The World's Largest Living Museum
There are traces of many who have built AlUla over millennia, from the capital of the kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, to the trading hubs of the Nabataeans and into the Islamic era. Much of AlUla’s epic rock formations, valley and sandy desert remains an untouched expanse, with discoveries yet to be made threaded through its rich and layered past.
AlUla attracted pilgrims and travellers who came to take advantage of the abundant resources offered by its fertile oases. The people of AlUla have long been lauded for their hospitality, celebrated by famous explorers of the past for their warmth and authenticity. A vital crossroads along the famous incense-trading routes running from southern Arabia north into Egypt and beyond, AlUla's oases dotted the area and offered a much-needed respite for caravans of weary travellers. It remains a welcoming place to rest, commune and recharge.
The Nabataean site of Hegra, was the southern capital of the Nabataean kingdom, dating back to the first century BCE. Today, visitors will find that more than 100 well-preserved monumental tombs remain, most with elaborate facades carved from rock formations that are scattered throughout this immense desert landscape.
Before the Nabataeans, AlUla was the capital of the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, which controlled the caravan trade in the first millennium BCE. Dadan linked southern Arabian kingdoms producing valuable aromatics to the growing markets in the Mediterranean world. See remarkably well-preserved tombs, expertly carved from a towering red-rock mountain face that overlooks the valley oasis. A special highlight is the famed Lion Tombs marked by seated lion sculptures.
What was part of the caravan way station served as a record keeper of sorts with carvings providing information to researchers about the way of life of the Dadanites, Lihyanites and others. Hundreds of inscriptions referring to journeys, pilgrimage, ritual and offerings can be found here. Rock art depicting humans, chariots, harps, camels, bovines, goats, scorpions and ibex can all be spotted.
AlUla Old Town
Look up at the fort above while walking through the labyrinth of streets of AlUla Old Town that was occupied from the 900s CE until the 1980s. Nearly 900 two-storey mud brick houses, 400 shops, five squares and a mosque populated the oasis town. It was a key stop along the Islamic pilgrimage route from Damascus to Makkah. Travellers, traders and pilgrims would be met outside the town’s walls.
Routes of pilgrimage crossed the landscape of AlUla, as in its ancient past. As well as the Syrian and Egyptian routes, AlUla hosted part of the Aylah passage that connected Madinah to Aqaba in Jordan. Great importance was placed on these journey ways, and they were well maintained for pilgrims with forts, watchtowers and water sources.
Around the middle of the 1st millennium BCE, a nomadic tribe of traders emerged in the desert lands of Jordan. Their trade routes allowed for close relationships with civilisations from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome to India and as far as China. They harnessed these connections and control of trade routes and made their mark in engineering, architecture and written language.