Madain Saleh information
Lonely Planet review
The extraordinary Madain Saleh is home to 131 tombs, 45 of which carry inscriptions in late Aramaic script above the entrance. These inscriptions detail the tomb’s builders – many constructed by wealthy women. The enigmatic tombs combine elements of Greco-Roman architecture with Nabataean and Babylonian imagery. Recent excavations have revealed the foundations of unprepossessing houses and a market area for traders and caravans.
Nabataean Well & Al-Mahajar
The Nabataeans were masters of hydrology and manipulated rain run-off and underground aquifers to thrive in this desert landscape. This great well was one of over 60 wells currently known in the city. The wall supports – added in the 20th century – were built from railway sleepers pilfered from the Hejaz Railway.
The Al-Mahajar tombs are especially photogenic and some of the oldest.
Hejaz Railway Station
At the northern edge of the site is the Madain Saleh Station of the Hejaz Railway. Though the site has been comprehensively restored, it lacks the lonely and decrepit charm of the stations elsewhere.
The complex, built in 1907, consists of 16 buildings, which include a large workshop – with a restored WWI-era engine – shells of train carriages and a rebuilt Turkish fort that served as a resting place for pilgrims travelling to Mecca.
The diwan, carved into a hillside to shield it from the wind, is one of the few examples of non funerary architecture in Madain Saleh. The name owes more to modern Arab culture than to the Nabataeans, who probably used the area as a cult site. Opposite the hollowed-out room are niches cut into the rock where Nabataean deities were carved - now sadly weathered.
Running south from the diwan is the Siq, a narrow passageway between two rock faces lined with more small altars. At the far end is a striking natural amphitheatre. Climb along the southeastern slope up to a number of sacrificial altars. From here, look west and soak in breathtaking views.
Qasr al-Bint (Girl’s Palace) consists of a wonderful row of facades that make for dramatic viewing from across Madain Saleh.
The east face has two particularly well-preserved tombs. If you step back and look up near the northern end of the west face, you’ll distinguish a tomb that was abandoned in the early stages of construction and would, if completed, have been the largest in Madain Saleh – only the step facade was cut.
Qasr Farid in the south is the largest tomb of Madain Saleh and perhaps the most stunning. Carved from a free-standing rock monolith, its location gives it a rare beauty, especially just before sunset. Try to arrive for sunset, when the enigmatic tomb passes through shades of pink and gold until darkness falls: breathtaking.