History Lessons 1: Madain saleh, Al Ula and Hejaz Railway, a photographic exhibition by Jackie Leger

Key information

10:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Brunei Gallery
Brunei Gallery Exhibition Rooms
Event type

About this event

One of the most fascinating areas in Saudi Arabia is Madain Saleh. The vast sandy desert surrounded by ethereal mountains is the setting for the Nabataean funerary architecture and spectacular mountain vistas. The tombs themselves, about 130 of them, tell a story of a short lived civilization who built these small monuments from 100 (BC) to 76 (AD). Little is known about the Nabataeans themselves except that they raised camels and engaged in the incense trade from South to North. Madain Saleh was chosen as the Nabataean southern capital when trade flourished and the region was prominent on the ancient caravan routes. The Nabataeans were conquered by the Romans in 106 AD and the land routes were abandoned for the sea. While driving through the site, each tomb area has a name with Qasr Farid being the largest and most impressive tomb as it was carved out of a lone rock on an empty plain.

The Madain Saleh station of the legendary Hejaz Railway is about ten minutes from the archaeology site. The complex built in 1907 has about 16 buildings, newly restored. The site offers a look back in time made famous by TE Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Begun in 1900’s through a vision of Sultan Hamid 11, the railway was to transport pilgrims from Damascus to the holy city of Mecca. The Railway linked Turkey to Syria and surrounding countries to Al Madinah. Charles Doughty, one of the first British explorers to the region, stayed in the Ottoman fort when passing through in 1888. He travelled from Damascus to view the tombs of Madain Saleh which he had heard about. He later wrote of his experience in “Travels in Arabia Deserta” (Volume 1)

25 km south of Madain Saleh is the old Islamic town of Al Ula. Inhabited as early as 500 BC, and part of the Lihyanite Dynasty a hundred years later. Inscriptions and an altar remain on top the Umm Al Daraj hills surrounding the town. The current site, however, dates from the Islamic period and the mud and stone buildings preserve a flavour of the old town, its building techniques and social and cultural histories.