AlUla, a region of fertile oases and sandstone mountains, is located in the northwest corner of Saudi. Covering an area of 22,000 sq. kilometers (13,670 sq. miles), it was an ancient crossroads on the Arabian Peninsula. As such, it became a common stopping point for caravan traders. AlUla is now a “living museum,” with much to explore.
The city of AlUla was an ancient walled city, more than 2,000 years old, filled with stone and mud-brick houses. It was once the capital of the Lihyanites and the Dadanites in the 8th and 9th centuries B.C.E. respectively, with the Nabateans following in the 1st century A.D. The city contains the first Saudi site to make the UNESCO list, Mada’in Saleh—otherwise known as Hegra—located in the desert of AlUla. Those who have been to Petra in Jordan may find the site familiar; this is because both were built by the ancient Nabateans. Hegra contains 111 sandstone tombs, beautifully carved and featuring intricate inscriptions. The largest of these is Qasr Al-Farid or the “Lonely Castle.” Hegra has only recently been opened to tourists, so it is a must-see destination.
In addition to Hegra tombs, there are also the older Dadan tombs. Archaeologists uncovered a city buried under the sand, with tombs, statues, and buildings. The tombs are smaller and less elaborate than those of the Nabateans. A few of them were adorned with a lion, leading to their being referred to as the Lion Tombs.
Also harking back to the Dadan era is Jabal Ikmah, known as the largest “open library” in Saudi. Travelers through Dadan would leave their inscriptions and carvings on the cliff faces and rocks. Although there are many sites in AlUla featuring pre-Arab inscriptions, Jabal Ikmah has the highest concentration of them. Rock art depicting chariots, harps, camels, goats, scorpions, and more can be seen here.
AlUla’s Old Town was a popular pit stop for pilgrims in the 12th century. At that time, the AlUla Old Town became a settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Mecca. The 10th-century Musa bin Nusayr Castle, the oldest building in Old Town, overlooks from above at a height of 45 meters (147 feet). The houses were designed to be attached to one another, providing a defense against invaders. At one time, the city was accessed by 14 gates, which were opened in the morning and closed in the evening. Today you can explore the 900 houses, 500 shops, and five town squares, and see the vestiges of original stone and mud-brick buildings. In addition, the Old Town Market Road is an outdoor market in AlUla that features artisans, jewelry, clothing, accessories, traditional handmade crafts, local food, and specialty shops. It has been ongoing since May of 2022 and is slated to run until April 1, 2023.
Moving on to the architecture of the modern era is the stunning Maraya Concert Hall. In Arabic, “Maraya” means a mirror or reflection, which is fitting for the largest mirrored building in the world, according to the Guinness World Records. With the 9,740 mirrors covering the exterior and reflecting the AlUla landscape, it is a wondrous view from the outside. Once inside, you can see performances such as Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Moroccan singer Aziza Jalal, Egyptian composer Omar Khairat, and Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias, as well as American acts OneRepublic and John Legend. On the rooftop, there is a fine-dining restaurant called Maraya Social.
In addition to human-made constructions, there are also natural wonders to be explored. Unique rock formations include Elephant Rock (Jabal AlFil) at 52 meters (171 feet) high; as well as Jabal Al Rukkub, in the Raqasat Valley, which features three spiraling rock formations known as the Dancing Rocks. Harrat Uwayrid features towering mesas with wide expanses of igneous basalt columns that were formed by a once-active volcano. Telescopes are set up to aid your view. There are also stellar stargazing opportunities in the remote area of Gharameel.
Central Holidays has many travel packages that include AlUla, and its staff can help ensure that your travel experience is everything you desire.