Monday, January 28, 2019

Madein Saleh - Stairway to Heaven

The tombs at Madein Saleh were carved by hand with crude tools into the gigantic sandstone rocks outside of Al Ula, Saudi Arabia.  Some tombs were never completed, but those that were all have one design element in common - above the entry door into the tomb, were stairsteps which were to lead the occupant of the tomb to heaven.

Historically this whole area was in a strategic trade route location linking southern Arabia with important locations to the north, like Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Jordan.  This region comprised the Nabataean Kingdom, running from south Arabia along the Red Sea all the way up through Jordan to Damascus, Syria.  The Nabataeans were nomadic Bedouins who became wealthy from levying taxes on the trade caravans that routed through their territory.

When compared with its sister site of Petra in Jordan, which was the Nabataean civilzation's capital city, Madein Saleh is unique in that it is considered more of a wealth of information and an archaeologist's dream, as it is virtually untouched and preserved.  Inscriptions were actually carved into the stone at the tombs of Madein Saleh, providing much more information than is available at Petra.  The inscriptions at Petra were apparently made out of wood, which long ago rotted and along with it valuable historical information.

Madein Saleh is home to more than 130 such tombs, many of the large rocky mountains housing several tombs on one rock.  Once the Nabataeans were taken over by the Roman Empire, cheaper and faster alternate transport using the Red Sea became the preferred method for trade shipments, as opposed to struggling with the harsh elements of the desert caravan conditions.  As desert trade dropped off, the once prosperous Nabataean civilzation suffered and dwindled.

Madein Saleh has been closed to the public in preparation for the development of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia.  It will be interesting to see how tourism develops here when the site is expected to reopen in 2020.  I'm curious to see how the religious and cultural aspects of life in Saudi Arabia will be affected or bent in order to accommodate interested travelers from the outside world.

My friend Laura of the amazing blog Blue Abaya has written a fabulous comprehensive guide and history of Madain Saleh with lots of fantastic photos - CLICK HERE to access it.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the phenomenal Winter at Tantora Festival going on now through Feb. 23rd, with special weekend concerts and tours of the area, including access to Madein Saleh just for attendees of the event.  Tickets may still be available, and visas are apparently easy to obtain for those wishing to come from outside Saudi Arabia for this very special and unforgettable event.  Information and tickets are available at this site:  Winter at Tantora 


  1. Amazing! Another step forward for SA.

    1. Hi Gaelyn - It's definitely a very exciting and historic time to be living in Saudi Arabia

  2. What a marvelous intriguing post and photos!

    Happy Day to you,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  3. Thanks very nice blog!

  4. Slowly reading my way through your Awesome posts.
    What a GIFT. (doubt I'll ever find a way to Thank You properly.)

    love & love,