It was in Petra that I first heard in regards to the Nabataean Kingdom. Although I used to be spellbound by the archaeological web site, I’d identified little of its historical past.
The Nabataeans had been Arabs from the Negev desert who led a Bedouin way of life — relocating each time grazing for his or her animals ran out, transferring in keeping with meetups and markets. They made the very best of what the dry, desert environment needed to supply by being versatile about the place they referred to as house, however they nonetheless constructed massive settlements and cities when the chance struck.
Residing within the area that spans modern-day southern Jordan and the northern half of Saudi Arabia, the tribe managed a part of the Incense Route that wound its means by means of their kingdom, making them very wealthy certainly. This was all roughly 2,000 years in the past.
Petra, an archaeological web site in as we speak’s Jordan, was the Nabataeans’ major metropolis, with greater than 1,000 of their monuments nonetheless there to see as we speak. It’s undoubtedly essentially the most well-known and most spectacular Nabataean web site. However not lengthy after visiting Petra, somebody informed me about Hegra, often known as Mada’in Saleh, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. It’s host to 111 Nabataean rock tombs.
Alas, it was at a time when visiting Saudi Arabia as a vacationer was virtually unattainable. However I stored it on the again burner, and as quickly as Saudi launched their e-visa and COVID restrictions eased, I used to be off to AlUla — first cease, Hegra, the Nabataean Kingdom’s second metropolis.
Listed below are some the explanation why this historic tribe and its architectural achievements fascinate me a lot, and why it’s best to put Hegra in your journey to-do record.
Professional Tip: To get to Hegra, you’ll be able to fly into the little airport of AlUla, both connecting by means of Jeddah or Riyadh or direct from Dubai. Hegra itself can solely be visited as a part of a tour, to guard the traditional web site, however there are a number of every day excursions, even out of season.
1. Simply As a result of You Can
As I discussed, for years I had longed to go to the well-known rock in Hegra — the one that appears like it’s standing on their lonesome in the course of the desert, a temple-like tomb carved into the middle of it. Little did I do know that this lone rock was a part of a whole complicated (and one that isn’t but busy with vacationers).
Petra is so widespread that you could barely stroll, not to mention permit the magic of historic historical past to forged its spell. However in Hegra — virtually left untouched for two,000 years, and with Saudi Arabia’s tourism nonetheless in its infancy — you’ll be one of many first internationals to see these wondrous sights, and all with out having to face in line.
2. The Workmanship Is Wonderful
Many of the well-known constructions, such because the temples and the tombs, had been actually carved from the mountains and rocks present in and across the Negev desert. It is smart that one of these development was utilized by a nomadic desert tribe; one, they might not be carrying a lot constructing materials round with them, and two, wooden and different provides had been of restricted availability within the desert. That isn’t to say that the Nabataeans didn’t use the wooden of the few timber round — they did use timber for scaffolding, as reinforcements for partitions and roof constructions, and to assemble arches and ceilings — however largely, they carved into rock.
In Hegra, you’ll be able to see a number of examples of stays of “regular” home dwelling constructions, corresponding to personal homes, which had been constructed from rocks, coral, or mudbrick; however the Nabataeans are well-known for fashioning total constructions from sandstone and bedrock. On the faces of the tombs in Hegra, you’ll be able to see the steps on the prime of the constructions, which appear a part of the façade’s décor, however that are in reality a part of the employees’ entry to the tombs once they had been carving from above.
3. The Historical past Is Virtually Unknown
As with most nomadic peoples, bodily proof of the Nabataeans’ historical past is uncommon. Information had been handed on by means of tales, poems, and music, however with tribes by no means staying in a single spot for very lengthy, everlasting constructions are uncommon — and that’s the reason the Nabataeans are so fascinating. Their constructions are mind-blowingly massive and complicated, however their historical past continues to be fairly elusive, most likely largely as a result of being scattered throughout the huge desert they lived in and traveled throughout, the place archaeologists are nonetheless discovering new websites even now.
It’s believed the Nabataeans first emerged someday between the 6th and 4th century B.C, with the civilization declining round A.D. 100. Petra dates to round 300 B.C. and was solely re-discovered in 1812; whereas Hegra dated to roughly 100 B.C. Each cities had been as soon as busy metropolises, which later, when individuals moved on, became necropolises, leaving solely the tombs behind.
4. What We Do Know Is Fascinating
Other than carving unimaginable constructions from rock, the Nabataeans had been additionally identified for utilizing subtle methods to gather water. They constructed reservoirs in addition to aqueducts, a few of that are nonetheless there to see in Petra, and which allowed them to remain put in a single place for longer and construct extra everlasting constructions. Contemplating the Nabataeans based a number of cities, corresponding to Petra, Hegra, Midian, and others. It appears somewhat fallacious to name them nomads, however basically, they had been nomadic, like all tribes dwelling within the desert. When the water ran out, the grazing dried up, and it was time to maneuver on.
That stated, it’s understood that among the cities functioned as stations that managed the traditional commerce routes, such because the Incense Route developing from the south. They had been, in case you so want, border posts, the place merchants couldn’t solely refuel and relaxation, however little question additionally needed to pay for that privilege, in addition to having to half with cash to be allowed to cross by means of the Nabataeans’ land.
5. Hegra Is Close to An Oasis
Most of the cities had been close to an oasis. Hegra is close to AlUla, an oasis that sports activities some 6,000 palm timber even as we speak and should have provided a welcome respite from the formidable and inhospitable environment. Visiting Hegra is a sizzling and dusty endeavor, with barely any shade accessible and tombs unfold throughout the desert, which makes heading again to the inexperienced oases of AlUla an ideal pleasure. And once you go to an oasis or date palm farm, strolling among the many palm timber, it’s straightforward — or a minimum of simpler — to think about what life should have been like in Nabataean occasions.
6. Fashionable Goes Hand In Hand With Historical
It’d reduce the sense of discovery and old-world expeditions somewhat, however it’s fairly good that you just do have trendy facilities close to these historic websites. Simply as Petra has Wadi Musa, with its accommodations and eating places, entry to tour guides, and sure, these all the time crucial memento retailers; Hegra has AlUla, with its trendy city heart, amazingly numerous lodging choices, excellent eating places, and different historic websites, such because the outdated heart of AlUla with its fortified citadel.
The modernity of tourism may take a little bit of the shine off the traditional websites — I’ll let you understand what it’s like after I lastly make it to the much less touristy Nabataean cities talked about beneath – but it surely additionally provides somewhat one thing additional to your journey. Be it a glimpse of what life is like in a Saudi Arabian oasis, sampling the native delicacies, and even visiting the excellent artwork installations and the hyper-modern mirrored constructing of Maraya, which accurately displays the outdated within the new.
7. Hegra Is Half Of A Set
Because it all the time appears to go, when you tick one factor off your record, one other one comes alongside. Do you know that there are two different wonderful, and but virtually unprecedented, Nabataean websites in Saudi Arabia? (And doubtless extra but to be unearthed.)
There may be the oasis Dumat al Jandal within the Al-Jawf province, and Al Badʿ within the Tabuk province (considered the traditional metropolis of Midian, with students nonetheless busy researching its historical past). Each websites lie in northwestern Saudi Arabia, not as simply reached as Hegra or, after all, Petra, however much more thrilling due to their remoteness and ongoing analysis that uncovers extra about their historical past every day. So now, regardless of having ticked off Petra and Hegra from my record, I’ve added two extra Nabataean websites, and am already knee-deep in analysis about easy methods to get there.