About Madain Saleh

  • Play Text to Speech




Location:

Al Hijr or Madain Saleh is located 22 kilometers to the north-east of Al Ula municipality of Al Madina Al Munawarrah province in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at latitude 4726 north and longitude 5337 east, and it was called Al Hijr since the ancient times.It occupies a strategic position on the ancient trade route that links the southern Arabia, Mesopotamia, Levant, and Egypt.

The ancient trade rout in Al Hijr that emanates in the south of Arabian Peninsula divides into two branches, one heading to the north passing through Tabuk ends in Petra in Jordan, which was the political capital of Nabataea, while the second branch heads towards Mesopotamia through Tayma in the north of Arabia. This important strategic location has made Madain Saleh an important trading city of Nabataea and a significant economic destination for the trade caravans.

General Information:

Al Hijr or Madain Saleh is an ancient pre-Islamic archeological site in Saudi Arabia. It was the land of Thamud in the Wadi Al Qura, "Valley of Villages", lying between Madina and Tabuk. Al Hijr is also known as Madain Saleh, the Saleh’s village.  The site was mentioned in Torah (the old statement) of the Holy Bible, and the Holy Quran with reference to Prophet Saleh (PBUH). The Holy Quran stated that, the people of Thamud had met their doom because they refused the call of Prophet Saleh to obey God's Will after they slaughtered the she-camel that was sent to them as a divine sign from God. 
 
Archeologists Views: 
 
According to archeologists, Al Hijr was inhabited by Maeneans and Thamudians in the third millennium BC. Prior to them the place was occupied by the Lihyanite in the 9th century BC.  Nabataeans invaded the state and subdued the Lihyanite, and used stone structure as their houses, temples and tombs. According to the found inscriptions, Nabataeans were the real builders of Al Hijr. Al Hijr contains a great deal of Maeneans and Lihyanites inscriptions that refer to Al Ula, Khoraiba and Hiania, as the oldest towns, dating back to around 1700 BC. Some of these places were destroyed by earthquakes according to the established literature. As for Al Hijr city's antiquities, they belong to Maeneans and the early Thamud traders, who had moved into it from the south of Arabian Peninsula. 
 
In 2008, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee (WHC) agreed on Madain Saleh site to join the World Heritage List. Thus, the site has become the first archeological site in Saudi Arabia to be enlisted by the WHC of the UNESCO. 
 
Nabataeans built Al Hijr:
 
Researchers believe that the Nabataeans were the first inhabitants who settled in Al Hijr, "Madain Saleh," and hence were the original builders of it.  Researchers also believe that the Nabataeans had originated from the Arabian Peninsula. Historian Dedor Al Saqali states that, the Nabataeans were a nomadic shepherd tribe, who did not know the art of Agriculture. The people had no sedentary life nor did they drink alcohol and that their land was mostly rocky and rugged, unfit for a sedentary life. 
 
It is known that the Nabataeans had founded a large kingdom extending from their capital Petra (Sila) in the north, to Madain Saleh in the south. The oldest evidence of the existence of Nabataeans dates back to the ninth century BC. When they decided to take control of the ancient trade route, they founded their trading capital "Al Hijr”. 
 
According to Nabataeans inscriptions found in the Madain Saleh, we can determine the age of the Kingdom. Alluding to the inscriptions Madain Saleh emerged in the beginning of the first century BC, and faded out in the mid-second century AD. 
 
Nabataeans had faced many economic and political challenges, particularly with the Roman Empire. But the major and fateful challenge that was faced by Nabataea state and which has gradually isolated it and finally led to its downfall and decay was the radical shift that has been made in ancient trading routes following the discovery of the seasonal trade winds in the first century BC, according to which neighboring countries and owners of commercial caravans decided to transport their goods through the Red Sea. The-then new shift made Al Hijr vulnerable as it was largely relying on the passage of convoys through its territories and imposed transit tax on them for its glorified sustenance. 
 
While trading convoys were passing through the ancient city of Al Hijr, vibrant landscape and golden hills on the far-left were representing one of the most wonderful scenes in the Arabian Peninsula.
 
