Built amid rugged desert canyons and mountainous terrain less than 22 km from AlUla, Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies in the most stunning setting that bears testimony to the Nabataean civilization.
With roots tracing back to the middle of the first century BCE, the Hegra site gives visitors a good indication of what the Nabataean city looked like back then. Strategically positioned south of its famous sister site of Petra, in Jordan, this archaeological gem of the kingdom was also once an important trade route between the Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean world and Asia. After the desertion of the Nabataean city, the route continued to play its role as a bustling trade route as well as for caravans heading towards Makkah for pilgrimage until the 20th century when the Hijaz railway was constructed.
Journeying through Hegra can be an adventure in and of itself, a dramatic stone city with more than hundreds of artistically hewn well-preserved tombs that enliven the sandstone outcrops. Creating an enthralling mix of structures, these sheer cliffs lined with artistic carvings and inscriptions reminiscent of ancient architecture. Within these cliffs are borrowed some of the most elite burial places of the ancient society that symbolizes the extensive history of the region. In addition to the monumental tombs with decorated facades, the large number of artificial wells in Hegra, also bear witness to the Nabatean agricultural techniques.
Featuring over 100 monumental tombs, with 29 of them carved on all sides of sandstone rock, Jabal Al Banat houses the highest cluster of tombs.
Named after the vibrant red hued sandstone cliff that houses 18 tombs, Jabal Al Ahmar is another outcrop waiting to be explored in Hegra.
East of Hegra, Jabal Ithlib is a natural mountain outcrop with a long narrow corridor called the Siq, along with a large spacious diwan, that is said to be a hall dedicated for meetings or lavish banquets.
Hegra’s most iconic symbol, Qasr Al Farid, is a carved tomb that stands alone away from the rest of the tombs. Qasr Al Farid is said to be the Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza, belonging to a very prominent Nabataean individual or family.
To modernize the historic route of pilgrims passing through AlUla, the construction of the Hijaz railway began in the year 1900 following the same ancient route. The railway was built extending to Madinah and Damascus, however, its route to Makkah ceased to be completed because of World War I. Today the Hijaz railway's locomotive still stands at the station in Hegra.
Built in the 18th century CE on the southern end of the Hijaz Railway, the Hegra Fort acted as shelter for travelers. The water towers of the railway served the Fort's reservoir to help with water needs of the pilgrims.