Jeddah Travel Guide

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Samer Bassam

Jeddah is as close as a non-muslim can get to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina . It is by far the most cosmopolitan city in the Kingdom, which is due to the fact that for centuries it has been an important port town. Until the 1980s many western countries had their embassadies in Jeddah, now they have all move to Riyadh . Nevertheless, there are still a large number of foreign consulates in Jeddah as the city retains its importance as the commercial capital of the Kingdom and it is, of course, the main port of entry for the millions of pilgrims who visit the Holy Cities each year.

The old city of Jeddah is now a protected area. Within the area, many of the traditional houses are built of coral, taken from reefs in the Red Sea. Most interesting are the Sharbatly House and the Naseef House, two old houses of two of Jeddah's merchant families. Both have been restored.

The Municipality Museum is opposite the National Commercial Bank headquarters in the old city. It is the only remaining building of several which comprised the British Legation in Jeddah during World War I. The museum is open in the mornings from Saturday to Thursday; admission is free but a permit from the Jeddah Municipality is required (telephone: +966 2 669-5556 or 660-7671). Once the permit has been granted, it is still necessary to make an appointment with the curator of the museum.

The best-kept secret in Jeddah -- and one which many Saudis are totally unaware of and would deny if asked -- is that there is a Christian cemetery in the city. It is in fact in a street in the old city named with predictable Arab pragmatism, the Street of the Cemetery of the Foreigners. It is no longer in use, the last burial having taken place in the early 1950s, but is kept up in turn by various of the foreign consulates in the city. It is walled and there is a large gate. It can, however, be peered into from some of the buildings surrounding it.

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