When you think Tourist places of Saudi Arabia, the Holy Kaaba at Al-Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah, the site and object of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage, should immediately come to mind. Next must come a vision of the Abraj Al Bait, the modern architectural marvel that casts its shadow over the Great Mosque and remains visible from 30 kilometers away. You are also unlikely to forget Ithra, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, in the city of Dhahran, with its fascinating, futuristic and out-of-this-world silhouette.
This is not about them. Instead, this writing focuses on the non-main attractions of this beautiful Kingdom. Read on to find intriguing destinations that may fly under the radar of the typical tourist.
- The desert ruins of Al Ula – The forgotten past of the Saudis
This is for you if history and archeology fascinate you. It should also tickle your fancy if you like visiting and visiting unique sites.
The desert ruins of Al Ula is archaeological site in Al Ula City in the western province of Al Madinah. Al Ula served as a trade route waystation, used by merchants plying the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and India.
Essentially, the desert ruins of Al Ula is an open-air museum showing the pre-Islamic past of the region. The windswept desert landscape is home to symmetrically shaped rock faces, stone gates (some 7,000 years old) and ancient tombs.
These are some of the things you can see in the desert ruins of Al Ula.
Hegra or Mada’in Saleh
Hegra is a UNESCO heritage site. It was the second largest dwelling in the Kingdom, next only to Petra.
The site is mainly known for its 131 rock-cut tombs. The graves vary in size; some are small, one-room affairs, while others contain multiple tombs. The most popular among these is the large burial site carved on a huge rock. It is alone, separated from the rest of the tombs.
The Elephant Rock refers to a rock formation that – yes, you guessed it – has the silhouette of an elephant. It looks like the rest of the rock formations in the area, except that it has an elongated hole near one end, thus mimicking the silhouette of an elephant with a chunky body and a long trunk.
The Old Town consists of mud houses. Technically, these houses are not ancient ruins. They were recently occupied and abandoned less than ten years ago.
Near the ancient City of Dadan is Jabal Ikmah, a mountain full of inscriptions in archaic scripts. These engravings served as a source of knowledge about the beliefs, practices and ways of life of past civilizations.
Jabal Ikmah has the most concentration and variety of engraved letters and therefore became known as an open-air library.
- Masjid Shuhada Uhud
This is a remarkable mosque in Al Madinah Province. Loosely translated into English, the name of the site can mean ‘mosque of the martyrs of Uhud.’
Masjid Shuhada Uhud is an important monument for Islamic history. Here, the important battle of Uhud took place, a significant battle in the Muslim–Quraysh War.
Next to the mosque are buried the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of God be upon him). They were martyred in the said battle, including Ḥamzah ibn ʿAbd Al-Muṭṭalib, the Prophet’s foster brother, constant companion and paternal uncle.
Masjid Shuhada Uhud is which is located in the valley of Mount Uhud. Beyond the mosque, to the north, is Jabal Uhud. From the south, the mosque is partially obstructed from view by Jabal Ramah.
With its single dome and two minarets, the mosque is made of ivory white stone. It looks enchanting at night; the way it lights up makes it look like the whole mosque is glowing.
The mosque is also quite large, capable of hosting up to 15,000 worshipers at the same time. In fact, it is the second largest mosque in the area, next only to the Al-Masjid An-Nabawi of the City of Medina, also in the province of Al Madinah and the resting place of the Prophet Muhammad.
Masjid Shuhada Uhud it is only four kilometers or about 10 minutes away by car from Al-Masjid An-Nabawi. If you are visiting Al-Masjid an-Nabawi anyway, it would be practical to drive to Masjid Shuhada Uhud as well.
- Masjid al-Jinn
Masjid al-Jinn, or Mosque of the Jinn, meet on al-Masjid al-Haram Road north of the Great Mosque of Makkah. This is a small mosque, but it is one of the most venerable mosques in Makkah because the Quran mentions the site of the mosque.
This is an old mosque, one of the oldest in Makkah, built in the 1700s. It used to be underground, but the architecture has since been changed, and a minaret was added to give it a more modern silhouette. It now also has modern conveniences such as water stations and air conditioning.
While it is an important pilgrimage site for Muslims to visit, it is also a central figure in the local community. Those who live near the area come to this mosque for their daily prayers.
Since this attraction is located in Makkah, you will find it very popular restaurants in Saudi Arabia nearby or just a short distance away, so don’t worry if all the walking and exploring leaves you feeling parched.
- Jannat Al-Mu’alla
Only a five-minute walk from Masjid Al-Jinn via Triq al-Masjid al-Haram and Al Hujoon St. lies the Jannat al-Mu’alla or Jannah al-Mu’alla.
Jannah is a term meaning heaven, so Janah al-Mu’alla means “The Most Exalted Heaven.“Its less fancy name is”The cemetery of Mu’alla” or “Al Hajun Cemetery.”
Jannat Al-Mu’alla is Mecca’s oldest cemetery and the second most significant cemetery for the Muslim faithful. This is also the resting place of Prophet Muhammad’s grandfather and other ancestors.
The grave looks like it a stark, unadorned plot of land with piles of stones neatly arranged to mark individual graves. In the past, however, the cemetery had headstones and domes to mark known graves. However, in 1925, King Ibn Saud ordered many historical sites to be razed to the ground.
No tombstones and domes of Jannat Al-Mu’alla survived the demolition. Since people can no longer tell which graves held their remains, when they come, visitors greet the entire cemetery as a whole.
Go off the beaten path
There is much more to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia than its obvious attractions. Get to know the country more, and let your feet roam in the destinations listed above, not mainstream.