Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah

 Saudi Arabia
N21 29 2 E39 11 15
Date of Inscription: 2014
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Property : 17.92 ha
Buffer zone: 113.58 ha
Ref: 1361
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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.

Historic Jeddah had a symbolic role as a gate to Makkah for Muslim pilgrims reaching Arabia by boat since the 7th century AH when the 3rd Caliph Othman ibn Affan made it the official port of Makkah. This strict association with the Muslim annual pilgrimage (Hajj) gave Historic Jeddah a cosmopolitan population where Muslims from Asia, Africa and the Middle East resided and worked, contributing to the city`s growth and prosperity.

Historic Jeddah reflects the final flourishing of the Indian Ocean sea trade after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the introduction of steamboats that linked Europe with India and Asia. This brought enormous wealth to many merchants who built lavishly decorated houses, and it also led to developments of suqs and mosques. In addition, the increase in sea going vessels allowed many more pilgrims to make the pilgrimage to Makkah, resulting in an expansion in the provision of accommodation for these visitors.

Criterion (ii): The cityscape of Historic Jeddah is the result of an important exchange of human values, technical Know-how, building materials and techniques across the Red Sea region and along the Indian Ocean routes between the 16th and the early 20th centuries. Historic Jeddah represents this cultural world that thrived, thanks to international sea trade; possessed a shared geographical, cultural and religious background; and built settlements with specific and innovative technical and aesthetic solutions to cope with the extreme climatic conditions of the region (humidity and heat).

Jeddah was, for centuries, the most important, largest and richest among these settlements and today, Historic Jeddah is the last surviving urban site along the Red Sea coast that still preserves the ensemble of the attributes of this culture: commercial-based economy, multi-cultural environment, isolated outward-oriented houses, coral masonry construction, precious woodwork decorating the facades, and specific technical devices to aid internal ventilation.

Criterion (iv): Historic Jeddah is an outstanding reflection of its final flourishing as a trading and pilgrimage city and, the only surviving urban ensemble of the Red Sea cultural world.

Jeddah’s Roshan tower houses are an outstanding example of a typology of buildings unique within the Arab and Moslem world. Their specific aesthetic and functional patterns – absence of courtyard, decorated Roshan façades, ground floor room used for offices and commerce, rooms rented for pilgrims – reflect their adaptation to both the hot and humid climate of the Red Sea and to the specificity of Jeddah, the Gate to the Holy City of Makkah for the pilgrims arriving by sea, and an important international commercial pole. The development of the Roshan tower houses in the second half of 19th century illustrates the evolution of the patterns of trade and pilgrimages in the Arabian Peninsula and in Asia following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the development of steamboat navigation routes linking Europe with India and East Asia. The extraordinary relevance of Jeddah’s tower houses is further increased by the fact that they are not only unique within the Red Sea culture region, an architectural typology born in Jeddah that spread to the nearby Hejaz cities of Al-Madinah, Makkah and Taif from where it has since completely disappeared under the pressure of modern development.

The overall landscape of Jeddah is characterised not only by the aesthetically remarkable tower houses, but also by the dense accumulations of lower houses, the ensembles of structures that related to trade, religion and the accommodation of pilgrims, and for the overall urban form and its division into clearly defined quarters.

Criterion (vi): Historic Jeddah is directly associated, both at the symbolic intangible level and at the architectural and urban level with the Hajj, the yearly Muslim pilgrimage to the Holy City of Makkah. Jeddah was the landing harbour for all the pilgrims that reached Arabia by sea, and for centuries, up to the present, the city lived in function of the pilgrimages.The goods the pilgrimage brought with them from Asia and Africa and sold in the city, the religious debates with Ulama(s) from Java and India, the spices, the food, and the intangible heritage of the city were all related to the pilgrimage that has immensely contributed to defining the identity of Jeddah. The association with Hajj is also very evident in the urban structure of the nominated property and is found in the traditional souks running East –West from the sea to Makkah Gate, the Ribat(s) and the Wakala(s) that used   to host the pilgrims; in the architecture, notably in the facades and internal structure of the houses; and in the very social fabric of the city, where Muslims from all over the world mingled, lived, and worked together. The ensemble of these elements, tangible and intangible, demonstrates the intimate and long-lasting connection between the pilgrimage and the nominated property and is an example of the very rich cultural diversity resulting from this religious event unique in the whole Islamic World.

