Madain Saleh â€“ The Sandstone Treasure of the Nabateans
Out of Saudi Arabiaâ€™s 4,000 archeological sites, the city of Madain Saleh earned the nickname â€œThe Capital of Monumentsâ€. With an impressive history that can be traced back to 3,000 BC, a similar location at the crossroads of trade-routes, and artistic monuments carved in rock, Madain Saleh rivals Petra, the more famous capital of the old Nabatean kingdom.
Located in the northern part of Saudi Arabia, 400 kilometers north-west of Medina, at the foot of a basalt plateau, Madain Saleh was known since ancient times, by historians and geographers, as Hegra or Al-Hijr. According to the Qurâ€™an, the present name dates back to the 3rd millennium BC, during the reign of the Thamud tribe. The prophet Saleh was sent by Allah to convince the Thamudis to renounce their idol-worshiping and repent for their wicked ways. But only a small part of the locals listened to his words, while the others planned to kill Saleh and the pregnant camel sent by Allah as proof of his task, so they perished during an earthquake.
Most of the monuments visible today were constructed during the rule of the Nabateans. King Al-Harith IV turned the modest settlement into a bustling city, and made its kingdomâ€™s second capital, after Petra. The sandstone mounts spread around the desert landscape made a perfect medium for the characteristic rock-cut architecture of the Nabateans. Located at the crossroads of various trade routes, Madain Saleh became one of the kingdomâ€™s major trading posts.
The decline of Madain Saleh began in 106 CE, when the Roman Empire conquered the Nabateans and moved the trading routes to the Red Sea. According to archaeological studies, Hegra was soon abandoned after that, and thereâ€™s no evidence of it being repopulated until the 16th century, when the Ottomans built a fort in the area of Al-Hijr.
In 1970, Madain Saleh was named an archaeological treasure of Saudi Arabia, and in 2008, after a series of measures to promote cultural heritage and tourism, it was added on UNESCOâ€™s World Heritage Site List.
The Madain Saleh complex consists of three main parts: residential structures, worshiping temples and cemeteries. It also includes well-preserved ancient walls, towers and a system of waterworks, all showing the mastery of Nabatean architects and engineers. It may not be as popular as Jordanâ€™s Petra, but Madain Saleh shares its beautiful stone-carved architecture and makes a great attraction for tourists interested in the secrets of ancient cultures.