The Abandoned City of Al-`Ula

The old city of Al-`Ula. Wikipedia

The ancient city of Al-`Ula is one of the Middle East’s most impressive ghost towns, located along the Incense Road in northwestern Saudi Arabia, about 400 km (248 miles) from Medina. Once the capital of the ancient North Arabian Kingdom of Lihyan, its network of stone ruins – some of them over 2000 years old – blend almost perfectly into the surrounding desert.

According to the Harran Inscriptions, the king of Babylonia, Nabonidus led a military campaign in the region around 552 BC, conquering the Tayma oasis, Dedan (old Lihyan) and the ancient city of Yathrib (modern Medina).


Hundreds of years later, the Kingdom of Lihyan was ruled by the Nabataeans until their capital at Petra was overthrown by Rome in 106 AD. After that, the Nabataeans relocated to Hegra, now known as Mada’in Saleh (picture below), 20 km (13 miles) from Al-`Ula.


The old settlement played host to the Prophet Muhammad in 630 AD while on his way to engage Byzantine forces at the Battle of Tabuk. But it wasn’t until the 1200s that Al-`Ula became a major site, the foundations of its ancient buildings reused in the making of the ruined city we see today.

In the 20th century the new town center was established beside the old town and eventually the people left the old buildings. The last family left in 1983, while the last religious service in the old mosque was held in 1985.