Impressions of Saudi Arabia
It may be a surprise for those who think that Saudi Arabia is only about oil and gas, and those who believe that Nabataean archaeology can only be associated with the world renowned site of Petra in Jordan. Well, wrong, on both accounts!
For, there is plenty to discover in Saudi Arabia. Above all, there is indeed the two millennia old Nabataean tombs complex, just as well preserved, as grand and as impressing as its counterpart in Petra; but there is also the quite pleasant seaside city of Jeddah, where elegant old buildings speak of the city’s pivotal role in centuries of Arab world trade; and there are the extensive remainders of what was once the Hejaz Railway, ambitiously built by the declining Turkish Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s to bring pilgrims from Turkey and Mesopotamia to Mecca and …, I guess less importantly, …. occupation troops to the very strategic garrisons along the Red Sea coast. No wonder Lawrence of Arabia and his Bedouin friends did not like the project a bit and acted accordingly, turning the railway rather soon into what it still is today: remainders, about which we get no doubt more excited now than the Ottomans then!
So, be assured: what follows here is not images of oil rigs and pipelines, but of fascinating places reflecting culture and history, against a backdrop of phenomenal desert landscapes.
Before visiting the place of your choice:
For centuries Ha’il used to be an important transit and merchant city on the route of camel caravans to and from Oman and Yemen. And then came the Hejaz Railway which made the caravans more or less obsolete. For a decade only, as we know. But after the steam engine trains came also the steam engine ships to travel along the Red Sea Coast to Jeddah and beyond. The result was that Ha’il’s power and wealth declined dramatically. And when the Saud dynasty of Diriyah and Riyadh put the competing Emirate of Jabal Shammar out of business in 1821 and brought most of the peninsula under its control, the destiny of the Emir’s capital Ha’il and his Barzan Palace was sealed. Today Ha’il is a historically interesting town living off agriculture, and just that.