As a child, I dreamt of Aladdin and the fabulous 1,001 Arabian
Nights' tales; just wishing to be there when it happened.
The closest place one can get is Balad, literally translated as The
Town, a part of Old Jeddah.
Balad attracted me the very first time I saw it.
It was evening, with the sun slowly slipping into the Red Sea.
As night begins to spread darkness over Balad, the narrow stone-topped
lanes, treaded by travellers and traders for centuries, comes to life; showcasing a
vibrant market place teaming with traders and street hawkers, shouting to get the
attention of bystanders.
This reminded me of the crowded market streets back in India; giving
me a feeling of being at home.
To the tourist it is confusing if you are not sure of where you are
going, as you are jostled and pushed along by the teaming crowd.
I decided to come back the next day for a more leisurely exploration.
The morning was quiet and cool as I started criss-crossing the lanes;
stopping by to have a closer look at the centuries old, multi-storied buildings.
Almost all the buildings house shops in the ground floor and
residential quarters in the upper floors. The architecture of the buildings are unique for
this region, in that they are built mainly from rectangular mud bricks or cut stones.
The lower portions of the walls are made of stone bricks while the mud
bricks are predominantly used in the upper walls; with latticed wooden poles placed
horizontally, running the entire length of the walls (at 4 to 5 feet heights).
The architecture fired up my engineering brain, to think of the
advantages offered by this method of construction.
Wood is flexible in compression and distributes the load evenly to the
lower bricks, also effectively stopping any cracks in the wall developing beyond them;
which makes repair work easier, in addition to increasing the life of the building.
The engineering mind of the medieval Arabs could be easily gauged by
looking at these beautifully constructed multi-storied buildings, which have withstood the
ravages of time and harsh environment of Arabia.
Jeddah started as a fishing village, when the Quadaa fishermen
settled here some 2,500 years ago; its natural harbour and reef offering a good base for
their fishing boats.
The city grew as an important trading outpost, on the trading routes
and Europe, and was fortified
with limestone coral walls as early as 1,000 AD; according to noted traveller,
The earlier fortification had two gates; one facing east towards Mecca
and the other towards the sea. The fortification was strengthened in the 16th Century, to
protect the city from Portuguese attack, with six watchtowers and gates: Bab Makkah facing
East; Bab Sharif facing South; Bab Al Bunt, Bab Sharaf and Bab Al Madinah facing North;
and Bab Al Magharibah facing West.
Jeddah's turbulent history saw it alternatively coming under the rule
of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Egypts Mamalukes and the Saudis of Central
Arabia; until the Saudi King, Abdul Aziz took over the Western province of Hejaz,
including the city of Jeddah.
The King Abdul Aziz Historical Square, which is at the heart of the
Balad, is where the people of Jeddah welcomed King Abdul Aziz and his army on the 23rd of
September, 1924. This day of annexing the Hejaz province is celebrated as a National Day
Balad is one big market place that contains many specialised
Showcases glittering and eye catching Arabian, African and Asian gold and silver
The textile market, named after the Bedouin tribes who used to sell textiles, spices and
That cuts through Balad, from east to west.
Gabel Street Souq:
Selling an assorted variety of wares that includes spices, electronics, perfumes, dates,
honey and household articles.
As you walk through the Souq Al Alawi, Biet Nassif - an impressive
restored building, with a 700 year old flag mast and a 15th Century cannon on its front
yard - dominates the King Abdul Aziz Historical Square.
Jeddah' s Historic Buildings:
The Jeddah Historical Area Preservation Department (JHAPD) has restored a number of old
and crumbling building as the Government tries to protect old buildings from demolition,
in order to preserve the historical area.
The excavation of a 15th century underground water canal, bringing
water from nearby mountains about 15km away, underlines the historical and archaeological
wealth waiting to be uncovered in Balad.
||The Al Alawi Moroccan Restaurant is
aesthetically located in a restored building with beautifully laid colourful stones on the
front yard, creating a mystical medieval environment for diners wishing to taste
traditional Moroccan and African cuisine.
It came as a mild cultural shock as I exited the market
place of Balad, to be confronted by glittering high-rise buildings, shopping malls and the
ear-piercing horns of cars; abruptly awakened from a short travel back in time, to my own
Arabian Night dreamland.
By M. Ahmed Nagoor.
About The Author
M. Ahmed Nagoor is an Indian national who likes travelling; especially
trekking in remote jungles, wildlife sanctuaries, National Parks and mountain ranges.
M. Ahmed Nagoor has trekked in the South Indian Rain Forests (Western
Ghats) in Nilgris, Anamalais, Kerala and also in and around Chennai (Yelagiri in the
He's also been on a trekking expedition in the Shivalik Ranges of The
Himalayas, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, and has organised trekking trips for
school and college students in South India; enabling them to appreciate the nature and
encourage them to protect and preserve the region's limited natural resources.
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia:
601 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington DC.
Saudi Arabia Magazine:
Illustrated coverage of social, cultural and historical issues (1996-2003).
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