Vibrant history in the heart of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Discovering Jeddah, involves discovering Al-Balad.
Al-Balad is the historical area of Jeddah , and it can be translated as “The Town”.
Al-Balad was founded in the 7th century. In 2014 Al-Balad was accepted to be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
The active vibrant life in Al-Balad begins after 5pm, when the sun goes down and Arabian fairytales come back to the tiny streets of the multi-storied mud brick and stone buildings. Mixing with the local people who are still living there brings this area to life. These days you can see some western tourists in the Al-Balad Cafes and in the area of the vibrant marketplace. The market offer to visitors everything – from textiles and sparkling silver and gold ornaments to spices and honey. There are hundreds of small shops along the narrow alleys, filled with everything from watches and clothes to incense and antiques. Be prepared to haggle for a fair price. You may even have to pretend to leave before you and the seller agree.
If you visiting Al-Balad in the morning hours, the streets are mostly empty and spacious. There is often a slight wind from the west, coming from Jeddah’s Red Sea coast. This is best time to see the historical building architecture of the Old Town. The architectural style is characterized by the imposing tower houses decorated by large wooden window enclosures and shades built in the late 19th century by the city`s mercantile elites, and also characterized by lower coral stone houses, mosques, souq’s and small public squares that together compose a very active space. The older buildings have elaborate hand-carved wooden shutters and balconies. Some are painted bright green or blue, others are naturally brown. Some of the buildings have risen to more than 30 meters. Their construction is still in good condition after decades.
Jeddah Old City is a home for 500-year-old buildings that are now subject to restoration as the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman pledged an amount of $13.3 million to restore 56 buildings. The restoration project will be implemented by the Ministry of Culture. The aim of the project is to boost the artistic culture in Saudi Arabia. Al Balad has 600 protected buildings which cannot be taken down, at least not according to the law.
In another part of Al Balad, where the once-walled-in city opened up via the northern gate Bab Jadid, residents have put up wooden sofas near the street. This is a majlis where people gather in the evenings.
Hisham Binjabi is one of the most celebrated Saudi artists, and who opened an Art Gallery in the historic district of Al Balad. A chance encounter at the age of 14 catapulted him to be the artist of Kings and Royals. After which, he painted for several notable subjects and patrons including King Faisal, King Khalid, King Abdullah, as well as objects of Saudi culture and the Arabian environment such as the Arabian horses.
Many buildings in Old Jeddah are now being propped up, renovated and cleaned. The change is gradual, however, the effort to date is rewarding.
This is very much a location worth visiting while in Jeddad, especially at the present time which shows a mix of buildings, some in good condition, and some to be refurbished. The feeling here is of living history, and visually different from other cities in Saudi Arabia.< Back