The original settlement of Al Balad was the very first place I wanted to see in Jeddah. This historic centre, more than 2,000 years old, is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Balad (meaning the ‘town’) was an old fishing village located around a small natural harbour and was where, traditionally, pilgrims bound for Mecca made landfall in KSA. Of course the small harbour has become the largest port in the country and one of the busiest in the world and many Jeddawis have moved north to the new residential centre leaving the original settlement to crumble. While we knew the evening would be the most vibrant time to visit we decided to go in the daytime to get our bearings during the quiet hours and will return later on to view the hustle and bustle and ambience of the souk at night.
|Al Balad is the oldest part of Jeddah|
|Pedestrian lanes and covered souks combine to give the area a special ambiance|
Our driver dropped us off at the edge of the district near the modern commercial centres. We found ourselves rather disappointed as we had hoped for some old world charm. We were not to be disappointed. A few short steps inland and we noticed that the modern buildings started to give way to some much older structures.
|Newer buildings give way to the more atmospheric UNESCO site|
One of the main features of the Al Balad area is the souk. Although it looks small at first glance it is extensive and contains many side streets. We got the impression that we could purchase just about anything we wanted here from abbayas, thobes and sandals to incense, toys and gold. As with any market anywhere in the world the friendly stall holders were just waiting to strike up a conversation and show off their wears. The market places are punctuated with beautifully carved entrance ways to small mosques hidden behind and above the shops and there are plenty of places to rest and enjoy a typically Arabian treat of coffee with cardamom or a refreshing fruit juice. If you are looking for the smooth tourist experience of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul the souk here will disappoint, it is all together earthier, used by locals and much more dilapidated thus, as a result, has a great deal of charm.
|Friendly shop keepers invite you in|
|Whilst mysterious doors appear seemingly out of nowhere|
|Beautiful balconies adorn many of the houses|
|In Balad even the street lights are beautiful|
|Trees give much needed shade|
|More mundane (but delicious) wares are also for sale|
|The streets become quiet at prayer time|
Many of these houses have beautiful wooden balconies complete with lattice screens designed to let the cool air circulate in the houses and for women to look out without being observed. A lot of the houses are falling into disrepair and some have collapsed in their entirety. From the rubble it is possible to see the coral which was used as a unique building material for these houses. Some of the houses are undergoing extensive renovation works. The Nasif House has been completed and is open for viewing, a place we will certainly return to explore in more detail.
|Many of the houses are crumbling into nothing|
|The Nasif House has been fully restored.|
|Others are undergoing extensive renovations|
|As are some of the more accessible features|
We took some time wandering in and out of the side streets, looking at the beautiful signs, carvings and doorways that can be found all over the area and, of course, looking skywards to view the distinctive and beautiful balconies. Every now and then a shaded courtyard with a tree offered some relief. In KSA everything stops and all shops shut for half an hour during prayers. As non-Muslims, prayers do not apply to us, so just before closing time we bought some fruit and enjoyed a break in the shade of a large tree in a quiet corner.
|Beautiful ceramics are commonplace|
|Cats are everywhere|
|Even something as functional as a door has been decorated|
|The coral that has been used is clear in some of the buldings|
|It almost beggars belief that cars, carts and pedestrians can |
make their way through this maze of streets
Posted as part of the TravelAtHome linky the place for inspiration for places to visit that you might not otherwise hear about.