From the available inscriptions the Nabataeans language resembles the late Aramaic, which was greatly influenced by Arabic language. 700 years before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Blessings and peace be upon him), the Kingdom of Nabataea was extending from Damascus to the Red Sea. But in 63 AD it was annexed by Rome. In 106 AD the Emperor Trojan transformed it into Roman province with the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. 
 
The success of Nabataeans was due largely to the presence of best architects and engineers of the ancient world with them. They were able to overcome the of water sources in the region through a network of pits and canals to harness and store water, some of which are still in use. 
 
The remains of Madain Saleh show the remarkable work of its engineers. More than 131 big tombs were found carved out of huge sandstone mounds, standing singly amidst a world of wavy sands, but some of these are in a state of decomposition. When you arrive at this archeological city, to the west of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, between Tabuk and Al Madina, around afternoon, you will see the scene of the golden hill behind it, far away is laid the Harat Awaired with its volcanic land.  It is one of the most stunning scenes in the Arabian Peninsula. The names engraved on the landmarks belong to the local Bedouins tribes.
 
Most tourists in the site, go around clockwise, they encounter the first tomb when entering the site is Al Sane tomb:
 
Al Sane tomb:  It represents an introduction to the key elements of the style of the Nabatean’s tombs.  It has a great interface, with five figures of components, and the inscriptions at the top of the door and the niches into which the dead bodies were placed.
 

Al Kheremat: It is next location with twenty shrines in good condition.  It is one of the best preserved tombs in the Madain Saleh. There are many symbols that appear to be linked to generations of the cultural imagery borrowed from the Egyptians and Ethiopians. Statuettes of winged lions with human heads and forms of flowers painted on a bowl used in rituals associated with funerals testify to this. Al Kheremat houses were built of mud as well as they contained water well.

Qusr Al Sani:  Qusr Al Sani formed of its great front and two shapes comprising five steps and inscriptions on the top of its gate, it is some sort of a tomb however it is not so much an exciting place but it forms an indication to key elements of Nabataea grave style.

Al Kheremat, part of Qusr Al Sani comprised several holes into which corpses were laid, and sacrifices offered. There are twenty graves in good condition, but in fact most of the graves are in good situation in Madain Saleh.

The site includes inscriptions indicating several generations of culture derived from Kush and Egypt ancient civilizations. The inscriptions illustrate several shapes including a lion body with wings and human heads in addition to shapes that look like roses drawn on a bowl perhaps used in funeral ceremonies. Al Kheremat also includes a number of houses built of mud in addition to Nabatean water well.

Al Jabal Ithlib:
 
The Ithlib stands lofty on the north-eastern horizon. It is surrounded by vast space. Just as in Petra in Jordan, this area has a narrow ally called “Al Seeq”. A large open hall was craved inside the rock which is called the Divan that is surrounded by two columns and some stone terraces in the internal three walls.    
 
According to the explorer Charles Doughty (1888 AD), there was a threshold in the palace that has fallen down with the extension of the ceiling. 
 
“…also this room is pleasant and cool, because the north facing façades allow no direct sun rays to fall into them, and the cool air always fills the space and there is a deep sense of peace and calm in the tomb which makes it gravely solemn." He said.  Climbing on Jabal Ithlib allows a stunning view of Madain Saleh. 
 
Qusr Al Bint (Al Bint Palace):
 
Outside Qusr Al Bint there are painted whales in triangular forms, representing as tomb's guard. It is a significant example of the influence of Greek art on the Nabataeans. The construction of the tomb is halted midway, which helps us to identify the techniques of tomb's construction.  The construction starts from the top going to the bottom. Flowers on its entrance and the other ones depict decorated plates used in religious ceremonies, indicating that these buildings contained graves. 
 
Al Qusr Al Fareed: 
 
Al Qusr Al Fareed is one of the most famed Nabatean tombs in Al Hijr and most beautiful. It is featured with a very large façade facing to the north. It is called Al Fareed, because it is standing alone on an independent mass of rock, also because of the difference of its large façade compared to other tombs in Madain Saleh for accuracy sculpture and beauty. Despite this, the overall sculpture is incomplete. The palace was built for someone called Hayan bin Koza. 
 
It is worth mentioning that eating, drinking and sleeping is forbidden in Madain Saleh. The restored Al Hijaz Railway station building is just 6 kilometers north of the site.  
​​