…..thunderbolts filled the air, followed by a rumbling noise and severe earthquakes that destroyed the entire tribe. The land was violently shaken, destroying all living creatures in it. Neither their strong buildings nor their rock-hewn houses could protect them. All were demolished before they realized what was happening….
….Later he discovered the two pieces of ‘Hacks’ (sweets) in his trouser’s pocket (recently bought) were crumbled into grain so did the wrapper. There were no contact whatsoever to the objects during that split seconds.
A journey into the past, a trip to Al Ula is always full of excitement and fun, provides the romance of traveling through a beautiful desert landscape. Al Ula is situated northwest of Saudi Arabia. It lies between a chain of mountains on its eastern and western sides. It is about 400 km north of Al Madinah.The city was inhabited by Arab tribes as inscriptions show. The Lihyanite people were its original settlers. The Minean were also mentioned, but they constituted a minority compared to the former, as they essentially arrived there to participate in the Southern Arabian trade on its way to the North of Arabia, Levant and Egypt. The city occupies a strategic position along the main trade route carrying incense and spices and connecting civilizations of the old world. It acted as the medium between the civilizations of India and Southern Arabia in the South and Mesopotamia, the Levant and Egypt in the north from early times to the end of the first century A.D. Al Ula had a biblical named “Dedan’” as mentioned in the Old Testament and in the Assyrian and Arabic writings.
The Old City
This is a rare example of an Islamic City, which goes back to the 7th century H/11th A.D. The building material was reused stone brought from archaeological site, Al Khuraiba located nearby. Many of the Lihyanite inscribed stones, alters, stone blocks can be seen today in existing houses. The houses were lined side by side to form an outer enclosure wall to protect the city against enemy attacks.
Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography
The Antiquities department has established the museum in Sikhairat in Al-Ula. It is open to the visitors in the morning and in the evening.
Nature in Al Ula
Al Ula is characterized by its attractive natural scenery marked by the reddish sandstone inselbergs carved by natural agencies into beautiful and attractive shapes. Sand dunes and inselbergs combined together to form a wonderful display of thrilling nature. During winter and spring, after the rain, the area turns into green fields attracting the inhabitants and visitors from outside the region.
Mabiyat archaeological sites occur at 15 km to the south of Al Ula near Mugheira village. Its history goes back to the Umayyad and Abbasid periods. Ruins of buildings, remains of an irregular wall enclosure and pottery shreds can be seen on the site area. The Antiquities Department conducted excavations in 1404-1405 H (1948-1985 A.D.) and covered the buildings of a large Islamic city. Houses were built of mud bricks and firebricks with their floors covered by mud or plaster.
Inscriptions and graffiti are widely spread on the sides and summits of Jabel Al Ula covering the prehistoric period and ancient civilizations writings: Lihyanite, Minean, Aramaic, Nabatean as well as Islamic.
Al Khuraiba is one of the sites attributed to the Kingdom of Lihyan, which dominated the area during the period between the 6th and 2nd century B.C. Pottery shreds of different types and forms are widespread in the site area.. Stone altars, incense burners, stone and statues with Lihyanite inscriptions have been found. Inhabitants in building Al Ula old city reused inscribed stones and other objects. There is a circular basin carved in one piece of sandstone rock believed to be a part of Lihyanite temple. There is also a large number of tombs, each is a room containing a number f graves or simply a single shaft for one person. Some of the tombs have inscription bearing the name of the owner. One of the most known tombs is Al Usud (the lions), which is characterized by two lions carved on the side of the tomb.
This site is a small Wadi slopping from Jabel Ikmah, in which telling stones bearing Lihyanite and Minean inscriptions were discovered. These, together with one inscription were beautifully executed with signs of different forms and shape.
Among the natural attractions –
1) King Abdulaziz national Park located in Al Harra Mountain 700 meters above the city were you’ll have a bird eye view of Al Ula and Mada’in Saleh. A steep track, 26 km long, drives you to the top, starting from the bridge at the end of the road from Hail.
2) The Elephant Rock, 5km south of the Mada’in Saleh site gate, a natural beauty produced in the sandstone by the regular sandstorms over thousand of years.
3) Madakheel and Shiraan Valleys similar to the Wadi Rum in Jordan.
4) Al Hawiyah Canyon: The depth of this canyon is almost 400 meters at its deepest.
Mount Ithlib is situated to the North east of Al Hijr within a group of two parallel chains of high rocky peaks separated by a narrow canyon. This mountain range was of great importance to the Nabateans and served as a religious center that was the focus of a number of rituals.
Madain Saleh, also known as al-Hijr, is one of the best known archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia. Madain Saleh was once inhabited by the Nabataeans some 2000 years ago, Petra (located in Jordan) being the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. The Nabataeans are of Arab origin who became rich by their monopoly on the trade of incense and spice in particular between the East and the Roman, Greek and Egyptian empires. Madain Saleh has about 130 dwellings and tombs that extend over some 13 kilometers.
Many of the tombs and dwellings at Madain Saleh are surprisingly still in good condition and are really stunning. There were dozens of tombs carved inside the rock. Someone has rightly mentioned that the first thing that strikes you is the Nabataeans’ skill at carving mountains into burial chambers. The symmetry of their work testifies to their knowledge of geometry. Outside each tomb there is an inscription.
