Saudi Arabia is a country that one can think of as very closed. Indeed, it is not a very widespread and appreciated tourist destination. Moreover, the country finds itself in a geopolitical climate which is not the most reassuring. In short, nothing that really makes you want to venture there! However, Saudi Arabia has some very nice surprises in store that are mostly unknown. Among them is Mada’in Salih. This is not far from Al-‘Ula, an ancient city that has the same characteristics as Petra in Jordan. However, the latter is well known, because it is one of the seven new wonders of the world. The people who lived in this city were called the “Thamouds”. We take you to those places where time seems to stand still.
Madâ’in Sâlih, the ancient cursed city
Located about twenty kilometers from the Al-‘Ula oasis (which we will discuss in the second part of this article), Madâin Sâlih is home to the archaeological site called Hegra or al-Hijr. These are remains of the Nabataeans, an ancient Arab civilization that lived during antiquity and whose main activity was trade. It is this same civilization that built and lived in Petra, the famous Jordanian site that attracts millions of tourists every year. The legend says that Madâin Sâlih is cursed, which is also why the city was so long abandoned and that it is still little visited today by the locals. Indeed, verses from the Koran indicated that the Thamouds, the inhabitants of this city, were punished for having killed by a camel sent by a prophet as a sign of god.
The archaeological site was rediscovered in the 19th century by European explorers, including Jean-Louis Burkhardt who also discovered Petra in Jordan. Today, it is possible to walk in this city which is very large for its time. The visit is simply magical.
Al-‘Ula oasis and its tourism development project
Al-‘Ula is the only city in this region. This is why we can consider this oasis as the gateway to the site of Madâin Sâlih. It currently has only 40,000 inhabitants. Although tourism is not yet very developed in this part of the world, local authorities have put in place infrastructures to attract travelers. Credits: Wikimedia Commons
A project is also being considered in partnership with France and others countries, which will be in charge of its development. This should be completed within about five years and would allow a natural, archaeological and tourist park to see the light of day. The good news for us is that these architectural and cultural treasures that have long been hidden away may soon be more easily accessible to everyone.