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A look into Saudi Arabia’s top heritage sites

Saudi Arabia allocates $30 million to protect cultural heritage

Introduction: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rich in many Arab, Islamic and world heritage sites. The Arabian Peninsula has a great history before and after Islam

World Heritage Sites are landmarks nominated by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage Programme.

                These landmarks may be natural, such as forests and mountain ranges, and they may be man-made, such as architectural landmarks, bridges, dams, cities, and others, and they may combine the two. 

                The UNESCO General Conference, at its seventeenth session in Paris on November 16, 1972, approved the Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This agreement seeks to preserve for humanity and future generations the natural and cultural certificates of universal and exceptional value.

                There are six sites in Saudi Arabia that were included in the list of World Heritage sites after it was approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

                The first was the site of Mada’in Saleh, which was included in 2008/1429 AH, and then the Al-Turaif neighbourhood was added in the old Diriyah area in AD 2010/1431 AH. The historical Jeddah area was also registered in AD 2014/1435 AH. 

                In AD 2015/1436 AH, rock art was registered in the Hail region to be on the World Heritage List. The last site to be included in the list was in AD 2021/1442 AH, which is the Hama Cultural District.

                In 2015, UNESCO added ten Saudi sites to the temporary list, which is the first step for inclusion in the World Heritage List, including the Al-Ahsa Oasis, which was later listed as a World Heritage Site, specifically in 2018/1439 AH.

Medina area

Al Hijr (Mada’in Saleh)

                One of the important cities of the Nabataean kingdom in the north of the Arabian Peninsula, and Al-Hijr was the name of Diyar Thamud. The site includes huge tombs, dating back to the first century BC. It also includes about 50 inscriptions dating back to that period, and many cave drawings.

Riyadh region

Its dwellings are distributed on the banks of Wadi Hanifa and its tributaries, and its old wall is surrounded by its fortifications and mud towers. Diriyah was the first capital of the Al Saud family.

Historic Jeddah

Historic Jeddah (Al-Balad) is located in the centre of the city of Jeddah and includes several monuments and archæological and heritage buildings, such as the Jeddah wall and its historical neighbourhoods, as well as many historical mosques.

Hail Region

Rock art in the Hail region includes paintings of Jabal Umm Sinman in Jubbah, Rat and Al-Manjour in Shuwaymis. The area of ​​Jabal Umm Sinman was a lake at an earlier time, and its inhabitants left many inscriptions about their lives. As for Rat and Al-Manjour, they were two valleys, and the inscriptions in them show drawings of humans and animals dating back ten thousand years.

Al-Ahsa Oasis

The oasis is located in Al-Ahsa Governorate, Eastern Province, and it grows more than a million and a half palm trees. It is the largest palm oasis surrounded by sand in the world. Extensive agricultural works are held next to it, due to the abundance of water and fresh springs. The site includes several landmarks, namely Jawathi Mosque, Ibrahim Palace, Sahood Palace, Muhairis Palace, Abu Jalal Palace, Al-Aqeer Port, Qara Mountain, and Al-Qaysaria Market.

Najran Region

Hema Cultural District

                The Bir Hama area is one of the most prominent sites that include prehistoric rock drawings and inscriptions, which include human and animal drawings, in addition to writings in Thamudiyah, the Southern Musnad, and the Kufic script. The area also contains sites belonging to different civilizations, representing mounds of tombs and circular stone structures. 

Ain Zubaydah

The road was named Darb Zubaydah after Zubaydah bint Jaafar, the wife of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, for her numerous efforts to set up facilities for pilgrims along the road. It dates back to before Islam and reached its peak in the early Abbasid Caliphate period, when stations, rest houses, wells, ponds and other services were established.

                Twenty-seven major stations and 27 secondary stations were monitored along the road. Among the main stations whose landmarks are still prominent: Al Jumima, Zabbalah, Al Shihyat, Al Tha`labiyah, Fayed, Samira, Al Nuqra, Al Rabza, Ma’aden Bani Salim, That Irq, Al Khraba, and others.

Hejaz Railway

Tabuk Region

                The Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah area connects the railway between Damascus and Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah. Work began on it in AD 1900 and opened in AD 1908. It continued to work until it was destroyed in AD 1916 during the First World War.

                There are several stations currently located within the territories of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine and Syria. For the Saudi section, there is Tabuk station, which consists of a group of buildings, and the line reaches Madain Saleh station, which includes sixteen buildings built of fine stone, and the last station of the line is Al Madinah Al Munawwarah station. 


                It extends between the Hijaz and the Levant and was known as Al-Tabukiya in relation to the Tabuk that it passes through. Then comes Al-Moadham, then Al-Aqra’, then Al-Hijr, then Al-Ula as it crosses Wadi Al-Qura (Al-Mabiyat). 

