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Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Lost World: Al-Hijr / Madain Saleh From More than 2,000 Years Ago -4

Officials at Madain Saleh say that the number of visitors to the site reached 40,000 last year, most of them Saudis and foreign residents of the kingdom. They hold hopes that figure will double in 2012 with the government relaxing entry restrictions.

Though prior consent is required for access to Madain Saleh, it can now be obtained more easily from the nearby town of Al-Ola, or from Riyadh. The highest volume of visitors is between December and March, given the lower temperatures in the otherwise scorching desert heat.

Two museums also exist on site, including one devoted to the famous Hejaz railway built by the Ottomans in the early 20th century that ran from Damascus to Medina and passed through Al-Hijr. The second museum, which opened its doors to visitors just two months ago, traces the pilgrimage route to Islam's holiest city of Mecca.

On his first visit to the ancient site, Saudi national Tareq al-Adawi from the northwestern city of Tabuk says he was "overwhelmed."

"I encourage all Saudis to come visit this place," he says of Madain Saleh. Another Saudi tourist, Ahmed al-Moghrabi, says he was "shocked by the majesty of the place."

A small team of French archaeologists in partnership with their Saudi colleagues are now carrying out excavations on the site in an effort to preserve and better understand its ancient history. Madain Saleh, though likely one of Saudi's most famous archaeological sites, is not its only one.

The area bears evidence of other ancient civilisations. Just 22 kilometres from Madain Saleh is Al-Ola, located on the ancient incense route. The city served as the capital of Lihyan, an ancient Arab kingdom.

It is home to archaeological remnants that date back thousands of years, including it's citadel which is some 8,000 years old.

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