Thursday, 28 March 2013

Off to Al-Balad, the Historic Old Jeddah

Hello everyone! To my non-Saudi resident readers, I hope you're keeping warm with the late arrival of spring this year! Here in Jeddah, things are warming up (if you could say they ever "cooled down"!) and it's around 35 degrees Celsius most days. DH and I are just finishing up our week-long spring break, and I thought I'd share some of what we've been up to!

A Look Back in History
This entry will be a bit of a shift from talking about my day-to-day cultural experiences here in Jeddah, to more of a little tour of a place I've wanted to go since DH moved here over four years ago: Al-Balad. Al-Balad is the historic part of Jeddah and has famous landmarks that are more than 150 years old.

Background about Jeddah
Jeddah is a busy port city on the eastern coast of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is the gateway for pilgrims who come from all around to the world to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. As a port city, Jeddah is very diverse and multi-cultural. Many Indians, Egyptians, Syrians, Yeminis, and people of countless other backgrounds have settled here over the course of many generations.

For centuries--even before Saudi Arabia became a unified nation in c. 1925--Jeddah was a bustling place. Jeddah literally means "grandmother," and many claim that the Biblical Eve is buried here. Here's a photo of "Eve's Tomb" in the center of Old Jeddah. It no longer stands as it appears in the photo below. In 1975, authorities sealed the tomb with concrete after people were found praying at the tomb  ( This is obviously not acceptable Islamic practice.
Eve's Tomb, 1913, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Al-Balad, literally, "The City," is in the center of Old Jeddah. It contains lots of souks (outdoor shopping areas), old buildings, and lots of beautiful historical sights. Yesterday, DH and I took a walk around Al-Balad, and were pleasantly surprised at the beautiful old architecture, and colourful displays in the market.

Entering Al-Balad. You can see the old architecture in the background.
Old buildings and shops in Al-Balad.
Naseef House is where the first King of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, was said to reside on his first visit to Jeddah. When we were here yesterday, the house was closed for cleaning, but even from the outside the beautiful history of the building is apparent.

Inside the house, there are 106 rooms that contain books, Arabic calligraphy, and artwork. 
The famous 150-year-old Al-Naseef House.
An Arabic sign outside Naseef House bearing the name of the building:

Naseef House
There is a large old tree outside Naseef House that is thought to be one of the first trees in Jeddah. "People used to recognize Naseef House as "The House with the Tree" because it was the only house in Balad that had one. Obviously, growing a tree was not an easy task because of the scarcity of water" ( 
The tree outside Naseef House. It's said to be the first and oldest tree in Jeddah!
Beautiful architecture in Old Jeddah. 

Another (smaller) tree in the courtyard outside Naseef House.

 A trip to Balad wouldn't be complete without checking out some shops! DH bought a little camel souvenir, and we tried on various Ouds (rich Arabic fragrances), and purchased some nuts and spices. Here are some of our shopping pictures:
Buying some spices and nuts in Balad. 
A perfume / oud shop

Checking out some bakhoor (Arabic incense).
A bookshop.
We went to the souk at a rather quite time in the early afternoon. In the evening after Maghrib prayer (sunset), I'm told it gets VERY busy!!
Some beautiful, shiny ornaments and souvenirs. DH bought one of the camels in the left corner.
Outside the shop.
An old moqsue in Al-Balad. 
Lots of oud (Arabic perfume oils) and scents!
Leaving the Old Town. A roundabout filled with outdoor art.