Madain Saleh (Cities of Saleh) or Hegra is commonly known to Muslims as Al-Hijr which means the land of stone. This archaeological site is one of the most attractive tourist parts of the historical Al Ula in Saudi Arabia. From the Holy Qur’an, we have known that Madain Saleh was inhabited by the tribe of Thamud during the era of the Prophet Saleh (PBUH). According to the Holy Qur’an, the tribe of Thamud was punished by Allah SWT because of their arrogance and obstinacy to the Prophet Saleh (PBUH). Thus, this place has earned a reputation as a cursed place to the Muslim community.

Read Also: Biography of Prophet Saleh (PBUH)


Madain Saleh has got several names from era to era because of its long history and the multitude of cultures. According to the references by some Mediterranean writers, the name of this city is Hegra in the Ancient Greek language. ‘Madain Saleh’ was named by the name of the Prophet Saleh (PBUH) according to many Islamic scholars. Similarly, because of its plenty of stones and rocks, Al Hijr has also been used to mean this location.


Location of Madain Saleh

Madain Saleh is located 20 km north of the town of Al Ula, 400 km North-West of Medina, and 510 km South-East of Petra, Jordan. Madain Saleh is not a large town and is located at 12 hours travel inside the mountains. The houses situated there are carved from the Idlib mountains. The houses are separated and have dunes around them. The well of the Thamud which is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an is located in the middle of the mountains.


Madain Saleh in History

Madain Saleh in Pre-Dedanite Era

The site of Madain Saleh was settled by the tribe of Thamud in the pre-Dedanite era according to Islamic tradition. It is believed that the forefathers of Prophet Saleh (PBUH) came to this place from a part of Palestine. They were known as the Thamud Tribe. Coming here, they started living and cultivating this place. The tribe of Thamud was well-versed in art, intellect, and craftsmanship indeed. The houses they built by carving the mountains bear absolute proof of it. And undoubtedly Allah SWT bestowed power, wealth, and fertile lands on the tribe of Thamud. But the tribe worshiped different idols instead of worshiping only Allah SWT. Therefore, to guide them to the right way, Allah the Almighty sent Saleh (PBUH) as the prophet to this community.

Prophet Saleh (PBUH) used to give them good advice and invite them to Worship only Allah SWT with faith in Him. But except for a few people, all the people of Thamud rejected him. At a certain time, they arranged a plot to kill him also. As a result, Almighty Allah cursed this tribe and destroyed all disobedient ones with the punishment of loud noise and a strong earthquake.


Madain Saleh in Dedanite Era

During the Lihyan or Dedanite era, Madain Saleh became a center of commerce with goods from the East, North, and South locality. Based on the artifacts and the inscriptions discovered at the top of Idleb Mountain, experts believe that the site was inhabited from the third to the second century BC. An accessible source of fresh water and fertile land indicates the early human settlement of the area.


Madain Saleh in Nabatean Era

The extensive settlement of Madain Saleh was completed during the reign of the Nabatean king Aratus in the 1st century AD. He established this city as the second capital of the Kingdom. The Nabateans beautified the town with numerous arts and structures. They also developed the agriculture of the oasis region by digging wells and rainwater tanks. Nabateans knew this city as Hegra. Holding a monopoly on incense, various spices, and myrrh, the Nabatean kingdom flourished in commerce.


Madain Saleh in Roman Era

The contemporary Roman Empire annexed the Nabatean kingdom in 106 AD. During the Roman era, Hegra became a part of the Roman province of Arabia. A recently discovered monumental Roman epigraph of 175-177 AD at Madain Saleh bears proof of the Roman settlement there. Roman emperor Trajan occupied this city in northeastern Arabia to increase the Arabia Petraea province of the Romans. The history of Madain Saleh remains unknown from the decline of the Roman Empire until the Emergence of Islam.


Madain Saleh in Ottoman Era

By 1517, the Ottoman Empire annexed western Arabia from the Mamluk Sultanate. A Turkish traveler, Evelia Celebi noted about ‘Abyar Saleh’ when his caravan passed through the place in 1672. Mortada ibn Alawan, a traveler mentioned ‘Al Madain’ as a rest stop on the route of Hajj between Damascus and Mecca. A fort was built at ‘Al Hijr’ on the orders of the Ottoman governor Damascus named Asad Pasha between 1744 and 1757. Then the site served as a one-day stop for Hajj pilgrims so that they could purchase goods such as dates, lemons, and oranges. And it was a part of fortifications built to protect the pilgrimage route to Mecca. Settlers from the nearby village of Tayma periodically used the extant wells and oasis agriculture of Madain Saleh in the 19th century.

