"Hegra (Mada'in Saleh)" Top 5 Page for this destination Mada'in Salih by MM212
Mada'in Salih Travel Guide: 94 reviews and 333 photos
Mysterious, remote and undiscovered, Mada'in Saleh is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula. Its historic name is Hegra, or al-Hijr in Arabic, and it lies in the Hijaz region of western Arabia, some 300 kms north of Medina and 500 kms south-east of its sister city, Petra. Historically, Hegra had a lucrative position in the desert with an underground water supply that permitted agriculture, which in turn made it one of several indispensable stops along the incense trade route from Yemen to the Levant. This strategic location brought a certain wealth to its inhabitants and with it a number of passing kingdoms and civilisations since early history, beginning in the 3rd millennium BC with the tribe of Thamud, infamous in Islam for rejecting the calls to worship the one and only God by their prophet Saleh. It is from this very prophet that Hegra's modern name was derived (see the Local Customs tips to learn more). The Dedanites and Lihyanites were another people who settled in the area in the 6th - 4th centuries BC, followed by the Nabataeans in the 1st century BC. The latter made Hegra their second capital city in case their main capital, Petra in today's Jordan, was threatened by the Romans. Hegra's golden age thus ensued and for the next century, while the city flourished, its inhabitants carved rock-cut tombs similar in style to those found in Petra. The Roman threat did finally materialise in 106 AD when the entire Nabataean kingdom and its civilisation, including Hegra, were usurped by the Roman Empire. The city's decline, however, had already begun when King Rabbel II transferred the Nabataean capital from Petra to Bosra in 70 AD. Although Hegra continued to exist for at least another century after the Roman takeover, it later mysteriously disappeared from history, only leaving behind its many magnificent rock-cut tombs as a reminder of a glorious civilisation. These tombs, coupled with a fun desert adventure, make Hegra the most remarkable place to visit in all of Arabia. Its importance has led the UNESCO finally to list it as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
For those who have been to Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan, a visit to Hegra is sort of a combination of the two. The architecture of Hegra is better preserved than Petra (perhaps, with the exception of the Treasury and the Monastery), but it is much less grand and more uniform. The tombs are also spread out across a vast site and many rock outcrops, requiring some driving from one location to another through incredible desert landscape, exactly as one would in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Hegra is a uniquely interesting destination because it combines history, archaeology, desert adventure, hiking and exploration all in one! This has not gone unnoticed by the Saudi authorities who have in recent years slowly, if reluctantly, allowed tourism into the Kingdom. Together with the nearby town of al-Ula, Hegra/Mada'in Saleh is the focus of Saudi efforts to promote tourism in the Kingdom.
Note: In writing these tips, I have attempted to bring life to the many tombs of Hegra, particularly those with inscriptions. When I visited in January 2011, the signs with translations I had previously seen in photos had been removed for some reason. With the lack of any detailed guidebooks, it was hard to appreciate the tombs and the history behind them, which is why I have painstakingly summarised each one in my tips through subsequent research and reading.
A hat & sunglasses, especially from April to October. Warm clothing for the morning hours in winter as it gets quite... more travel advice
Although Hegra in Arabic is "al-Hijr", the archaeological site itself is known in modern times as Mada'in Saleh, i.e.... more travel advice
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