Hima to Hegra: a guide to Saudi Arabia's six Unesco World Heritage Sites

The locations underscore the kingdom’s cultural importance to the Arab world

Saudi Arabia is becoming a go-to destination for history buffs.

On Saturday, Unesco announced the kingdom's Hima Cultural Area has been added to its list of World Heritage Sites.

The news means Saudi Arabia is now home to six locations on the prestigious list, which also features international landmarks such as India's Taj Mahal, the UK's Tower of London and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

These sites, with history stretching back to the first century BC, underscore Saudi Arabia’s importance in the region’s ancient and modern history.

Here we take a more in-depth look at each of these locations:

1. Hima Cultural Area: listed in 2021

Located between Najran and Wadi Addawasir in the country's south-west, Hima is home to one of the largest rock art complexes in the world, with more than 34 sites featuring inscriptions.

Situated along the route taken by ancient Arabian caravans, these images derive from various scripts, including Musnad, Aramaic-Nabataean, South-Arabian, Thamudic, Greek and Arabic.

The works portray everyday life of 7,000-year-old communities, with images depicting hunting, fauna and flora.

2. Al Ahsa Oasis: listed in 2018

A visual feast, this vibrant site in the eastern Arabian Peninsula is not only the largest oasis in the world but is a microcosm of Saudi Arabia's archaeological and ecological features.

In addition to its undulating sands and popular tourist site, Al Qarah Mountain, Al Ahsa Oasis has 2.5 million date palms as well as a network of springs, wells and canals.

3. Rock art in Al Hail region: listed in 2015

Several Thamudic inscriptions and camels are
depicted on a rock lying at the base of
Jabal Umm Sinman, Jubbah.

The kingdom’s northwestern Al Hail Region is home to several rock art sites. Two of which, located in Jabal Umm Sinman, and the Jabal Al-Manjor and Raat at Shuwaymis, have images engraved within the rock face.

According to Unesco, the inscriptions – detailing the lives of ancestors of today's Arab population – were made from items such as stone hammers and span 10,000 years of history.

4. Historic Jeddah: listed in 2014

JEDDAH, KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA. 2 OCTOBER 2019. 
Al Balad, Jeddah’s historical district. The World Heritage Site was founded in the seventh century and was once the beating heart of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city. The town was formed as an ancient trading port and acted as the primary gateway to Makkah. Today, it is famous for its traditional buildings, which were constructed with coral-stone and decorated with intricate latticed windows.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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There is Jeddah and Al Balad. The latter description, meaning "the town", is what people from Jeddah (or "Jeddawis") use to refer to the Unesco heritage-listed Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah.

Established in seventh century AD and located on the eastern shore of the Red Sea, Historic Jeddah began as both a hub for traders and pilgrims.

It was initially a thriving port and major stopover as part of the Indian Ocean trade routes, while worshippers sea-fared their way to the city on their journey to Makkah, to observe the Hajj pilgrimage.

That history is reflected today with greater Jeddah being one of the kingdom's most multicultural cities.

Historic Jeddah remains a busy marketplace and bustling tourist location.

5. Al Turaif: listed in 2010

Silhouette of UNESCO World Heritage Site At-Turaif in Ad Diriyah. Photo by THAMER AL AHMADI

This is a site dear to the hearts of Saudi Arabia's people and archaeology buffs.

Located north-west from the kingdom's capital Riyadh, Al Turaif is the original seat of power of Saudi Arabia’s Al Saud family and forms the historic centre of Ad Diriyah region.

It was founded in the 15th century and influenced by the Najdi architectural style. Visitors can still see remnants of Al Turaif's historical mudbrick houses and walk through its labyrinthine alleyways.

6. Hegra: listed in 2008

The crown jewel of Saudi Arabia's spectacular desert site of Al Ula, Hegra is essentially an open-air museum and home to a vast complex of tombs carved by Nabatean tribes, dating back to the first century BC.

Established in 2018, the location – also known as Madain Saleh – became the kingdom’s first Unesco World Heritage Site and its archaeological riches have been compared to Jordan's Petra.

The site will be accessible again to tourists from October, following a June decree from The Royal Commission for Al Ula.

Updated: July 25th 2021, 1:47 PM
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