AlUla 3: AlUla Old Town & Oasis, Dec 2022

The Old Town of AlUla, also known as deira, was continuously inhabited for the last 7 centuries until only 40 years ago when the Royal Commission closed it completely for restoration.  The Old Town is a labyrinth of narrow pathways and densely packed stone and mud brick buildings.  There are about 900 houses, 500 shops, and 5 town squares here all overlooked by the 6th century Musa Bin Nusayr castle.  In the 12th century, AlUla Old Town became an essential stop along the pilgrimage route to Mecca.  One explanation of the closely packed houses is to provide fortification.  The city was once accessible by 14 gates that were opened in the morning and closed in the evenings.  Walking tours are offered to visit this historical site although many archaeologists are still present and most of it is blocked off for restoration and research.  I was told that they plan to put in restaurants and shops and even a hotel reviving the site to its former glory.  Adjacent to the Old Town is the newly developed “old town” with touristy shops and restaurants.  It was pretty dead when I went around lunchtime so better visit in the evening when the shops and restaurants open.

The ruins of AlUla Old Town

The interior of a typical mudbrick house in AlUla Old Town.

Adjacent to the old town is the newly built shopping and dining street.

Dunkin’ Donuts was one of the only places open. Not sure if it’s even a real Dunkin’ Donuts :)

AlUla town from Harrat Viewpoint

AlUla from Harrat Viewpoint

Near AlUla Old Town is the lush AlUla Oasis that has provided respite for weary pilgrims and merchants for centuries. The date palm trees provided shade from the harsh desert sun not just for the residents but also for the cultivation of citrus trees, aromatic herbs, and other crops. The temperature in the oasis is much cooler, hence many locals used to move to their second homes in the oasis during the summer months.

There is an Oasis Heritage Trail stretching 3km from an acess point about 5 mins away from Dadan Visitor Center to the Orange Path in the oasis.  You will walk past towering date palms and see the remnants of mudbrick houses and the ancient city walls.  There are some new farms along the way growing all sorts of herbs and vegetables.  The access point, supposedly next to the Dadan Visitor Center, was not easy to find.  It was more like a 5-minute drive away.  When we arrived at what seemed like the trailhead, a small local man suddenly appeared and claimed he was the ranger but he didn’t have a uniform or ID (later we found out that he actually was the ranger).  He spoke a little English and insisted on “escorting” us (two women) along the trail.  Honestly, I was a bit uneasy but decided that we could probably overpower him if necessary.  It took us about 40 minutes at a leisurely pace to reach the date palm swings at the oasis.  We were the only people along the trail and it was not as beautiful as described by the travel websites.  We breathed a sign of rellief when we saw other people, especially our driver, at the oasis.

Date palm swings at AlUla Oasis

From the date palm swings, it’s about a 15 min walk to Pink Camel where you can reward yourself with some of the best baked goods, sandwiches, salads, and of course coffee.  I came here 2 days in a row for lunch. :)


Next post will be about the Rocks of AlUla that has been shaped by the elements over the milenia. Stay tuned!


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5 Responses

  1. It would be interesting to see how the old town of AlUla will transform in the next few years and decades. I hope it will retain its charm and not succumb to tasteless commercialization just for the sake of money.

    1. I hope so too!
      The best old town I have ever visited is Pingyao which is where banking started in China. You get a ticket and enter most of the houses in the old town. Some are restored to their former glory complete with period furnishings, while others have become shops and cafes. There is a Relais & Chateaux hotel set inside the home of a former Qing Dynasty silk merchant!

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