A sandstone monument surrounded by date farms and dusty two-lane roads can be found in one of the world’s fastest-developing nations.
This is Hegra.
Otherwise called al-Hijr or Mada’in Saleh, Hegra is the crown gem of Saudi Arabia’s archeological attractions and was the primary spot in the nation engraved on the UNESCO World Legacy list.
Worked between the principal century BCE and the main century CE, this old city incorporates a great necropolis, with burial places cut into sandstone set against the general desert scene of northwestern Saudi Arabia.
The Nabatean people’s capital was Petra, a famous Jordanian site; Hegra was the kingdom’s southern outpost until it was abandoned in the 12th century.
In any case, while Petra is one of the seven miracles of the advanced world and invited more than 1,000,000 guests each year prior to the pandemic, Hegra has just been open for most global guests beginning around 2019, when Saudi Arabia initially started giving traveler visas.
AlUla, the nearby oasis town that has developed into an arts, culture, and tourism hub and now boasts a small but well-connected airport with regular flights from Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dubai, is changing Hegra’s lack of widespread recognition.
Out of history’s shadows
It is believed that the Nabateans traded aromatics like spices and incense, many of which are used in religious ceremonies.
Two of those were frankincense and myrrh, which numerous Westerners will perceive as gifts brought to the baby Jesus in the Christian Book of scriptures.
However, the majority of their culture has been lost to time. Presently, expanded interest in prehistoric studies from the Saudi government implies that increasingly more data is emerging from Hegra and other Nabatean destinations.
According to Wayne Bowen, a history professor at the University of Central Florida, “We’ve all heard of the Assyrians, and we’ve all heard of the Mesopotamians.” In any case, (the Nabateans) confronted the Romans, they faced the Greek Greeks, they had this extraordinary arrangement of reservoirs in the desert, controlled the shipping lanes. I believe they simply become engrossed in the development of the Roman Empire.
However the Nabateans didn’t abandon a lot of in that frame of mind of verifiable documentation, one of their way of life’s accomplishments keeps on assuming a tremendous part in the district – the Nabatean letters in order established the groundworks of current Arabic.
Some historians have recently literally put the Nabateans on a face.
They showed “Hinat,” the reconstructed face of a Nabatean woman whose remains were found in the desert, at the beginning of 2023. She is now on display in the Hegra visitor center for visitors.
On the sandy ground
After showing up at the guests’ middle, visitors are invited with dates and cups of Saudi espresso, which is softly prepared and frequently blended in with cardamom. A conventional silver urn with a curved spout is used to pour it out.
They can then embark on an excursion in a vintage midcentury Land Rover—with or without a roof, depending on the weather—accompanied by a guide.
In the same way as other spots in this sun-doused area of the planet, AlUla and the encompassing locale is ideal to visit promptly in the first part of the day or night. This is even more true at Hegra, where there are no structures or trees to shade the scorching midday sun.
The Nabateans were an itinerant group, so there’s very little left of their regular routines. Their magnificent final resting places, on the other hand, are what remain.
There are approximately 115 known and numbered tombs in all.
Qasr al-Farid, which means “the lonely castle” in Arabic, is the most well-known of these. It is a 72-foot structure that stands out in a sea of sand. The contrast makes a great backdrop for a photo, especially before sunset when the pinkish-orange light highlights the desert tones.
Visitors who wish to enter one tomb at a time are welcome. In order to ensure that none of these open tombs receive excessive foot traffic, they are rotated.
But on the outside, they’re much more interesting and intricate.
Names of those who are buried there may be visible in the area around the door frames. Details in the design suggest where the residents might have come from. Pictures of phoenixes, hawks, and snakes infer experience with societies as distant as Greece and Egypt.
Expand your search
A lot of people go to Hegra and Dadan and Jabal Ikmah, two smaller historical sites nearby, as part of their trip.
In the valley of Jabal Ikmah, which the Saudis allude to as an “outside library,” you can see a scope of cut engravings in Aramaic, Dadanitic, Thamudic, Minaic and Nabataean, all of which give gleams of knowledge into the rich history of this district. Interpretations are displayed in Arabic, English, and now and again French, as French priests were early guests to the area.
In contrast, Dadan was once home to a significant pre-Islamic trading city where spice sellers and religious pilgrims mixed.
The “Lion Tombs,” a group of mausoleums with carvings of lions, are the area’s most famous landmark.
In a single day, you can easily visit all three of these places. The official government-run tourism body in the region, Experience AlUla, has a website that is the easiest place to make reservations. Explorers in a rush can book a two-hour visit, yet there are likewise evening and day-long choices.
Try not to miss the covered open air station close to the Hegra guest’s middle, where you can work on utilizing a little etch to cut your name or initials into bits of stone.
You’ll realize just how much work the Nabateans put into creating these masterpieces when you see how much effort was put into it. The women who run this workshop also make miniature versions of the most magnificent structures in Hegra, which are available for purchase.
Nowadays, Petra is centered around safeguarding and fighting over-the travel industry, which offers Hegra the chance to develop and draw in additional guests.
David Graf, emeritus professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Miami, says that many of the archaeologists who used to lead the excavations at Petra are moving to Saudi Arabia. This probably means that new finds will be found in the future.
Additionally, it indicates that more people will be educated about the Nabateans and the contributions they made to history.
Graf, who is now retired, continues to publish articles and give lectures. He says, “The Nabataeans were a very cosmopolitan, sophisticated culture,” and “I’ve been trying to emphasize that.”
We had little knowledge of the Nabataeans. I went on the mission to make sure that we learned more about them. That we see them as not in reverse and crude, yet truly drew in and involved, and dynamic individuals who were cooperating with Rome and the Greek world and different societies.”