Historical places in Middle East
This 400-year old historical village is just stunning. Multiple-story houses cascade down a hill of marble on a backdrop of towering mountains. A lush oasis at the foot of the hill adds further contrast to the white marble. The village was abandoned around 30 years ago, but has recently been restored. The road to Dhee Ayn is as breathtaking as the village itself. The twisting mountain road from Al Bahah offers views down the valley at every turn, and ruins of ancient towers dot the way.
This petroglyph site is considered to be the absolute best in Saudi Arabia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The archaeological rock art site covers a vast area with several rock outcrops covered in petroglyphs. The collection contains three phases of rock carvings: Large men and women figures from the Neolithic and iron age around 10,000 BC, medium sized animals from around 5500 BC, and inscriptions from around 3000 BC. The site is fenced off, so check the opening hours before driving out here.
Magnificent Madain Saleh, also called Hegra, is Saudi Arabia's version of Petra (in Jordan). Madain Saleh was the second largest city in the Nabatean kingdom after Petra and was thriving during the 1st century AD. It was a key city on the trade route to and from the Mediterranean, and the taxation made the city flourish. The civilization left more than 100 tombs carved into sandstone outcrops. The more important the person was, the more spectacular the tomb had to be. Some tombs are just a few meters tall with little ornamentation, while the biggest tomb is more than 20 meters tall. Many tombs feature inscriptions that record who it was for and who made it. Like Petra, Madain Saleh is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage.
At the foot of a very smooth cliff face, a couple of boulders and a slab of rock have been carved with petroglyphs and inscriptions. It's filled with images of animals and humans. The well preserved inscriptions are from the ancient Dadan Kingdom (Dadan is also called Lihyan) and were probably carved around 5th century BC. Sadly but expected, there are also some newer graffiti.
Right next to the highway lies the rebuilt desert fort. There are also a few ruins of houses. The site is fenced off, but the gate towards the gas station is missing, so you can visit at any time. There is no information anywhere about the fortress , so you have to guess about the history. The fortress is not far from Souq Okaz, a modern souq and fairground mostly aimed at domestic tourists (check if it's open).
Rijal Alma is an ancient village turned open air museum. It was an important trade center along one of the routes to Mecca. Many of the solid built houses were multiple-story buildings, which also doubled as mini fortresses. Today the village has been partly restored with the use of (unfortunately too much) concrete, and windows and doors are now again painted in bright colours. Getting to Rijal Alma from Abha by car is a separate experience, where a section of the road is very steep with hairpin turns.
An overgrown and tranquil set of Roman ruins, but nevertheless impressive. The truly remarkable cardo (main street) keeps going for 2 km and is actually longer than the one in Palmyra. Its population was once half a million and the city attracted prominent visitors like Cleopatra. Today, the grassy surroundings make the ruins even more splendid, with blue mountains in the distance, cereal fields all the way up to the stones and herdsmen leading their sheep across the site. With no fences and wild flowers growing on the crumbled stones the place has a refreshing messiness to it.
Scattered over a soft hill behind the modern town of Al-Ma'ara is another refreshingly strange site in Syria. A series of abandoned old cities left to nature, sheep and local weekend picnickers. Some sites only have a few monuments, while places like Serjilla have crumbled buildings forming a whole town including a tavern, hammam (bath) and church. It's a tangled adventure to explore the huge area which is partly covered in fields, olive groves and long grass and with side roads going in every direction. Other dead cities are Jerada, Ruweiha and Al-Bara, but it's hard to figure out where one starts and ends.
Travellers like the castle of Krak Des Chevaliers. It's a real fortress placed high on a hill with double walls, round watchtowers and everything. It was originally built in 1031 by a local emir, but invaded by the crusaders in the tenth century, who made it an important stronghold on the route to the Holy Land. During that time, it was extended with an outer wall which made it impenetrable. In the end, the castle got sieged by Mamluk forces in 1271, and the outnumbered crusaders withdrew and left the castle to the Mamluk sultan. They continued the enforcement of the castle in their oriental style, so today it's a big mix of everything.
Bosra is an ancient city that became a major metropolis in the Roman Empire, acting as capital for the Province of Arabia. Caravan routes passed here, making it an important trading city during the Middle Ages. The main attraction is the huge and perfectly preserved Roman theatre which could seat 6000 spectators with an additional 3000 standing. Today, it looks even more enormous in the small town that Bosra has become. It's a surprisingly nice and friendly place, where people are still living among the Roman ruins. Come in the afternoon when the tour buses have left and you will get the whole place to yourself.