From 1901 to 1908, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid constructed the Hejaz Railway. It linked Damascus and Jerusalem in the North-West with Medina and Mecca. The Ottoman built a station of Madain Saleh to maintain the locomotives, offices, and dormitories for railroad staff. However, the station was destroyed in a local mutiny during World War 1. After the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the railway station has been restored. The government of Saudi Arabia planned a program to introduce a sedentary lifestyle to the nomadic Bedouin tribes living in the area in the middle of the 20th century. They were proposed for the settlement of Al Hijr and the reuse of existing wells and agricultural implements there.


Architectural Monuments of Madain Saleh

Madain Saleh is enriched with numerous architectural monuments from the pre-Dedanite period. First among these are sandstone outcroppings. There were used to build various necropolises. More than 100 stone-cut monumental tombs are spread over and are about 14 km. The first of the existing necropolises is Jabal al Mahjar, whose constriction history is unknown. The second one is Qasr al Walad which was constructed between 0 t0 50 AD. Area C is situated on the South-east side of this area and was constructed between 16 to 61 AD. Jabal al Khuraymat located on the South-west side was built between 7 to 73 AD.

The existing mausoleums here bear the marks of personality, religious practice, and architectural style of the time. According to archaeologists, this mausoleum was a Nabataean military base. Various motifs of the façade beauty, Assyria, Phoenicia, and various stylistic elements carry the heritage of their contemporary culture. A variety of decorations and inscriptions exist on tombs of the Roman Empire. The rock outcrops here are flat and ruffed.

Jabal Idlib is located in the northeast of Madain Saleh and is known as a religious area.  This temple is built in the middle of a 40-meter-high rock. Several religious reserves bearing inscriptions were cut into the rock in the vicinity. The residential area is located far from the outcrops in the middle of the plain. The houses and the enclosing wall were built with sun-dried mudbricks. Over one hundred water supply wells are located in the western and Northwestern parts. Most of the wells were cut into the rock, and few were dug into the loose ground reinforced with sandstone.


Proclamation as a World Heritage

Ancient Records from North Arabia included many discovered inscriptions and renewed the archaeological assessment of Madain Saleh in 1962. In the 1970s, Madain Saleh was been proclaimed an archeological treasure. Until 2000, several historians and writers conducted research on Madain Saleh’s inscriptions and archaeology and published them in several books. The archaeological activities then declined due to the Wahhabi movement against the worship of objects and artifacts. However, after 2000, under the control of the Saudi government, their studies and research regained momentum. As a result, UNESCO proclaimed this site a World Heritage in 2008.


Tourism Potential

The development plans taken by the Saudi government to increase the tourism potential of Madain Saleh include various development projects for modern transportation, communication, accommodation, hotels, restaurants, and other essential facilities. Most of these important facilities are already available at every sightseeing spot in Al Ula including Madain Saleh. Moreover, exploring these historical and architectural monuments, inscriptions, and other objects of this old city will make travelers impressed, passionate, and cringe. So, Madain Saleh is going to be a great place for travel and leisure for the wanderlust people of all beliefs.


Islamic Significance of Madain Saleh

This ancient city with the history of the Thamud nation described in the Holy Qur’an is an example of great significance for Muslims. The terrible fate of the people of Thamud will give you a deep inspiration to obey and worship Allah SWT as a Muslim. From that time onwards Madain Saleh was established as one of the centers of culture, agriculture, and trade for the people. The site was lost to history after the Roman civilization but was rerecovered by the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

The fort built by them became a place of rest and commerce for the merchants and pilgrims of that time. The railway station constructed by them also played an important role in the communication between Damascus and Arabia. It is said that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stayed in this city on his way back from the battle of Tabuk. He commemorated the community of Prophet Saleh (PBUH) and gave special instructions to his companions about staying at this place. A famous hadith from Sahih Bukhari (3318) warns us against visiting this cursed city without reminding the fate of disobedient Thamud.

Rich in numerous archaeological monuments, this city is an important place for many archaeologists and historians. Madain Saleh is currently growing in popularity due to the development plans adopted by the Saudi government. So, it is going to be a great place for travel and leisure for the wanderlust people of all beliefs.

Read Also: Biography of Prophet Saleh (PBUH)




Note: Most of the pieces of information provided in this article are collected from Wikipedia


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