Jeddah has a history that predates modern Arabia. As one of the Gulf’s oldest seaports and the gateway to the holy city of Makkah, Jeddah has been welcoming the world for centuries: an act that has helped shape the city into the culturally rich melting pot it is today
For a fascinating delve into Jeddah’s long and cosmopolitan past, take a trip to the Tayebat Museum, where a superbly curated portrayal of the city’s 2,500-year history awaits. Located in the Al Faisaliyah district, the museum is housed in a multi-room complex that recreates the traditional Hijazi architecture of the old city, with bay windows overlaid with intricate wooden latticework and ornate coral masonry.
With three floors of in-depth exhibits, the museum is an excellent way to learn about the history and foundation of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and the wider Arabian Peninsula. There is also an entire floor dedicated to the city’s rich Islamic heritage.
The ground floor galleries trace the rise of Islam through the centuries, beginning with key basics such as the Five Pillars of Islam before zeroing in on details of Islam’s centuries of contributions to science, culture and industry.
Highlights include an intricately modeled recreation of the pilgrimage to Makkah, including the Kaaba, the square building located in the center of the Grand Mosque, the holiest shrine in Islam. Accompanying information in both Arabic and English gives detailed descriptions of the key areas marking Prophet Muhammad’s journey.
Elsewhere you’ll find exquisite art, early manuscripts, pottery, old coins and weapons and a map detailing the spread of Islam throughout the world.
The museum’s exhibits on pre-Islamic history travel even further back in time, particularly in relation to Jeddah, where settlements are believed to have existed as far back as the 6th century AD.
The museum displays the early scripts of Arab geographers and travelers, where Jeddah is named as a thriving seaport that helped kindle trade in Arabia, first benefiting the early Islamic caliphates.
There are artifacts dating from the early fishing tribes that originally inhabited the area, along with later-era collections. Given its importance in Jeddah’s foundation, there is also a section on the Red Sea and marine life native to the region.
The formation of Saudi Arabia
From primitive life millions of years ago, when Arabia is said to have spilled over with rivers and green meadows, to the formation of the modern kingdom by its founding ruler King Abdul Aziz, the museum leaves no stone unturned in its depiction of the country’s history.
Adorning the walls are pictures of the king with foreign dignitaries including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with the story of his rise to power and his reign over a newly unified kingdom.
Elsewhere in the museum you’ll discover exhibits on Saudi culture, including nomadic Bedouin life, traditional clothing (including a section on Hijazi bridal wear), and the history of the country’s monetary coins and notes.
When to visit
Tayebat Museum is open from 8am to 12pm, and then 5pm to 9pm every day except Friday, when it is closed. Entrance to the museum is SAR80 (about US$21.32), and tour guides for groups can be arranged by calling ahead of arrival.
The in-house guides speak a range of languages and are more than happy to share their knowledge and passion for the museum’s exhibits.
Along with the architectural flourish of the building itself, the exterior of the museum showcases model recreations of Islamic architecture, from mosques to traditional wooden homes. In the evening these are well-lit and make for beautiful snaps, as does the minaret that is backlit in a neon green glow. With the museum open until 9pm, evenings can be the best time to go to avoid crowds.