair train carriages, large castles, houses, mosques, weapon stores, water closets and a large water tank. Prophet Saleh’s well is also there.
Then we headed to the most important palace or tomb located in Madain Saleh which is called Qasr Al-Farid or the “unique palace.” It gains importance for several reasons — it is one of the largest existing tombs and its name represents its uniqueness as one rock independent of the rest of the palaces or tombs.
The tomb is unique because it was not completed and was not used as a tomb as there are no traces of burial sites inside it.
It is also distinguished from the rest of the tombs with an increase in the columns carved on the facade. Most graves have two columns, but Al-Farid has four with Nabatean crowns on the front.
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Source Credit: Arab News