Saudi Arabia is looking to attract tourists (including non-Muslims) and has announced that it plans to open up both al-Ula and the neighboring rock-based tombs of Madain Saleh, sites of ancient civilizations located in Northern Saudi Arabia. Madain Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a 2,000-year-old city which was carved into desert rocks by the Nabateans, the pre-Islamic Arab people (who also built Petra in Jordan).
Superstition among many Saudis, as well as religious edits, claim that the area is haunted by jinn, spirits of the Quran and Arabian mythology. This mythology can be traced back to a hadith (a saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammad) which warned Muslims not to enter “unless you are crying … lest you suffer the affliction” of its people, said to have perished for their sins.
Locals are excitedly embracing the tourism potential, with plans to open restaurants and shops. Young people have been sent abroad to study hospitality. “The local community is peaceful, educated and hospitable,” said resident Talal al-Faqir. “We are just getting started.”
Riyadh native Dana Daham visited the ancient sites last month with friends. “We didn’t expect it to be this magnificent. We keep hearing stories from people but this is way more than we thought it would be. It’s amazing, it’s beautiful. So much history, so much going on.”