Story Behind the Myth

Aja and Salma’s tale of tragedy and love

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Tales rich in history, symbolism, people, unexplainable events and heart are common on the Arabian Peninsula. Interwoven with culture and heritage, Saudi Arabian folklore captures stories of people, places and time. The “Story Behind the Myth” article series will reveal the story (or stories) behind these legendary tales, beginning with “the one about two lovers and their mountains.”

Like any good myth, there is some dispute about what happened and when, and Dr. Laura Strachan, an anthropology professor at Prince Mohammad University in Dhahran, says there can often be similar, but slightly different, myths across a country.

 

The Shammar Mountain Peaks, Aja and Salma

 
Today, Aja and Salma are two twin peaks in the Shammar Mountain area in northwestern Hail province; however, the origin of these mountains’ names stems from the tragic love story of Aja and Salma, which dates back to pre-Islamic Arabia.
Some variations of the story say the two were from separate tribes, which caused tension and ultimately the refusal to recognize their relationship, leading Aja and Salma to run away. Other variations suggest that Salma’s brothers would not permit Aja to take Salma’s hand in marriage, and still another version says that the disapproval of the young lovers’ union came directly from their parents. In all versions of the story, both Salma and Aja are tragically killed — one on top of the mountain to the south of Hail, and the other atop the mountain to the north.
Thankfully, Aja and Salma’s love did not end at the time of their deaths; it grew stronger — strong enough to move mountains, according to several adaptations of the tale. While Strachan was researching different protected areas in villages outside of Riyadh, she heard similar tales.
“I did hear about this story, but they made me think that it was local, as in closer to Riyadh,” she says. “But they did talk about two mountains and how the mountains actually moved closer together because they were in love.”
  • Fun Fact: There’s another geological Saudi love story: Al Wahbah Crater is a remnant of volcanic activity about four hours northeast of Jeddah, and legend has it that this, too, was the result of two mountains in love. In fact, they were so in love that one mountain uprooted itself to be with the other, leaving only a sparkling depression (also known as a salt pan) in its place at the crater’s bottom.

Strachan suggests that perhaps these kinds of myths were used all over to explain phenomena like volcanic activity or the cones that emerge because of it. “When you think about it, you’ve got a nomadic population trying to explain why there are topographical features, why they are what they are,” she says. “They didn’t have the education to [understand] plate tectonics. Instead, it became the will of these lovers.”

The tale of Aja and Salma lives on today through tourism, literature, entertainment (it was featured in 2016 as one of three love stories serialized for TV by writer and TV host Dr. Mohsin Shaikh Al-Hassan) — and, like all good legends, word-of-mouth.

 

What to See and Do Near Aja and Salma Mountains

Visit the Home of Arabian Legend Hatim Al Tai

 
Hatim Al Tai was a sixth-century Arab poet of the Tai tribe whose altruism and generosity made him a revered icon — his legend even made it into the famed stories of “One Thousand and One Nights” (also known as “Arabian Nights”) and many poems, films and TV shows. On the northwest slope of the Aja peak, visitors can explore the preserved ruins of his palace and the small nearby cemetery where Hatim is believed to be buried.

Get a Dose of the Hail Region’s Royal History

 
Discover three castles in the center of the city of Hail, the province’s capital. The oldest and most famous is the A’arif Fort that the Al Ali family began building during the 17th century, with additions made during the Al Rashid family’s rule. The fortress sits atop a mountain peak and is visible from any spot in the city. During Saudi rule, A’arif was the gathering place to view the Ramadan moon and fire the iftar cannon to signal an end to the day’s fasting.
The second-oldest palace is the Barzan Castle. Built in the 1800s, the structure was once more than 300,000 square meters. Although the majority of the castle was destroyed in 1921, visitors can still see one of its remaining towers in the center of town.
The most recent is ​Al-Qishlah Castle, built in the 1940s to protect troops and later serving as a prison before the government transformed it into the historical building it is today.

Enjoy Middle Eastern Eats

 
After you’ve worked up an appetite, enjoy lunch or dinner at Al Turathi, which offers savory Middle Eastern cuisine — with dishes like chicken mandi — and features a variety of antiques throughout the two-story establishment.

Plan Your Visit

 
Start planning your trip to Saudi Arabia today. With 13 major airports, including one in Hail, and multiple airline carriers, it’s easy to get in and around the kingdom.
 
- By Lisa Zimmermann

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