Saudi Arabia is rich in its historical and archaeological sites that reflect the long history of the region and narrate amazing stories that have occurred throughout different historical periods. It has an ancient architectural heritage, which dates back in time to the Old Stone Age to the early and late Islamic eras. Moreover, it is abundant with beautiful regions that are culturally prosperous and architecturally vibrant, as evidenced in its palaces, ancient forts and military installations, religious monuments, archaeological sites, and the coolest rock paintings and drawings created by its earliest inhabitants, found scattered throughout the kingdom.
The ancient site known as “Al-Faw”, is located about 700 km southwest of Riyadh and about 150 km southeast of Al-Khamasin in Wadi Ad-Dawasir. To the northeast of Al-Faw is the Arabian Desert known as the Empty Quarter. (Rub Al-Khali) This site is situated at the crossing point of Wadi Ad-Dawasir and the chain of Tuwaiq Mountains in a depression beside the mountain. It also lies on the ancient Najran-Gerrha trade route. Al-Faw is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula and is of international importance. It is an excellent example of urban settlement of pre-Islamic era where housing, streets, markets, temples, tombs and graves, irrigation and canal system, and agricultural systems are all very well preserved.
Meda’in Saleh is perhaps the most important Nabataean site next to Petra. It is located in Saudi Arabia, approximately 320 kilometers south of Petra. A tourist visa to Saudi is required if you want to visit this fantastic site. These are usually only given to arranged tours. This Nabataean city has 131 tombs spread out over 13.4 kilometers. The city proper has a siq, city walls, towers, water conduits, and cisterns.
The magnificent tombs of Medain Saleh are carved in sandstone mountains located 22 km northeast of Al-‘Ula. In ancient times the site was on a trade route between South Arabia and Petra. The Thamud tribe may have originated from this area, but they were replaced by the Nabataeanswho made Medain Saleh their souther capital to control Arabia. The name Meda’in Saleh, was given to this site by an Andalusian traveler in the year 1336 AD.
This city was the Nabataean port on the coast of Arabia. Goods were brought here from southern Arabia, and then caravans moved them north to Aila and Petra. This port was developed because sailing conditions were hazardous and winds and currents were contrary to the ships that wanted to move the frankinsense harvest from Arabia to Europe.
This site is an early Islamic city situated on the pilgrimage route running between Al-Kufa in Iraq and Mecca. It lies about 200 km east of Medina. Twenty years of excavation on the site have revealed a very well developed city consisting of large houses with huge fortified walls, watchtowers, and the remains of mosques, pottery kilns, stone-working factories, jewelry, and two large reservoirs of different shapes.
Ancient Dedan, (modern Al-Ula) is situatied between Al Madinah and Tabuk in central Saudi Arabia. It is one of the largest and most important centers of civilization in Arabia. Located on a main trade route, it played an important role as a link between the civilizations of South Arabian and the civilizations in the north. It remained an important center from ancient times until the 1st century BC. Its importance declined when the Nabataeans adopted Meda’in Saleh as their second capital. Near this Dedan there are magnificent carved tombs in the mountains which are decorated with beautiful geometrical motifs. This site also contains many important inscriptions in Dedanit, Minaen, Lihyanite, Thamudic, and Nabataean script. This site also has ancient wells
The ruins of Thaj can be seen about 80 km west of Al-Jubail. It is a small village situated beside a dry lakebed generally known as “Sabkah”. The archaeological excavations undertaken by the Danish Mission in 1967 and those carried out by the Deputy Ministry of Antiquities in 1985 revealed Thaj as a complete buried city surrounded by a strong wall. Much of the wall is damaged, but one section of about 900 meters is in good condition. Several mounds, walls, housing foundations, pottery shards, glass, necklaces and earrings, decorative objects, clay pots and figurines have been recovered from the site. It is possible that Thaj was established during the Greek Sullucid period, possibly around early third-century BC.
