Nestled within the Wadi AlQura (or Valley of Villages) is the heart of the region — the Oasis of AlUla. This lush haven in the midst of the windswept Saudi Arabian desert has provided life to AlUla’s residents, weary travellers, flora and fauna for thousands of years. The oasis has made the region a cultural crossroads, the site of ancient kingdoms and a modern-day agricultural epicentre for flavourful fruits, aromatic herbs and perfumed oils.
The Oasis Through the Eras
Civilisations have built their kingdoms around the oasis of AlUla for thousands of years — from the ancient city of Dadan, capital of the Dadan and Lihyan kingdoms in first millennium BCE, to Hegra, the southern capital of the Nabataean kingdom dating to the first century BCE, to modern times. All along, the oasis has provided a welcoming place for merchants, pilgrims and other travellers to rest — and a source of agricultural wealth for local communities.
Under a canopy of date palm trees, crops flourished in the rich soil, yielding ample harvests of barley, wheat, oat, figs, olives, citrus, herbs and, of course, dates. The date palms not only bore nourishing fruits, they offered materials for shelter, fuel, art and building, a source of both cooling and creative inspiration. For millennia, the AlUla Valley has been adorned with an abundance of plants thanks to the life-giving waters of the oasis’s natural springs and the nourishing shade of the date palms.
An Agricultural Haven
Modern travellers will still find the vibrant, emerald-green groves of date palms clustered throughout AlUla. Each year, AlUla’s 2.3 million date palms produce more than 90,000 tonnes of dates. Numerous varieties of the date fruit are grown here, the most famous of which is the barni date.
The date palms are the top storey of the oasis ecosystem, still shading a layer of citrus trees, which in turn protect a carpet of aromatic herbs such as basil and mint. You’ll find the branches of the region’s 200,000 citrus trees laden with 29 varieties of fruit, from the torounge (a hybrid of a lemon and a pomelo cultivated by the Nabataeans) to oranges, ruby red grapefruit, sweet lemons and kumquats (referred to locally as maliki).
Wispy-branched Moringa Peregrina trees are native to AlUla, thriving in the fertile soil. 90,000 trees are cultivated here, producing the luxurious, premium moringa oil, which is extracted from the seeds. Similar to argan oil but different from the more common Indian moringa oil, Moringa Peregrina oil is prised for its restorative qualities in cosmetics and fragrances. It has been sought after by ancient kingdoms and exported from AlUla for centuries. Visitors to AlUla can take home souvenirs of fragrant soaps, lotions, candles and more made locally with this oil.