                The first three are taken from Wadi al-Qura to al-Saqiah, then to Dhul-Marwa, then across Wadi al-Had to al-Suwayda, al-Falahtin, then Dhu al-Khashab, and to Medina, but since the seventh century AH there has been a modification in the path.

Magha’ir Su’aib

                In Al-Bida’ is one of the most prominent points in the path, the Egyptian Hajj Road, Tabuk region.

Makkah Al-Mukarramah Region

                The trail has been used throughout different times by Egyptian pilgrims, from the Maghreb regions and some other African countries, as well as pilgrims coming from Andalusia. 

                The path passed through four different stages that extended to contemporary history. In the Saudi section of the road, it includes a number of castles and archæological sites, the most prominent of which are the Shoaib Caves, Al-Muwailih Castle, Al-Azlam Castle and others.

                The ancient village of Al-Faw in the Riyadh region is the village that served as the capital of the Kingdom of Kinda in the Arabian Peninsula for more than five centuries. It was an important commercial centre. It also included many houses, stores and shops, and had more than 17 water wells.

                The site currently includes many archæological monuments, such as the archæological mounds scattered in the site, the palace and the market, in addition to a group of bronze figures and other artefacts found on the site, as well as various tombs in their forms.

Rijal Almaa Heritage Village, Asir Region

The village is located in the Rijal Almaa Governorate, located in the Asir region. The village was considered an important point, as it connected people from Yemen and Al-Sham in the north, passing through Makkah and Madinah, which made it an important commercial centre. The village consists of about 60 buildings built of natural stones, mud and wood. The site includes the Dar Almaa Museum for Culture and Heritage, which was established by the people of the governorate.

Zee Ain Heritage Village, Al-Baha Region

The village was built of stones and covered with branches of juniper trees that were transferred to it from the neighbouring forests.

                Its balconies were decorated with quartz stones in the form of compact triangles. The village includes some defensive forts that were established in the past for the purpose of protection and control. The village is located in a low area within the upper Tihama in Al Baha, and it rises about 1,985 m above sea level. What distinguishes it is a mixture of heritage buildings and agricultural terraces that are irrigated through a spring of water that runs throughout the year.

The historical oasis of Dumat Al-Jandal

Al-Dara’ neighbourhood in Dumat Al-Jandal, Al-Jouf Cultural District 6034 2015
                Al-Dara’ neighbourhood is located in the middle of Dumat Al-Jandal within the archæological area next to the Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Mosque, and it is one of the remains of the ancient city of Dumat Al-Jandal.

                The neighbourhood consists of adjoining stone houses, and its corridors are connected to each other. Although the history of the neighbourhood’s establishment dates back to the mediæval Islamic era, some parts of it are based on archæological layers and foundations dating back to the middle of the first millennium BC. The neighbourhood is distinguished by its stone buildings, its corridors, its location between orchards, and the private waterways of the springs, which were used by the residents of the neighbourhood.

Uruq Bani Mu’arid Protected Area, Najran Region, the Riyadh region’s natural reserves

Uruq Bani Mu’arid is located on the western edge of the Empty Quarter desert. It is considered a nature reserve. It has been identified as an important botanical area due to its rich plant environment compared to other areas of the Empty Quarter. One hundred and six types of plants have been recorded in the reserve, including the Arabian and Saadia artas, along with dwarf plants, such as Persian rum, frankincense and sage, in addition to acacia, herbs and perennial legumes.

                The reserve was home to the Arabian oryx before its extinction from the wild. It was chosen as the site in which to reintroduce the oryx that grew up in the family breeding programme. To it were added herds of Reem gazelle, mountain gazelle and ostrich, all of which historically inhabited the area.

                In the reserve, there are also ruble fox, red fox, sand cat, hare, Abyssinian hedgehog, Jessman’s gerbil, small Egyptian jerboa, desert gerbil and others. As for birds, 104 species of birds were recorded in the reserve, but only about 16 species are endemic, such as the eagles.

Farasan Islands Reserve, Jazan Region

Farasan Islands Reserve is a nature reserve located in the southeastern section of the Red Sea, with an area of ​​about 600 m², where the archipelago includes many islands. The islands consist of reefs of limestone flats, and there are a number of short valleys that end to the sea. As for the coasts, they are covered with white calcareous sand that resulted from the destruction of coral reefs and seashells. Among the most important types of trees in the reserve are Samar, Balsam, Sidr, and Arak, along with mangrove trees such as (Al-Shura and Qandal), which form dense coastal groves, as well as mesquite trees or exotic percussion.

                The reserve is distinguished by the presence of the Persian antelope endemic to some of the Farasan Islands, in addition to the white-tailed mongoose and a number of rodents and lizards. As for birds, they are distinguished by their diversity between water, shore and migratory birds, the most important of which are the osprey, grey pelican, dark gull and heron. •

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