The Undiscovered Treasures
of Mada’in Saleh
Petra has made it to world fame: the “rose-red city” in Jordan was recently elected as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This acknowledgement of the ancient Nabatean settlement is highly deserved as it figures according to UNESCO as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage."
Hardly recognized, however, is the fact that Petra did have a sister city, built be the Nabateans at the height of their empire two millennia ago. Known by the modern name of Mada’in Saleh (or al-Hijr in local language), the site is located some 320 km south of Petra in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Being one of the least accessible countries to foreign tourists, it comes to no surprise that Mada’in Saleh – despite its unique scenery and historic beauty – still remains largely unknown to the outside world.
Spread out over an area of approximately 13 km² in an expansive mountainous enclosure, Mada’in Saleh is home to 131 tombs carved meticulously into the colored sandstone walls. 45 of them still carry Aramaic inscriptions above the entrance, giving reference to their builders and their purpose as tombs or places of worship.
The tombs were the only solid structures built by the Nabateans, and they did it in a fascinating way: starting from top, they scrupulously carved the facades into the mountain, some of them over 20 meters high. During that process, the rock structure was constantly assessed in order to avoid soft and flimsy quality.
The result of this can be seen today: most of the structures still stand largely intact and with a very smooth surface – even after being exposed to the harsh desert climate for over 2000 years.
Mada'in Saleh is definitely one of the few remaining "hidden jewels" on the worldwide tourism map and visiting the site is a truly awe-inspiring experience. With the slow opening of Saudi Arabia for tourism, there is a chance that more visitors will be able to cherish the beauty of this site.
Some 15 years back, Petra was only known to a handful of insiders, and now it has reached world fame. And there is no doubt that Mada'in Saleh, for its beauty and historic importance, is destined to reach a comparable level – the time will come.