The façades of their dwellings are carved out from the mountains. Just above almost all the gates there are various decorations namely; eagles and snakes. The inside of their dwellings are not identical as if they were built for different purposes. Some are small with low ceiling while others are more spacious.
Nowadays many of the dwellings and tombs need stairs to reach.
However, Muslims believe that Madain Saleh was built and was first inhabited by the people of Thamud. The Quran points out that Thamud `hewed out in the mountains, houses with great skill`(chapter 26 : 149). The Quran makes mention of the people of Thamud with considerable amount of details in several chapters.
During the early Islamic period it became an important pilgrimage station for Syrians and Egyptians traveling to the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah.
The Story Tsamud
According to Islamic scholars, Prophet Saleh was the son of Thamud. He came from Bani Ad or the tribe of Ad. Saleh’s tribe moved from Yemen and had moved to a place called “Hager.” This is what is known as Madain Saleh today.
Like the tribe of Ad, the Nabataeans built their homes on mountaintops. They learned the art of building from the tribe of Ad and they were also blessed by God as the tribe of Ad before them had been blessed. They had power, riches and gardens rich in plants. However, they too, like the tribe of Ad, worshipped idols. God sent them Prophet Saleh, who was one of them. He was from a good family, was wise and people often came to him for advice. They admired and liked him, and had hopes that one day he would become one of their leaders. They were disappointed, however, when he began preaching to them about one God. They were so disappointed with him and angered by his teachings that they began to turn from him. They told him that they would believe in him if he performed a miracle – but not just any miracle. They pointed to a huge rock and told Prophet Saleh that they wanted to see the rock split in two and that they wanted a she-camel to come out of it. They wanted the she-camel to be 10 months pregnant, tall and beautiful. God allowed Prophet Saleh the miracle and as the rock broke into two pieces a magnificent she-camel appeared from within. Some of Prophet Saleh’s people believed and became his followers, although most continued in their disbelief.
There are a number of accounts of this camel and her miraculous nature. Some mention that she used to drink all the water in the wells in one day, and that no other animals could approach the wells. Still others claimed that the camel produced milk sufficient for all the people to drink, on the same day that she drank all the water and left none for them.
For a while, Prophet Saleh’s people let the camel graze and drink freely but in their hearts they hated her. The unbelievers now began complaining that this huge camel with its unusual qualities drank most of the water and frightened their cattle. They hatched a plot to kill the camel. They watched her closely, observing all her movements. As she came to drink at the well, one of them shot her in the leg with an arrow. She tried to escape but was slowed by the arrow. Another followed the camel and struck her with a sword in the other leg. As she fell to the ground, he stabbed her with his sword. The killers were given a hero’s welcome, cheered with songs and poetry composed in their honor. They mocked Prophet Saleh, but he issued a warning. “Enjoy life for three more days, then the punishment will descend upon you.”
Prophet Saleh hoped that they would see the folly of their ways and change their attitude before the three days had passed. Instead, they plotted to kill him. Nine men were sent to kill him, but God protected him by sending large birds from the sky, killing all the nine assassins.
After three days, thunderbolts filled the air, followed by a rumbling noise and severe earthquakes that destroyed the entire tribe. The land was violently shaken, destroying all living creatures in it. Neither their strong buildings nor their rock-hewn houses could protect them. All were demolished before they realized what was happening. As for the people who believed in the message of Prophet Saleh, they were saved because they had left the place.
It is said that while Prophet Muhammad was passing through the area on his way back from the Battle of Tabuk, he stopped to meet with the people there. The people fetched water from the wells from which the people of Thamud used to drink. They prepared their dough (for baking) and filled their water-skins from it (the water from the wells). The Prophet ordered them to empty the water-skins and give the prepared dough to the camels. Then he went away with them until they stopped at the well from which the she-camel (of Prophet Saleh) had drunk. He warned them against entering the area where the people had been punished, saying: “I fear that you may be affected by what afflicted them; so do not enter upon them.”
In other Hadiths, it is narrated that the Prophet Muhammad warned his people that should they enter Madain Saleh, they should think about what had happened to the unbelievers.
This is why people have not been encouraged to visit Madain Saleh. Now, however, the Supreme Commission of Tourism (SCT) is putting emphasis on tourism and in the future, tourist traffic to Madain Saleh is expected to increase considerably.
The imam of the biggest mosque in the center of Al-Ula had a sonorous voice, and the Qur’anic verses reminded the believers of the life in the Hereafter and God’s punishment for those who disobey Him. Tourists were reminded of the community of disbelievers who met such a fate in the mountains in Madain Saleh.
Madain Saleh is an excellent place to visit and learn about Saudi Arabia’s pre-Islamic past. One also actually walks in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The modern accommodations, and the good people in the area are very hospitabled.
Quran references in (As-Syams ayat 14) and (Surah al-Haaqah ayat 5).
GM: According to Che Kepol Che Gayah, during the time, they visited a ‘meeting room’ of the Tsamud, a strange thing did happened. Her husband while busy taking pictures, suddenly notice familiar noise in his pocket of trousers. Later he discovered the two pieces of ‘Hacks’ (sweets) in his trousers pocket (recently bought) were crumbled into grain so did the wrapper. There were no contact whatsoever to the objects.