Al-Ula, the ancient oasis of the past and the rich archaeological site of today

Al-Ula, the ancient oasis of the past and the rich archaeological site of today

Saudi Arabia keeps impressing us by revealing more of its natural and historic secrets — Al-Ula governorate is one of these precious secrets that have been out of sight for thousands of years.

Al-Ula name has gone viral lately coinciding launching Winter at Tantora festival. Al-Ula is a part of Medina Province that lies in Wadi Al-Qura; a valley oriented north-south between, on the west, the lava fields of the Harrat ‘Uwayrid, and the sandstone massif of Ath-Thumayid mountains.

It can be said that Al-Ula played an instrumental role throughout the history in the Arabian Peninsula owing to the underground water resources and the strategic location along the incense trade route road, it has.

Al-Ula that gathers the wondrous beauty of nature created by Allah along with the historical monuments made by man throughout the ages, shows us how the ancient Saudi civilizations were able to cope with the nature, the terrains, and the climate conditions of the region, besides the different techniques of cultivation they came up with to overcome the adverse desert conditions.

Al-Ula comprises a group of the best heritage sites in the world that dates back to the sixth millennium BC, which can take one across a historic journey of human development across the ages.

Mada’in Saleh

Mada’in Saleh

Of the most prominent places to visit in Al-Ula is Mada’in Saleh also called “Al-Hijr” or “Hegra”, a majority of its remains dates back to the Nabatean kingdom. It was the Kingdom’s southernmost and largest settlement after Petra. The popular tourist site includes 131 huge rock-cut tombs from the Nabatean Kingdom and overlooks a part of the Hijaz mountains. It is noteworthy that Mada’in Saleh is the first UNESCO World Heritage in Saudi Arabia.

The Lion Tombs

One cannot visit Mada’in Saleh without visiting the world-renowned Kingdom of Dadan remains and the Lion Tombs at ancient Dadan, that’s why it is said that Al-Ula was the capital of two ancient great Arab Kingdoms — the Kingdom of Nabatean and the Kingdom of Dadan.

Qasr al-Farid

Mada’in Saleh is full of grand ruins and remains, of which we mention Qasr al-Farid; the well-known Nabatean tomb. It is an iconic and a unique tomb standing four stories tall with notable intricate carvings on its façade. It is so called as it was carved out of a single rock.

Mahlab Al-Naqa

The archaeological site also contains one of the popular religious attractions, which is locally known as Mahlab Al-Naqa, which is a circular water basin carved in the rock with a diameter of 370 cm and a depth of 220 cm. It dates back to the 6th century BC.

Al-Hejaz Railway Station

The ancient city still has the antique train station that once was a part of the Ottoman giant railway network that links Damascus to Medina through the Hejaz region. Center of Turkey was the first station passing through Sham, and ending in Medina, the second holiest city in Islam. That explains to us why Mada’in Saleh was a landmark station on the Muslims journey of Hajj. It also contains an ancient Islamic fortress with a well dedicated to watering camels, an old pool, another five wells, and some buildings of the railway built of limestone.

Al-Ula old town (The Heritage Village)

The Heritage Village

If you go there, never miss the opportunity to visit Al-Ula old town; the exceptional place with its lanes, alleys, and mud-brick houses built on rocky bases telling an interesting story of Al-Ula community and its activities in the past. Wandering around the town is one of the most enjoyable activities to do there, thanks to the lanterns lit at nights in a charming scene.

Of the interesting places to visit; the town houses aged about 700 years ago and the town’s two archaeological mosques. Al-Ula Castle is one of the old town’s landmarks as it is strategically placed on a sandstone promontory, dividing it into two districts; Al-Ashqaiq at the North of it and Al-Halaf at the South of it. It doesn’t require much effort to climb it and enjoying the delightful view from the top. Lack or resettlement has served as a natural preservative factor to keep the fascinating beauty of the ancient town.


Al-Khuraybah also called Jabal Khuraybah, is an ancient fortress built on and around hills and includes a part of the ancient town Dadan. There, one can see the known lion tombs mentioned above — it is cut inside rocks in the foothills of the mountains with two lions carved at its entrance. There is also a temple that was almost dedicated to religious rituals at that time with several inscriptions on its walls.

Umm Ad-Daraj Mountain

Umm Ad-Daraj also called The Mother of Steps or Staircases, is a rich mountain lies in the North of Al-Ula governorate. It features a group of steps built on a hill leading to three sandstone structures. A large number of antiquities, artifacts, pottery, and stone sculptures were found on this mountain. In the Lihyan age, it was used as a religious site that is why, on top of it, there are pagan temples beside some Lihyan embossed carvings, apses, and lanterns.

Al-Ula Museum

Al-Ula Museum

The museum includes a number of halls that show Al-Ula history from the Stone Age to the Pre-Islamic Era and the Islamic Age, in addition to the Kingdom’s Unification Pavilion. The museum comprises several rare antiquities, manuscripts, maps and models of Madain Saleh’s monuments. Al-Ula Museum is open from Sunday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. where archaeological items are displayed. Tour guides are there to provide the visitors with information on the culture, flora and fauna of the area… etc.

Natural Rock formations

The Natural Rock formations, which characterize the area, are formed in the same geological way as the US-placed Grand Canyon. Of which we mention;

Elephant mountain

Elephant mountain

It is a giant famous rock that lies about 4 miles to the East of Al-Ula and shapes like an elephant about 164 feet above the ground. Tourists and visitors frequent to this area from all over the world. The area is also suitable for desert sports, camping, and mountain climbing.

Mount Athlab

Mount Athlab

Another wondrous rock formation sculpted by nature on ages is Mount Athlab, which is one of the greatest tourist attractions. This distinctive rock lies on the north-eastern side of Al-Hijr leads to excavations of apses beside some carvings of camels and merchants. Archaeologists think that the Nabataeans once took it as a center. The whole area contains many temples, yet the most famous of them; Al Bint Palace found on Mount Athlab.

Ekma Mountain

Ekma Mountain

Ekma, the history book of ancient Arabian Kingdoms and the largest open library in Saudi Arabia contains special writings, drawings, and inscriptions that dates back to the Lihyanites. The archaeological site lies on the Northwest of Al-Ula governorate yet it can be seen at a distance. It features a dark-red color and a high altitude making it look like a stunningly adorable natural painting.

Al-Ula visitors usually find it so easy to enjoy and stay in it. There is an availability for visitors and tourists to stay in furnished apartments or camp in Al-Ula Arac Resort and enjoy the spectacular view of the huge sandstone mountains and the festive scenes of sunrise and sunset. There is also an opportunity to go on an excursion and have fun with the matchless Bedouin mode. Nothing beats a tour by a helicopter to have fun watching the amazing view from the top. Staying there is much easier with the tourist information center and a popular market.