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Al Hijr Archaeological Site, Hegira Madain Saleh: Inside, History, How To Reach, Permit


With preserved monumental tombs, the Hegra Madain Saleh or Al Hijr is a World Heritage Site located in Saudi Arabia. It has a decorated facade representing the civilization of Nabataeans in the south of Petra in Jordan. It lies at the crossroads of the trade route present in the Arabian Peninsula.The Al-Hijr Archaeological Site is also known as ‘The Capital of Monuments’. It is home to numerous cave drawings and inscriptions that boast past artistic-styled inscriptions in old languages and scripts. The site also features 111 tombs and water wells that depict the hydraulic expertise and architectural accomplishments of the Nabataeans.

History of Hegra Madain Saleh

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The natural setting and beautiful view of Madain Saleh convinced the Nabataeans to build their home here. It was similar to their first home, Petra, having heavenly sandstone cliffs in the north of Jordan. According to the inscriptions, Hegra was a thriving civilization between 1 BCE and 74 CE. The Nabataeans raised their herds of goats, sheep, and camels in Hegra Madain Saleh. They followed the footstep of other Arabian tribes that existed here before them and also started oasis agriculture. The excavated remains do not tell much about the time when the tribe inhabited the region, but they tell more about their style of living.

The site shows that the Nabataeans worshipped deities and practiced harsh laws to lead an ascetic life. They knew their ways around the desert and came here after facing invasion from enemy tribes. It is believed that Nabataeans controlled the spice trade in this region. They brought spices from the southern region of Saudi Arabia to the north so that Roman Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, and other Mediterranean civilizations could buy from them.

Many ruins of the Hegra town lie a little far from the tombs. However, most parts of the site are still unexcavated and look like sun-dried mud brick. The inscriptions on the tombs serve as references for historians.

The Al Hijr Story

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The history of Islam suggests that Al-Hijr was a settlement of the Thamud tribe. Those people carved their homes and palaces in the mountains and plains of the site. The Madain Saleh story starts when the people of the tribe started believing in idol worship and began practicing oppression. Due to this, Saleh asked them to repent by bringing a pregnant camel from the back of the mountain and taking care of her. Only a few people from the Thamud tribe heeded what was asked of them, but the non-believers killed the camel.

Soon after the animal’s death, her calf escaped to the back of the mountain. The tribe was given three days before the date of punishment. Saleh and his Monotheistic followers left the then-established city while the non-believers in the tribe faced the wrath of God in the form of an earthquake and a lightning event. Legends say that the almighty cursed Madain Saleh and after that, the calf started haunting the region.

However, many researchers suggest that the tribe existed before 715 BCE. Several narrations tell that Thamud was the name of the region and not the tribe.

What to see inside Madain Saleh?

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A part of the Al Hijr Archaeological Site, tombs of Hegra are the most spectacular sites in Saleh. After Petra, it is the only site with beautiful tombs depicting magnificent skills and ancient carvings on the walls. The center of the façade offers an opulent entrance to the tomb. The walls inside Madain Saleh have carvings where the bodies of the deceased were placed. Here are some of the things that are worthy of attention and admiration:

  • There are Nabatean inscriptions that indicate the ownership of the triclinium, places dedicated to rituals and banquets. At least six triclinium exist in Madain Saleh.
  • Qasr al Bint or the ‘Palace of the Daughter or Madain’ is the largest tomb in Hegra and has a height of 16 m. The sculptor of this tomb was Hoor ibn Ahi for Hani ibn Tafsy. He and his family lived here during the reign of the Nabataean King, Aretas IV, in 31CE.
  • Qasr al-Farid is considered the most iconic tomb in Madain Saleh because it was carved from a single stone, and it stands alone as a complete structure. The old documents suggest that tombs were chiseled in the top to down approach.
  • There are carvings of winged lions on the tomb that have significance in Egyptian iconography. It suggests the exchange between the Nabataean and Ptolemaic kingdoms.
  • The Jebel Ithlib is a massive outcrop that exists in the northern part of the site. The middle region has a natural slit called the Siq and is 40 m high. It bears a resemblance to the corridor at Petra. To the right of its entrance is a square-shaped chamber that features three stone benches where people sat during sacred feasts. After the Siq, there is a natural alcove called the Jebel Ithlib sanctuary. Here a canal brings water into a cistern. It is believed to be the sacred place where ancient people worshipped Dushara, the Lord of the Mountain and a Nabataean deity.

Suggested Read: 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Saudi Arabia

How to reach Madain Saleh?

To reach the Al Hijr archaeological site, take a flight from Riyadh or Jeddah to the Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz domestic airport in Al Ula. From there, taxis are easily available for Madain Saleh. A direct cab from Jeddah, Madinah or Riyadh is also an option but it will take a long time. Buses are available from major cities of Saudi Arabia to take passengers to Al Ula and Madain Saleh.

Stay Options

The Hegira region has budget-friendly as well as luxury accommodations. With parking facilities, high-speed Wi-Fi, satellite TV, shuttle service, ATM on-site and other such high-end services, the hotels ensure a comfortable stay.
Some of the well-known hotels in and around Madain Salah are Hilton International Hotel Chain, Holiday Inn by IHG, Waad Al Ula Hotel, Movenpick Hotel & Resorts Madain Saleh, and Elaf Hotels.

Suggested Read: Top 5 Al Ula Resorts To Experience Traditional Saudi Hospitality

Permissions Required

Tourists need to get a permit to enter Madain Saleh. This permit request might take time to get through hence it is suggested to apply well in advance. Travel agents readily arrange permits on behalf of the travellers and groups at a minimal charge. Tourists arriving in a car have to register first and ensure to leave the premises before 5 pm. The site has fixed visiting hours. One can also visit the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities in the Diplomatic Quarters to gain permission to visit Madain Saleh.

Suggested Read: How to Become a Travel Agent

Tourists visit this place to witness the epitome of beauty and get acquainted with the history. It helps to understand a civilization from the past and has interesting tales for the visitors.

Al Hijr Archaeological Site FAQs

Who built Hegra Madain Saleh?

According to the remains, Nabataean King, Aretas IV, developed this site in 31 CE.

How old is the archaeological site of Madain Saleh?

The tombs of Madain Saleh date back at least 2000 years.

Is entry to Madain Saleh permitted?

Visitors are allowed to visit Madain Saleh. However, no one is allowed to stay there overnight.

What was the purpose of developing Madain Saleh?

The site was a prosperous city in the past, and Nabataeans built their homes and palaces here. However, today, it is an archaeological site to study a civilization of the past.

What happened in Madain Saleh?

According to a tale, the people of the Thamud tribe started idol worshipping, and oppression rose in the region. God ordered Saleh to ask these people to repent; however, the non-believers did the opposite. Therefore, Saleh left the city, and the people of the tribe faced the wrath of the Almighty in the form of an earthquake and a lightning event.

Pratyush Srivastava

I think, every human is a beautifully concealed epoch in the making with God to unravel it at the perfect time. Hence, synergizing with distinctive individuals in search of an interesting story is my favorite work as a writer and creator.

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