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A once in a lifetime trip
In a nutshell
This is the place to visit in Saudi Arabia
Although Hegra in Arabic is "al-Hijr", the archaeological site itself is known in modern times as Mada'in Saleh, i.e. "Cities of Saleh." This naturally begs the question: who is Saleh and what "cities" are these? Saleh is a pre-Islamic Koranic prophet who was sent by God to preach to his people, Thamud, a pagan tribe in western Arabia, who were famous for skilfully carving dwellings out of mountains in their town al-Hijr. Much like in Biblical stories of prophets shared by the Koran, most Thamudis rejected Saleh's calls to worship the one and only God and destruction subsequently befell them. Islamic tradition links Saleh and his tribe, Thamud, directly to the site of al-Hijr, or Hegra. However, the name "Mada'in Saleh" was coined in the 14th century (?) when an Arab traveller visited the site and wrote about it, and his reference to "cities" may have derived from the multiple clusters of tombs scattered around the site. In the 19th century, as archaeological interest in the Near East emerged, the name Mada'in Saleh began to replace al-Hijr as the official toponym. Although it is understood that the site of the Prophet Saleh's tribe was indeed here, the rock-cut tombs in Hegra were in fact carved many years later by the Nabataeans, a different Arab civilisation. Because of the shared location and rock-carving skills between the two civilisations, the misinformed are erroneously led to believe that the Nabataean tombs that have survived in Hegra are the very same dwellings mentioned in the Koran and carved by the Thamudic tribe at the time of prophet Saleh, never mind that over two millennia separate the two peoples. In fact, theologians and historians believe Saleh lived around 2100 BC, while the tombs of Hegra were carved by the Nabataeans in the 1st century AD.
Updated Mar 12, 2011