Mada’in Saleh or AlHijr, is an ancient oasis that lies in the northwest of Saudi Arabia between the cities of AlMadina AlMunawara and Tabuk, 22 north of AlUla city.
The site lies in a strategic position on one of the most important trade routes – the incense road, which linked the South of the Arabian peninsula to the north, as well as to the great economic and cultural centers of Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt.
UNESCO announced the inclusion of Madain Saleh in its world heritage list in July 2008. It is the first site from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be included on UNESCO’s list.
The remains of human occupation on the region go back to the most ancient times. Their importance is due to the abundance on the site of elements, which are essential to sedentary life such as fertile land and water, as well as a strategic position in the network of roads which led to the great civilization center of the Near East.
Prehistoric remains have been recorded at the top of some of the mountains which surround the site. Moreover, many rocks faces in the area are covered with petroglyphs, some of which are prehistoric.
The site was inhabited in the third millennium BC by the Thumud tribes. =The Lihyanite, Minaic, and Thamudic inscriptions which were found on the site are evidence for an occupation of the first millennium BC.
The Nabataeans settled in Mada’in Saleh probably in the first century BC and were politically independent at least until the beginning of the second century AD. They are the only inhabitants of the site who left behind them the remains of the real city. The part of the city in which people were living was surrounded by various necropolis, which contained monumental rock-cut tombs, as well as ordinary pit tombs, while a specific area was devoted to the sanctuaries. Water was provided by a dense network of wells.
In the Islamic period, AlHijir was an important stop on the Syrian pilgrimage road. A Citadel and a large reservoir were built for pilgrim’s commodities. At the beginning of the XXe century, a railway station was inaugurated at Mada’in Saleh on the so-called Hijaz railway, which linked Turkey to the city of Madina crossing Syria.