Jeddah is on the Red Sea in western Saudi Arabia. It the kingdom’s second largest city, with a population of approximately 3,400,000, and a major commercial center in the country. Jeddah is also the main entry point, either by air or sea, for pilgrims making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the two most sacred cities of Islam. Both are a few hours inland from Jeddah.
Some archaeologists’ studies suggest the existence of inhabitants in the region now known as Jeddah since the Stone Age seeing as they found some artifacts and ‘Thamoudian’ writings in Wadi (valley) Breiman east of Jeddah and Wadi Boib northeast of Jeddah. Some historians trace its founding to the tribe of Bani Quda’ah, who inhabited it after the collapse of Sad (dam) Ma’rib in 115 BC. Some believe that Jeddah had been inhabited before the tribe of Bani Quda’ah by fishermen in the Red Sea, who considered it a center from which they sailed out into the sea as well as a place for relaxation and well-being. According to some accounts, the history of Jeddah dates back to early times before Alexander the Great, who visited the city between 323 and 356 BC.
In 647 AD, Othman bin Affan chose the city as a major port for entering the city of Makkah and accessing it by sea. At that time, it was named ‘Balad Al-Qanasil’ (country of consulates). In their travels, Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta mention that the city had Persian architecture when they visited it.
Al-Maqdisi Al-Bishari (died 990 AD), the author of the book called ‘Ahsan Al-Taqaseem fe Ma’rifat Al-Aqaleem’ (Best Regions to Know), says of the city: “secure, full of people-people of trade and wealth. It is the treasurer of Makkah and the residing place for Yemen and Egypt. It has a secret mosque, but people have trouble getting water although the city has a lot of ponds. Water is carried to them from afar and inhabitants have a majority of Persians, who have wonderful palaces. It has straight alleyways and its overall condition is good, but very very hot”.
Nasser Khosro, a Persian Muslim traveler, describes Jeddah when he visited it in 1050 AD as a thriving city of many good things to trade, and a city of great construction. He also gave a description of its markets as being good and clean; and he estimated its population at around 5000 people.
In the 6th Hijri Century, the people of the city of Jeddah experienced economical hardship say Ibn Jubayr (who died in 1217 AD). Of the population and their religion he says, “Most residents of this town along with those from the neighboring desert and mountains are Ashraaf Alaweyoon (Hasanyoon, Husainiyoon, and Ja’fariyoon) in terms of religion-may Allah be pleased with their ancestors. They are enduring such hardships that inanimate objects would feel sympathy for them. They use themselves in all professions: renting camels, selling milk and water, picking up fallen dates, or cutting down timber. This would extend to their gentlewomen as well”. These economic trials were a natural result of the general situation in the Islamic world affected by the Christian Crusades and the disruption between Seljuqs and Ayyubids. After almost a century, another Arab historian, called Ibn Al-Mujawir, tells of the flourishing of the city of Jeddah in his times.
Under the Mamluks Rule:
Jeddah remained under the continued influence of the successive Muslim rulers, beginning with the Ummayyads, then Abbasids, followed by Ayyubids, and finally the Mamluks. During their reign, the Mamluks extended their influence over Jeddah to ensure trade and pilgrimage routes, and to protect the two Holy Mosques. The Mamluks’ Sultan appointed a Governor General for Jeddah, on whom he bestowed the title ‘Jeddah Deputy’ and whose residence overlooked the port to oversee its progress. Moreover, the desire of the Mamluk Sultans to promote the use of the port of Jeddah made them take several measures including: the reduction of customs duties, preventing traders from Egypt and Al-Shaam (now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine) from stopping at the port of Eden, and the increase of customs duties on merchants who set down at the port of Eden before arriving at the port of Jeddah. In 915 AH (1509 AD), Sultan Qansouh Al-Ghori built the Jeddah wall for protection from raids by the European ships which had attacked the city only after the arrival of the Ottomans. Qansouh was the last of the Seljuqs Mamluks, who ruled Jeddah in the 10th Hijri Century. Some historical sources cite that the city has remained independent in governance for most of the 15th Century AD until it came under the Ottoman rule.
The Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta (died 1377 AD) said, “It is an ancient town on the coast of the sea … there was little rain this year, and water was brought to Jeddah over the course of an entire day; and pilgrims would ask for water from the residents of its houses”.
