Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madâin Sâlih) (Saudi Arabia) © Editions Gelbart
The Archaeological Site of Al-Hijr (Madâin Sâlih) is the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in Saudi Arabia. Formerly known as Hegra it is the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan. It features well-preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades dating from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. The site also features some 50 inscriptions of the pre-Nabataean period and some cave drawings. Al-Hijr bears a unique testimony to Nabataean civilization. With its 111 monumental tombs, 94 of which are decorated, and water wells, the site is an outstanding example of the Nabataeans’ architectural accomplishment and hydraulic expertise.
Outstanding Universal Value
The archaeological site of Al-Hijr is a major site of the Nabataean civilisation, in the south of its zone of influence. Its integrity is remarkable and it is well conserved. It includes a major ensemble of tombs and monuments, whose architecture and decorations are directly cut into the sandstone.
It bears witness to the encounter between a variety of decorative and architectural influences (Assyrian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Hellenistic), and the epigraphic presence of several ancient languages (Lihyanite, Thamudic, Nabataean, Greek, Latin).
It bears witness to the development of Nabataean agricultural techniques using a large number of artificial wells in rocky ground. The wells are still in use.
The ancient city of Hegra/Al-Hijr bears witness to the international caravan trade during late Antiquity.
Criterion (ii): The site of Al-Hijr is located at a meeting point between various civilisations of late Antiquity, on a trade route between the Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean world and Asia. It bears outstanding witness to important cultural exchanges in architecture, decoration, language use and the caravan trade. Although the Nabataean city was abandoned during the pre-Islamic period, the route continued to play its international role for caravans and then for the pilgrimage to Mecca, up to its modernisation by the construction of the railway at the start of the 20th century.
Criterion (iii): The site of Al-Hijr bears unique testimony to the Nabataean civilisation, between the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC and the pre-Islamic period, and particularly in the 1st century AD. It is an outstanding illustration of the architectural style specific to the Nabataeans, consisting of monuments directly cut into the rock, and with facades bearing a large number of decorative motifs. The site includes a set of wells, most of which were sunk into the rock, demonstrating the Nabataeans’ mastery of hydraulic techniques for agricultural purposes.
The testimony borne by Al-Hijr to the Nabataean civilisation is of outstanding integrity and authenticity, because of its early abandonment and the benefit over a very long period of highly favourable climatic conditions.
The State Party has begun to set up an extremely comprehensive Local Management Unit, and this process is now under way. The announced management plan should enable satisfactory protection of the property. With this in mind, the plan should organise systematic monitoring of the conservation of the site, and prepare a project for the presentation of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property for the benefit both of visitors and of the population of the region.