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Modern AlUla encompasses one of Saudi Arabia’s most exceptional heritage sites. One reason AlUla Old Town contains such a deep well of stories and details is that it was actually inhabited in the not-so-distant past.

AlUla Old Town is located in the narrowest part of the AlUla Valley. Built on a slight elevation, the town is overlooked by the Musa bin Nusayr Castle, a citadel dating to at least the 10th century.

Historical Significance

In the 12th century, AlUla Old Town became an essential settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Makkah. The city gradually replaced Qurh, to the south of AlUla, and is favourably mentioned by travellers from the 12th to the 20th centuries, when modern AlUla was constructed nearby.

The houses were constructed to be attached to one another, providing fortification and a hint that defence was a priority for the city’s early inhabitants. At one point, the city was accessed by 14 gates, which were opened in the morning to welcome travellers, pilgrims and other visitors, and closed each evening.

The ancient city’s recent occupation has enabled researchers to begin to gather oral histories, painting a picture of what life was like inside its walls. These stories will one day be available to visitors who can look forward to tapping into AlUla Old Town’s living memory.

Visitor Information

Currently, the site is being prepared for visitors and isn’t accessible in any way. One day, they will be able to climb the steps of the castle and gaze down on the abandoned, story-filled streets below — a maze of 900 mudbrick houses, 400 shops and five rahbas, or town squares. Traces of original stone and mudbrick structures can be found at this remarkable site, with winding alleyways, windows glimpsing hidden lanes and roof-top terraces that only hint at the world within.

Old Town During Winter at Tantora

During the annual Winter at Tantora festival, visitors can peek into the Masjid al-Izam, the restored Friday mosque mentioned in historic documents as having been visited by the Prophet Muhammad, who prayed here and designated the mihrab (or niche which the congregation faces to pray). Travellers can see the town’s tantora, or sundial, where residents tracked the changing seasons and organised access to water and other resources. This inspires the name of the Winter at Tantora festival, AlUla’s premier annual event. Nearby in the shadow of Musa bin Nusayr Castle, there is a cafe, as well as Wadi al Qura marketplace where shops sell traditional crafts, local foods, citrus fruit, moringa-oil products and other souvenirs.

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