Saudi Arabia Travel Guide

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Kornish in Jeddah

Kornish in Jeddah

Samer Bassam

For centuries Arabia has appealed to travelers all over the world, inspired by travel reports and of course the tales of 1001 nights and the romanticism. Today窶冱 Saudi Arabia is still a land of mystery largely due to its fundamentalist Islam state form and its rigid admission policy. Saudi Arabia is incredibly difficult to visit, there's no tourist visa in this country. Best way to get in is by invitation of a Saudi person or company, or, if you窶决e a Muslim, on a pilgrimage to one of the holy cities.

Even if until 20 years ago local autorities were really strict with Christians and Jewish, nowadyas they are much more tolerant. So to carry a Bible with you shouldn't be a problem anymore and women are well treated. To get more information it is strongly suggested to contact the local Saudi Embassy.

About half of Saudi Arabia consists of uninhabitable desert. Here there are no permanent rivers and lakes and the average temperature in July is about 40ツコC. These unfriendly circumstances have deeply influenced the Arab way of life. Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East. The Saudi Arabian state was first established in the central region of the Arabian Peninsula in the early 18th Century, but king Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud founded the present day state only in 1932.

Saudi Arabia is a fairly rich country, due to its vast oilfields, but this wealth is not evenly divided. The royal family effectively owns the country. There is minimal political freedom and little tolerance for opposition groups.

The country's capital is Riyadh, situated in the very interior of the country, 300 km from the Persian Gulf. It窶冱 a modern oil booming city with lots of high rising buildings. Most interesting cities are the holy cities of Mecca and Medina . Mecca is the most holy city in Islam. The city is revered from being the first place created on earth, as well as the place where Ibrahim together with his son Isma'il, built the Ka'ba, a rectangular building made of bricks. Around the Ka'ba is the great mosque, al-Haram. Medina, once called Yathrib, was chosen as the new headquarter when the Muslim community had to flee from Mecca in 622. This city of the Prophet is also the place were Muhammad died in 632.

Both cities are strictly off limits to non-muslims. The non-muslim architect of a Mecca Hotel had to supervise construction through a telescope.  Nearby Jeddah the major Red Sea port of the country can be visited and gives a unique insight in the culture and history of the West of Saudi Arabia.

If there is one highlight to be visited in the Kingdom, it is Mada'in Saleh, about 400 km North of Medina in the direction of Tabuk and the Jordanian border. Mada'in Saleh is home to approximately 140 magnificent tombs of Nabataean origin, comparable to Petra in Jordan, yet located in a different type of setting. Whereas in Petra the tombs are essentially squeezed into a narrow canyon, in Mada'in Saleh they are spread out over a large open desert space, dotted with sandstone rocks in which the tombs have been carved. Two or three half days are absolutely required to properly visit the place. A permit to visit must be arranged in advance, and can be taken care of by the hotel in nearby Al Ula, where several possibilities of accommodation are available. The visit of the archeological area requires a car, not necessarily a 4WD though. Within the bounderies of the archeological site there is also a restored main station of the Ottoman Hejaz Railway, constructed between 1900 and 1908 to connect Damascus and Medina, for pilgrims and for military purposes (which is why it was specifically targeted during the Great War by Lawrence of Arabia and his beduin rebels).

The whole of the Middle East is tilted, so the southwest of Saudi Arabia has mountains as high as 3000 meters while the east has lowlands. The mountain area is the greenest and freshest climate especially compared to the deserts in the east. Extensive irrigation projects now gradualy transform these deserts into farmland, yielding dates and grains.

Now things has been changed, now you can visit Saudi Arabia easily by Trourism Visa. Tourism Visa is just being introduced by the Supreme Commission for Toursim ( www.sct.gov.sa). Tourism is widely increasing becasue of SCT measures.

Contributors

April 17, 2007 change by marcv (2 points)

August 23, 2005 change by giorgio

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