Ancient Tayma is the most significant site in the northwestern region of Saudi Arabia. The ancient town is situated at about 264 km southeast of Tabukat an old oasis which contains a variety of archaeological sites dating from the prehistoric to the Islamic period. There are also some ancient inscriptions dated to the 6th century BC and other antiquities of the early Islamic period.
The main port of Al-Ahsa on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, Al-‘Uqair is a large archaeological site containing old government buildings and a mosque built during the early days of King Abdulaziz. Al-Uqair, like the markets of Al-Mushaqqr and Hajar, was one of the main markets of the region in pre-Islamic times. The port of Al-Uqair witnessed and served various Islamic army expeditions into China, India and Persia
Tarut is an island of four square kilometers on the Arabian Gulf near Al-Qatif, It is joined to Al-Qatif by a 4 km natural land bridge, which varies in width from 10 to 20 meters. The historic town of Tarut is situated in the heart of the island. Several archaeological sites have been recorded around the island, some of which date back to 5000-4000 BC, while others have be attributed to the Ilamite, Sassanian, Persian, as well as the Mohenjodaro civilizations on the rivers Sind and Umm An-Nar.
In Assyrian records dating from 845 BC, Adumatu (modern Dumat Al-Jandal) is mentioned as the capital of the Arab kingdoms. According to the text, Sennacherib captured Adumatu in 688 BC, and arrested the queen. Khalid Bin Al-Waleed captured Dumat Al-Jandal in 12 Hijri before leading the Muslim armies to conquer Iraq and Syria. The orginial walls of the ancient town of Adumatu demonstrate that it was larger than the modern town of Dumat Al-Jandal.
The ancient oasis town of Al Uyaynah (modern Al-Bid) is located about 225 km northwest of Tabuk. It was originally mentioned by Ptolemy) The tombs carved in the mountains are attributed to the Nabataeans. The early Islamic town Al-Malqatah is also located in the same area.
Little is known about this site from antiquity. However, the Saudi Ministry of Antiquities and Museums has been excavating this site since 1981 . The results have revealed an fortification with exterior wall built of finely shaped stones containing watch holes ior arrow slots. A number of buildings inside the fortification have also been found. Animal figures and inscriptions are depicted on rocks. Outside the fortified area several graves, foundations of houses, and different types of artifacts have also been discovered, dating from Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid and later periods. The excavations also revealed that besides being a trading center it was also an agricultural area with dams and a well-developed canal irrigation system. The presence of large numbers of inscriptions on the site, suggest that it was an important station along the caravans routes.
The Khabar Dam
Our first major stop on our way north from Jeddah was Khaybar Dam. There are actually several of them, and this one is called Sadd Qasr al-Bint. It is one of the largest ancient dams in the Kingdom. Nobody really knows, but there are stories that it had been built by the Queen of Sheeba. There is evidence about it being pre-Islamic.
It is a big stone construction on a dried out river bed. Although it had been breached for about one third of its length, it is nevertheless an impressive 20 metres high and about 135 metres long.
The upstream face is plastered with yellow mortar, the downstream face with bare stone. We camped at the base, among the quiet acacias and dhoum palms, where there wasn’t much chance of being overlooked. It is a pity there was no water in the wadi.
Khaybar village was a Jewish settlement in the time of the Prophet. There was a political disagreement at some stage between the villagers and the Muslim majority around them, and the villagers got in trouble. One can still see the old fort where they stuck out for eight months living on dates and milk.
There are many mud houses and a date palm oasis and many charming narrow crooked streets, where we got completely stuck with our 4WD, and to this day I don’t know how we got it out in reverse. Of course, this place is a long way outside the reach of any mobile signal stations, so we could not call for help.
Anyway: the place is now completely deserted, and to me it seemed like a perfect archaeologist’s dream. There are many stories to feed the imagination, tales of plague, witches, and treasure at Khaybar, which is why all the roofs have been removed — people believed that the villages hid their treasure under their roofs.