Jeddah | A Walk through Al-Balad, the Old Part of Town

Thanx to my job, I get to go to places that no normal traveler would (or could) possibly consider on taking a trip to. Like Saudi Arabia, for instance. In one of my previous blog posts, I have taken you on a sightseeing stroll through the nation´s capital Riyadh. This time, I would like to show you the historic area of downtown Jeddah, Saudi Arabia´s second largest city. To me, it was like a trip back in time. IMG_0994

Amongst all countries in the Near East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still considered to be a highly conservative nation compared to Emirates such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Kuwait.

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One of the reasons for this may be the attempt to try to protect the local lifestyle and the traditions from Western influences.

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As opinions about this may differ, one thing is irrevocably true: Other than in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, visitors do get to experience the true Arabian way of life without any external influences.

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Working for an airline is an easy way to get access to Saudi Arabia. While “normal” tourism is only possible with an official invitation issued by the Saudi Arabian government or by someone living in the country, it is mostly people doing business that  are eligible to travel to or live in Saudi Arabia.

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The dress code for women is particularly strict. This is the reason why most of my female working colleagues decide to stay inside the private beach clubs that group on the shores of the Red Sea where they do not need to cover up at all.

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Access is for tourists only, yet you do not necessarily get an authentic impression of what life in the kingdom is like. It is a convenient place to stay for a day or two though, if you are looking for just some relaxation away from the cold at home.

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But you guys know me. I cannot go somewhere without completing my own picture of the places that I visit. Travel is always about creating your own perspectives, right?

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So I took a cab from the hotel and let the driver take me downtown. It was damn hot with about 42 degrees Celsius in the shadow and the sun was burning merciless from the cloudless sky.

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It was well around noon and maybe not the best time of the day to take this trip, but armed with bottled water and my camera I was thrilled and excited to explore this somehow magical place.

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Al-Balad, the area that I was heading to, belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage List and had established since the 7th century AD as a major port for all Indian Ocean trade routes. Mainly to transport the goods from there to Mecca.

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The historic part is highly popular for the imposing tower houses that are mostly equipped with wooden Roshan, a combination of skylight and ventilating window that are typical for the ancient architecture of Saudi Arabia.

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Of course, there are modern highrises as well, but other than in Riyadh, Dschidda, as Jeddah is also referred to as, features a more conventional skyline.

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At least for now. There are current constructions going on and if completed as planned by 2019, the Jeddah Tower will surpass Dubai´s Burj Khalifa as the tallest building in the world.

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This and other major infrastructural projects will take Jeddah to the next level in competition with established metropoles such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi. So personally, I believe it is only a matter of time until the borders and airports of Saudi Arabia will be opened for a broader audience of international travelers.

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But as impressive as these fantastic and extraordinary architectural masterpieces may be, progress has always asked for sacrifice. And in the Near East it has mostly blurred the local traditions and the authenticity.

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So wherever the road may be leading in the future, I was more than happy to have been able to eyewitness the real, the untouched Jeddah that I was to uncover just a little later.

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Historic Jeddah is still surrounded by the old city wall. Inside this area, there is an array of small alley ways and back streets.

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It was sectioned into different districts within this wall which are called by the locals Haras (Arabic for neighbourhoods).

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The tower houses (some of the are almost 30 meters high!) were constructed alongside in a way that they would produce extensive shadows on each in order to render them cool during hot summers.

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Most of the buildings are made of rocks from the nearby Arba´een Lake that were reshaped by hand and then put together with clay from another lake.

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Particularly impressive is the craftmanship of the beautifully designed bay windows that you can find on all the historic houses.

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Considering the actual age of the structures, most buildings were still in quite a good shape.

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I felt like in a 1001 nights fairytale when I walked the empty streets. It was so hot that most people had hidden inside the cool buildings waiting for the sun to disappear.

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But being almost all by myself there intensified this mystical atmosphere around me. Like in a Science Fiction movie where I had come from the future to save the world from doom.

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Enjoy the following photo gallery of my stroll through the area. I could have spent the entire day there, but the sun just killed me.

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So after a few hours, I took the cab back to the hotel where I spent the rest of the day in the shadows.

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But full with these magical impressions that reinforce me every time to go out there and have a look around.

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When I showed the pictures to some of my fellow crew members later on before heading back home, some were really surprised what beauty they had missed.

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And they did. But have a look for yourself. I am very glad that I am able to show you my visual impressions of an unforgettable trip back in time. Enjoy!

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