Al Ula, the gateway to Madain Saleh, is a small town about 400km north of Medina. Once an oasis with fertile soil and abundant water, it was founded in the 6th century BC and originally inhabited by the Lihyanites. The town was formerly a strategic trade route for spices and incense from the Levant, Egypt and North Africa.
Situated in a valley, Al Ula has an exceptional view of snowcapped mountains in winter, palm groves running down the centre of the wadi (river bed) and forbidding red-sandstone cliffs rising up on two sides.
As well as extraordinary Nabataean tombs in the vicinity, the town has the delightful ruins of Old Al Ula – one of the best examples of traditional Arab architecture. With a little imagination, its winding narrow alleys and high watchtowers can bring back the sights and sounds of Al Ula's origins.