The Hijaz Railway
Later, the Hijaz Railway followed the same routes and greatly improved the speed and safety of travel. Today, it is notable that both the Syrian Hajj Road and Hijaz Railway are on the UNESCO Tentative List for World Heritage.
Railway construction began in 1900, reaching Madinah in 1908 and opening in Damascus in 1913. As a result of World War I, the railway’s full 1,300 planned kilometres were never completed.
The Hijaz Railway Station is near Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors will one day be able to visit the station’s museum to marvel at one of the railway’s impressive locomotives, but it is closed to the public for now.
The Fort of Mada’in Salih
The Fort of Mada’in Salih, built in the middle of the 18th century to shelter travellers, is situated at the southern end of the Hijaz Railway Station. The railway’s double water tower was built near the fort’s reservoir to take advantage of the ready supply of water — which enabled pilgrims to purchase fresh produce, including oranges, lemons and dates.
The Hijaz Railway’s telegraph staff were also stationed within the fort. Writings by foreign explorers in the late 1800s and early 1900s mention a small garden to the east and south of the fort with pomegranate trees and date palms. The fort and reservoir were renovated as part of the project to restore the buildings of the adjoining railway station.
Soon, visitors can tour the Hajj Museum, housed in this restored fort, to learn more about its history and role in pilgrims’ journeys.
Both the railway station and the fort are currently closed due to Covid-19. AlUla will open to visitors in October 2020.