The majestic Madain Saleh
The majestic Madain Saleh
In recent years, however, Saudis have increasingly ventured to these sites.
Described as the largest and best preserved site of the Nabataean civilization south of Petra in Jordan, Madain Saleh is the first Saudi archaeological site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
It lies 320 kilometers (200 miles) north of Madinah, and extends for some 15 square kilometers (six sq. miles).
According to UNESCO, it includes 111 tombs, most of which boast a decorated facade, cave drawings and even some pre-Nabataean inscriptions.
It also boasts intricately designed water wells that serve as a prime example of the Nabataeans’ architectural and hydraulic genius.
The Nabataeans first inhabited the area in the second century BC, but their ancient civilization existed as far back as the eighth or seventh century BC in the countries of the Levant, including Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and at times even extending into the Sinai peninsula in Egypt.
Originally nomads from the Arabian peninsula, the Nabataeans were masters of trade, dominating the incense and spice routes in the pre-Islamic period. Their civilization collapsed in 106 AD at the hands of the Roman empire.
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 Hijaz railway built by the Ottomans in the early 20th century that ran from Damascus to Madinah 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 Makkah.
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 civilizations. Just 22 kilometers 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.
Bulgari hotel: An Italian escape in Dubai
- The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island
- Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic
DUBAI: Bulgari, the venerated Italian design house, has just five hotels around the world. And even in Dubai — a city crammed with luxury hotels — the Bulgari Resort manages to seem exclusive. The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island, offering guests some respite from the city’s often-hectic atmosphere, even though it is literally minutes away from the pulsing heart of Dubai.
Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic. Master architects Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel — who are responsible for all the Bulgari hotels worldwide — have used a neutral color palette and custom motifs, such as coral-inspired lacquered steel parapets and mashrabiya-patterned accents, to give the hotel a sense of place.
Here, luxury doesn’t shout its presence with bling or ostentatious features, instead it quietly whispers, with fine materials — from Italian marble to sumptuous silks, impeccable attention to detail, and touches including the signature fragrance that wafts around you from the second you enter.
The hotel is responsible for a couple of firsts for the brand, including its ‘Little Gems’ kids club — where children are entertained with bespoke activities such as cooking classes and treasure hunts while their parents enjoy some downtime — and the global debut of the Bulgari Marina & Yacht Club, which has its own pool and recreation facilities, signature seafood restaurant, and 50-berth harbor.
All rooms and suites feature a walk-in closet, spacious balconies, smooth one-touch button controls, and bathrooms with standalone tubs boasting enviable views — making for some excellent Insta-fodder. The signature trunk-style mini-bar is as funky as it is functional, and the trendy basket beach bags are perfect for stashing your souvenirs — including designer knick-knacks from on-site concept store La Galleria.
The one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas offer private pools and butler service, but you don’t want to miss the resort’s circular central pool, where luxury cabanas with oversized daybeds and on-call service invite you to lounge the day away. Just adjacent is the crescent-shaped private beach, with the gentle waters of the Arabian Gulf offering perfect swimming conditions, even if the tip of the seahorse-shaped island mars the view slightly.
Whether you opt for a beach-and-pool day or a Dubai-sightseeing trip, your evening should definitely be devoted to the quintessentially Italian aperitivo experience at Il Bar, where an oval-shaped chrome counter provides a social centerpiece, and an outdoor terrace offers marina views. The seriously chic Il Ristorante (by lauded Italian chef Niko Romito) is just next door, and shares the terrace. Its tiramisu is one of the best in town, as is the freshly baked rustic bread.
Offering a more pared-back dining experience are La Spiaggia, a beachside restaurant and bar, and Il Café, the Bulgari take on a casual all-day dining destination which still features jaw-dropping design, and, in line with the whole ‘nothing is too much trouble’ service ethos, serves breakfast all day.
That ethos extends to the spa too, where therapists provide the ultimate in pampering using top-shelf products, including La Mer, in a soothing nature-inspired space. The use of rare precious materials, including grey Vicenza stone and green onyx, infuse the environment with a subtle opulence.
A 25-meter indoor swimming pool with its own cabanas, extensive facilities (including a shower offering a “Caribbean thunderstorm” experience), and private hammam, plus an exclusive Lee Mullins training program at the state-of-the-art gym complete the impressive recreation facilities at the resort.
If you’re looking for a classy, authentic ‘slice-of-Italy’ experience in the Middle East, then the Bulgari Resort Dubai is where you should check in.