Hidden in the heart of the Najd, an oasis-dotted region 200km northwest of Riyadh, Ushaiger Heritage Village provides a glimpse of a slow-paced Saudi society of old.
Bedouins first settled here 1,500 years ago and Ushaiger quickly became a popular stopping point for pilgrims crossing to Makkah, thanks to its springs and low-brimmed olive and palm groves. But far from being a dusty, deserted museum piece, Ushaiger – which, in a naming quirk, means ‘little blonde’ to reflect the nearby red mountain that looms over the yellow mud houses – still has a small community of residents, making use of its schools, shops and mosques. To walk its narrow lanes is to enter a living museum, draped with traces of an ancient way of life.
Encased in thick walls, Ushaiger is a labyrinth of winding alleyways, shaded pathways and timber-framed walkways, crossing between hundreds of mud houses. The village is divided into districts and bisected by groves of palm trees, and includes a cluster of beautifully renovated houses. These offer a stunning example of Najdi architecture, with its distinctive triangular windows and roofs, and ornately carved wooden doors. Some still bear the names of the families who lived there.