Since the days of Abraham who laid the foundations for the Holy Kaaba in the sacred valley of Makkah, pilgrimage (Haji) –the fifth pillar of the Islamic faith – has been a constant rite performed by believers. God Almighty ordered Abraham to call out to people to circle the Kaaba and march between the rocks of Safa and Marwah. The ritual that became known as Hajj at the dawn of Islam continues to see millions of Muslims annually flocking to the holy lands in the Arabian Peninsula from all over the world. Al-Yamama, the historical region in southeastern Najd in modern-day Saudi Arabia, became a major gateway for caravans of pilgrims coming from the eastern parts of the Islamic world.
Historically, the Hajj journey was always an arduous trip fraught with danger. As times changed and socioeconomic conditions developed, both in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, the ways by which people travel to the holy land have evolved accordingly.
With Diriyah’s establishment in 1446, the strategically located town became one of the most important stops for Hajj caravans, thanks to its abundance of food and water resulting from the lushness of Wadi Hanifah. The town, thanks to its strong local political power, was also a safe and secure haven for pilgrims. Ancient records document the role of Ibrahim bin Musa bin Rabia bin Manea, of the Marid clan, in securing the passage of Hajj caravans to and from Makkah.
In the past, Hajj caravans passing through Diriyah had several routes to choose from. Abu Al-Qadd route, known today as the Qiddiya highway, is the most ancient of Hajj routes. Travellers would regroup at the Diriyah Majlis in the Samhan district before they continued to the next leg of their journey, which took them to the Nasria mountain pass. After crossing the pass, travellers would arrive at Arqah before descending towards the very rugged region of Qiddiya. Camels have historically remained one of the most capable animals for crossing the vast expanses of the Arabian desert, and thus were a preferred choice of transportation for centuries. The animals were leashed from behind to prevent them from rolling off the jagged slopes and then descend safely. On the way up, they would be bound forward by their necks. Once that hurdle had been passed, the caravans would make their way towards Qusur Al Muqbil (Al Muqbil Palaces) and Al-Muzahmiya.
Another of the Hajj routes out of Diriyah was known as the ‘Seven Bends Way’.Named after the seven turns that existed along the path, it was developed during the reign of the late King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud. The route was less rugged than Qiddiya, taking the pilgrims northbound out of Diriyah across Wadi Hanifah to Al Jubaylah, and then through the Haysiyah gorge onto Al Uyaynah, at which point the Seven Bends Way begins. From this point onwards, the path would lead them to Marat, the next major stop for pilgrims coming in from the east.
The third route to Makkah was through Dirab. The Hajis would head out of Diriyah towards the Al Nasrah pass and then make their way down to Arqah. They would negotiate the Namar gorge next, and then make their way to Dirab, out of which they would embark onto the Al Ghaziz way, which took them by Al Quwaiiyah path. The pilgrims could also choose to head to Al Duwadimi instead.
Manea, of the Marid clan and Diriyah’s founder Ibrahim’s great-grandfather, settled in Diriyah after he had been called over to the area from Qatif. His cousins of the Dirih clan set out to restore the fortunes of their ancestors who had settled in the region previously. His decision to heed the call and move back to the area was instrumental in setting the stage for the establishment of the greatest state in the history of the Arabian Peninsula since the Rashidun Caliphate. Imam Mohammed bin Saud would eventually establish the First Saudi State in 1727. He would move to unite the burgeoning nation after the chaos that ensued as disease and warring townships tore through the new country. After Mohammed secured the Hajj and trade routes, Diriyah became its own, independent state, free of any control by the political powers that ruled the region at the time. His son Abdulaziz sought to expand the state by annexing many districts around it, boosting financial revenues, securing even longer stretches of the Hajj routes, and offering a wider range of high quality services to Hajis.
Imam Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed, the third leader of the Saudi state, proceeded to annex Hijaz, entering Makkah and effectively ending the rule of the invading Ottoman forces. The first Saudi ruler to be known as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Imam Saud desired to perform Hajj every year. He was widely known as “Al Kabeer” (Saud the Great) for the greatness and vastness of his kingdom at that time. His kingdom stretched from the vicinity of the Euphrates River and the Levant to the north all the way to Sanaa and Masqat in the south, and from the shores of the Arabian Gulf in the east to the beaches of the Red Sea in the west. Diriyah’s power and influence contributed to its reputation as a hub of pilgrimage and a haven for traveling Hajis. This was a place where pilgrims sought refuge and found help.
Saudi Arabia king’s continued to carry out this honor-bound duty well into the modern era which saw the unification of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the hands of the late King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud. The late respected leader spared no expense in caring for the Two Holy Mosques and the Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, before whom he pledged in an address in 1938 to adhere to the Word of God in the Quran and to the Guidance of His Prophet (peace be upon Him). His successors dutifully followed in his footsteps, and today the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are the globally celebrated patrons of unrivaled infrastructure and utility megaprojects in Makkah and Madinah. These two cities are home to the Two Holy Mosques and continue host millions of visitors from around the world, year after year.