Little is known about the ruined city of Mada’in Saleh that was inhabited by the Nabataeans. Yet this pre-Islamic site is one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest treasures.
Like so many Arabian tribes, the Nabataeans were originally nomadic, tent-dwelling pastorals and traders, who raised livestock and developed pioneering oasis agriculture, establishing wells and rainwater tanks. By the 1st century BC Mada’in Saleh already flourished as a city, recognized for its trade with spices, aromatic plants, myrrh and incenses, and until the expansion of the Roman Empire it stood as part of an independent, wealthy Kingdom.
The three main areas:
The first of these encountered by a visitor to the site is the ancient city itself, which was built in the first century BC. This is the least understood section of Mada’in Saleh, as the majority of the ruins are still covered by sand. Tentative excavations have revealed everyday objects such as ceramics and coins, as well as traces of a probable citadel, a city wall and a church.
The second part of the site is Jabal Ithlib which served as the main place of worship. Located on the northeast of the site and surrounded by rocky peaks, Mada’in Saleh resembles Petra by the embraced and iconic Siq-glen, a 40 meter high carved rock ‘corridor’ giving out onto stunning views of the Diwan, or central court, one of Mada’in Saleh’s most visited parts.
The final area, which hides the antique tombs, is undoubtedly the most important and most significant section of this archaeological site. This area is the home over 100 monumental tombs dating back to the era between 0-75 CE. Though it might appear as if the tombs are be identical, a closer look reveals that they differ in their details. Each tomb shows an immerse façade decorated by mythic figures: masks, eagles, lions and serpents. The epitaphs of the tombs display the moments from the life and death circumstances of the deceased, clearly indicating the social status of each buried person. In contrast to the ornamented doorways, the interior of the tombs is lacking in decoration.
A mystery that is still being discovered.