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Jeddah (also spelled Jiddah) is on the Red Sea in western Saudi Arabia. It is 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. The historic Jeddah has been inscribed to the World Heritage list since 2014. Jeddah has been a port and trading city for centuries, which is reflected in its cosmopolitan mix of inhabitants. Today, it is a major commercial center in Saudi Arabia. It also has many government offices. Jeddah is known in the kingdom for its shopping districts, restaurants and cafes. It also hosts the Jeddah Corniche (waterfront area), which is the largest in the Kingdom with a great bunch of hotels, beaches and resorts clustered around it [read more].

Once a dusty desert town, Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, is today the real Mecca for Muslims. Other than being the foremost place of pilgrimage for Muslims worldwide, it is the cultural capital of the Islamic world and a true melting pot of worldwide Muslims. Mecca or Makkah, the holiest city in Islam, is the place where the Prophet Muhammad was born and raised, and is believed by Muslims to have received the first revelations of the Quran. And this is where the Kaaba is — in the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque, Masjid al-Haram, which is the direction that all Muslims from all over the world face when performing Islamic ritualistic prayer (salat). Masjid al-Haram or The Grand and the Sacred Mosque, the largest mosque in the world, is visited by millions of Muslims throughout the year, especially during the last month of the Islamic calendar, to perform Hajj, the pilgrimage which is a mandatory religious duty for every Muslim who can afford it [read more].

Ta’if (pronounced “Taayef”, also written Taif) is a city in western Saudi Arabia. It is in the mountains near Mecca and was once used as the summer capital, letting the royal family get out of the much hotter Riyadh. Whenever you go, you will see breathtaking mountains. Al Rudaf Park, south of Taif, has clumps of trees lie and beautiful weathered granite rocks, plus a small zoo. Wadi Mitna was Muhammad’s refuge in 619 AD. Ta’if rose plantation. In April, fields are full of pink roses. They are harvested and distilled into Ta’if rose oil, a luxury item which has been used in famous perfumes including Chanel. Shubra Palace houses the local museum. Rock Carving Site, 40 km north of Taif, is where there used to be a large souq (market) in ancient, pre-Islamic times. Turkish Fort: This is near the Rock Carving Site, and it is believe that Lawrence of Arabia fought here during World War I [read more].

1 reply »

  1. While the cosmopolitan port city of Jeddah hosts swish arts festivals and rock concerts and has a reputation as an open Arabic city, it also has 3,000 years of history. We wander into the Al-Balad, the Old City of merchants’ houses, spice markets and tiny communal spaces where kids play soccer or weddings are celebrated. Al-Balad feels raggedly – the Unesco World Heritage Site dates back to the seventh century, after all – but it is a fascinating glimpse of multicultural Jeddah. That sense that the world converges in Jeddah can be felt in the coral-stone homes of 19th-century merchants, pharmacies, art galleries, cafes – and also in a narrow alley where a supercar commercial is being filmed. In one of the house-museums, I see Moroccan pots and an Indonesian batik sarong, and peer into a second-floor living room with roshan – wooden bay windows that look onto the street and let in lots of light. Later, it is a multi-sensorial experience to pop into Al-Buraidy Herbs, a traditional pharmacy that is also fragrant with incense, herbs and spices. On display are Indonesian cloves and Singapore’s Axe brand of medicated oil. I stroll on the corniche, a 30km coastal stretch that faces the Red Sea and is dotted with sculptures. I enjoy the time alone in a country that is deemed unsafe in some minds. It is safe.


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