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.
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.