During the Othoman Rule:
Al-Shareef Barakat, Governor of Hijaz (including Jeddah) declared his loyalty to the Ottoman succession in 931 AH. Jeddah, at the beginning of the Ottoman Empire, was attacked several times by the Portuguese fleet in the 16th Century AD (10th Hijri Century) as well as being exposed to the Dutch pirate raids in the 17th Century AD. The Portuguese fleet of Lobo Soarez arrived in front of Jeddah in 1516 AD, but was obstructed by the Ottoman defense led by Suleiman Basha, who captured a ship and sent it to the ‘Astana’.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, world maritime trade routes were owned then by the Portuguese, Dutch and English, which made the economic value of Jeddah as a port decline; and were it not for the delegations of pilgrims and Umrah performers, Jeddah would not have lived or continued.
Jeddah is a Saudi city located in the middle of the eastern coast of the red sea known as the Bride of the Red Sea and is considered the economic and tourism capital of the country. Its population is estimated around 3.4 million and it is the second largest city after Riyadh.
The foundation of the city of Jeddah is dated back to around 3000 years when groups of fishermen used to settle in it after their fishing trips. After that, the tribe of ‘Quda’ah’ came to Jeddah 2500 years ago and settled in it and was known by it. The historical transformation of Jeddah was in the era of the third Muslim Caliph Othman Bin Affan (May Allah be Pleased with Him) in 647 AD when he ordered the city to be transformed into a port to welcome pilgrims (Hajjis) coming by sea for the Holy Pilgrimage in Makkah. To this day, Jeddah is the main passage for both sea and air pilgrims as well as those traveling by road.
Jeddah has grown during the last two decades of the 20th Century, which made the city a center for money and business in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a major and important port for exporting non-oil related goods as well as importing domestic needs.
What To See
- al Balad (Old Jeddah)
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, al-Balad or Old Jeddah, is the historic centre of the city which is thought to have existed since well before the time of Alexander the Great. It is the only old city or town centre in Saudi Arabia that is still inhabited and relatively well preserved. The Saudi authorities’ lack of appreciation for heritage and history, especially in its earlier decades, resulted in the destruction of most of the historic city centres in Hejaz and elsewhere in their realm, including Medina, Mecca, and Taif. Jeddah’s old city would have suffered the same fate had it not been for its mayor in the 1970s and early 80s who fought development and succeeded in preserving the city. Unfortunately, many of the structures were neglected and deteriorated after his departure, but the recent inscription on the UNESCO list has renewed interest in preservation, and some restoration work is now being done. The first annual Ramadan cultural festival was held in Old Jeddah in 2015 and is sure to bring new focus on the historic centre and its traditional architecture.
- Northern Jeddah Corniche
One of the most beautiful parts of Jeddah, the Northern Corniche meanders its way along the scenic Red Sea shore. It is exceptionally beautiful all day and evening, but especially at sunset as the sun sinks below the Red Sea on the horizon. During the day, many people fish along the Corniche, and in the evening, families take advantage by camping on the long and wide pavement. Although it was created in the 1980s, the Northern Corniche never reached its full potential, and only saw the development of a couple of amusement parks, a few chalets for rent, and several seaside restaurants. It was only in the past few years that big projects began appearing, including skyscraper hotels, residential towers, and commercial centres, and most are still under construction. While this is all in the works, the actual road and Corniche walk are getting a face lift (as of July 2015). In a few years’ time, the whole Corniche will be one of Jeddah’s core commercial areas.
- Island Mosque
As its name indicates, Island Mosque is built on a tiny island just off the Northern Jeddah Corniche. It is one of four mosques built on or near the water in this part of the city. Because of its location jutting out to sea and its simple but stunning architecture, Island Mosque is perhaps Jeddah’s most picturesque. That its design is similar to the Corniche Mosque is no coincidence: both were designed by the Egyptian architect Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, who is responsible for several of Jeddah’s most beautiful mosques. His Island Mosque was completed in 1988 and like all building in Jeddah at the time, was originally painted entirely white. Restriction on colour has since been lifted and Island Mosque subsequently received its peach and cream shades.
- Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah
Historic Jeddah is situated on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. From the 7th century AD it was established as a major port for Indian Ocean trade routes, channelling goods to Mecca. It was also the gateway for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca who arrived by sea. These twin roles saw the city develop into a thriving multicultural centre, characterized by a distinctive architectural tradition, including tower houses built in the late 19th century by the city’s mercantile elites, and combining Red Sea coastal coral building traditions with influences and crafts from along the trade routes. Historic Jeddah is an outstanding reflection of the Red sea architectural tradition, a construction style once common to cities on both coasts of the Red sea, of which only scant vestiges are preserved outside the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the nominated property. The style is characterized by the imposing tower houses decorated by large wooden Roshan built in the late 19th century by the city`s mercantile elites, and also by lower coral stone houses, mosques, ribat-s, suqs and small public squares that together compose a vibrant space.
- Fakieh Aquarium
Fakieh Aquarium is the only aquarium for the public in Saudi Arabia and offers education and entertainment by presenting the wonders of the underwater environment of the Red Sea and marvels brought from other seas and oceans around the world.
With more than 200 species including Sharks, Groupies, String Rays, Napoleon Wrasse, Sea Horses, Murrays amongst others, the Fakieh Aquarium aim to continue expanding the sea world life with the introduction of the unique Sea Dragon later on this year.
Families can also enjoy the amazing Dolphin and Seal Lion show everyday, and later on this year, they will the the opportunity to swim with the Dolphins.
Where To Eat
- Al Khayam
Guests can dine like an Iranian King in this elaborately decorated red and gold marquee-style restaurant, Al Khayam, located in the lower lobby of the Hilton hotel. With a sparkling gold chandelier as the centrepiece and the romantic red of the furnishings, this is the perfect restaurant for couples wishing to share a platter together. The moreish Iranianbreads are made in an on-show Persian clay oven and the kubideh (minced beef and lamb kebab) is one of the best in the city. On the menu there is also a variety of kebabs,masto-khiar (a Persian dip) and a selection of caviars.
Authentic hearty Italian cuisine at its best, Piatto is a restaurant chain throughout Saudi Arabia that prides itself on using only the freshest ingredients to cook up authentic, Italian dishes. To give customers the sense of dining in Italy, the restaurant is arranged like a cobbled piazza and the walls are adorned with photographs of Vespas, iconic landmarks, gondolas and Fiats. Arrive with an appetite to enjoy the complimentary salad and bread to start followed by a wood-oven baked goat’s cheese and sundried tomato pizza, homemade wild mushroom fettuccine or a melt-in-the-mouth char-grilled Gorgonzola steak. And it wouldn’t be a true Italian eatery if they didn’t have a gelateria on-site too.
- Al Nakheel
Jeddah locals try to keep the traditional Middle Eastern fare at Al Nakheel for themselves. Dishes include traditional food, barbecued meats and shrimp, and locally caught najel (or Red Sea grouper). Portions are big but staff are happy to wrap up any leftovers for diners to take home. In the family area women are allowed to remove their abayas and the atmosphere is much more relaxed than in other traditional restaurants. Slouch on a low-slung sofa with the rippling waves in the background and watch football on the big screen or huddle around a fire-pit on cooler evenings whilst sampling the shisha.
- Le Ciel
As Jeddah’s only revolving restaurant, Le Ciel is expensive but worth every penny for its stunning views. Atop Al Suhaili Business Centre, the restaurant rotates 360° over a period of sixty minutes, allowing guests to experience the panorama of Jeddah from every angle without having to ever leave their table. The red and gold décor, candelabra on each table and unique setting make Le Ciel one of Jeddah’s most upmarket romantic restaurants – even the sinks in the bathrooms are gold. The menu is a blend of international cuisines, although French and Italian influence takes centre stage, and the steak is said to be the best in the city.
- The Green Island
Restaurants are on stilts in the sea at The Green Island allowing guests to watch the fish swimming beneath them through the glass floor whilst they eat. Al Dana Fish Restaurant serves a buffet of grilled and fried fish, shrimp, calamari, crab and salads. Hadaek Al Bahr offers a menu of Lebanese, Chinese and Indian dishes as well as a selection of shisha, while the Green Island Café is a great spot for a morning coffee or sunset mocktail with views over the sea. Guests go to The Green Island for the magical location but the seafood platter, mixed grills and mezes are worthy of a visit on their own.