Al Ula

A city in The Madinah Province

Places to Visit in Al Ula

A city in The Madinah Province

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The Capital of Monuments

Al Ula is a city full of archeological wonders. Located in the northwest of Saudi Arabia in the Madinah province, it is a top tourist destination. Al Ula holds the distinction of containing the first UNESCO World Heritage Site of the country. This site, known as Mada'in Saleh or Hegra is an interesting archeological site that dates back to the Nabatean kingdom. It is often also associated with being the location of the Thamudi people upon whom the Prophet Salih (AS) was sent. According to Quran, the Thamud people were idol worshipers and were punished by an earthquake and lightning due to their idolatry. Mada'in Saleh is located 20km north of the city of Al Ula. 

 

Hegra has also served an important role as a station along the ancient Hajj route. It was an important stop and provided supplies and water to the traveling pilgrims. It is also the main trade route. The famous 14th-century traveler Ibn Battuta, mentioned the red stone-cut tombs of Al-Hijr (Hegra) in his accounts. The place was uninhabited at that time. Researchers credit the immaculate preservation of this ancient site to the extremely dry weather and the lack of rehabilitation after the site was abandoned by its original inhabitants.

 

History

Al Ula has held great importance due to its strategic location along the ‘Incense Route’. The walled city was founded in the 6th Century BC. The influence of different cultures can be found due to the rich history of the region. For instance, archeological evidence dates the Tumulus and Al-Hijr to the Bronze Age. 

 

Site of the Biblical city of Dedan. For the next four hundred years, the area was under the rule of the Kingdom of Lihyan. Al Ula remained one of the most vital caravan centers of northern Arabia. Later on, the Nabataeans ruled the region until 106 AD when the Romans captured their capital Petra. Due to this Mada'in Saleh was made the new capital of the Nabataeans. 

 

During 1901-1908 the Ottomans built the Hejaz railway in the region. Both Mada'in Salih (Hegra) and Al Ula were made stations of the Hejaz Railway that linked Damascus to Madinah. 

 

Geography & Cultural Life

Al Ula is an oasis located in the desert valley. It has fertile soil and a reasonable amount of water. For this reason, it has been an important city along the historic incense trade route. Al Ula Heritage Village, often known as Ad-Deerah was settled by people in ancient times. It remained inhabited until the 20th century and now the abandoned mud houses offer a great insight into the cultural life of the old inhabitants. The houses are close to each other and appear as if it’s a single huge building that is walled from the outside. Narrow, twisting alleyways pass through the houses. A sundial clock can also be found in the south of the old city. An old souk in the town has also been renovated recently.

 

Popular Attractions

Hegra (Al Hijr) also known as Mada'in Saleh is the jewel of Al Ula. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-visit for all tourists. The Al Ula - Old Town offers visitors a trip back in time. Its mud houses give us a great visual reminder of how ancient people lived life in the desert. The Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza also known as Qasr al-Farid (Lonely Mountain) is the tallest tomb in Hegra. It stands 72 feet tall. Maraya (translation ‘mirror’ or ‘reflection’) is another popular attraction that was designed by Italian architects and completed in 2019. This intriguing, shining cube structure was added into the Guinness Books of World Records in 2020 for being the largest mirror-clad building in the world.


The Arch (Rainbow) Rock is one of Al Ula’s most prominent rock formations. It appears like a rainbow that is stuck in between two clouds. This distinct bridge-like shape is a rare natural treat for tourists. Another iconic natural sandstone formation is the Jabal AlFil (Elephant Rock). This natural wonder is shaped like the body and trunk of an elephant and is the result of millions of years of erosion. It is a popular camping spot also.  Other popular tourist attractions in Al Ula include Ekmah Heritage Mountain, Jabal Ithlib, and the Sparhawk Arch.

 

Future Plans

Al Ula is set to become one of the top cultural tourism destinations in the world. It has all the right ingredients: a fascinating and rich history spanning centuries, glorious archeological sites and tombs, natural geographical wonders, undiscovered ancient artifacts and sites, and most importantly a preservation and development plan backed by the government. Recently, an ambitious 'Journey Through Time Masterplan' amounting to a total cost of $15 Billion was unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. This plan seeks to establish Al Ula as a global tourism hub for art, culture, and nature. As phase one of this plan, the Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz International Airport was expanded to accommodate international flights. Its capacity has been tripled to cater to 400,000 passengers per year from the initial 100,000.

 

Al Ula is set to become one of the top cultural tourism destinations in the world. It has all the right ingredients: a fascinating and rich history spanning centuries, glorious archeological sites and tombs, natural geographical wonders, undiscovered ancient artifacts and sites, and most importantly a preservation and development plan backed by the government. Recently, an ambitious 'Journey Through Time Masterplan' amounting to a total cost of $15 Billion was unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. This plan seeks to establish Al Ula as a global tourism hub for art, culture, and nature. As phase one of this plan, the Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz International Airport was expanded to accommodate international flights. Its capacity has been tripled to cater to 400,000 passengers per year from the initial 100,000.

 

The Sharaan Resort is a revolutionary new resort destination being constructed in the Sharaan Nature Reserve. It is a state-of-the-art, sustainable project that is set to be completed and inaugurated in 2023. The best thing about this project is how it plans to integrate the resort with the environment and landscape without harming the integrity of the landscape and the local culture. Thus, Al Ula is rapidly evolving into one of the top bucket-list destinations of the world. It is estimated that by 2035, over two million tourists will visit Al Ula.

Read more about the wonders of Al Ula here: Discover Al Ula - Saudi Arabia's Forgotten Past