Flat Al-Stanley Visits Najran and the Empty Quarter

(for more photos from this trip:  http://theadventuresofmenu.shutterfly.com/ )

During the recent Eid Al Adha holiday (11-19Nov10), we took a week off work with other geocachers and headed south to Najran and the Empty Quarter for a week of camping, sightseeing and geocaching and we took Flat Stanley with us.

Eid al-Adha is celebrated annually on the 10th day of the 12th and the last Islamic month of Dhu Al Hijjah (ذو الحجة) of the lunar Islamic Calendar.  Eid al-Adha celebrations start after the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims worldwide.

The mosque in Madinah at Haj


Najran (formerly Aba as Sa’ud) ( نجران‎) is a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen.  It is the capital of Najran Province.  Najran joined the newly announced Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1934 as a result of the efforts and struggles of sheikh Jabir Abu sag, the Leader of one large clan of the Yam tribe. Starting in 1924, the forces of the former Yemeni King launched several unsuccessful raids to annex Najran to the Yemeni Kingdom. The king of Yemen performed some new maneuvers to strengthen his tie with some of the Najran tribal leaders to counter the strong relations of the people of Najran with Bin Saud. Then in 1932 the forces of Imam Yahiya of Yemen attacked Najran with more than 50,000 troops, with all kinds of new weapons. The Yamis, as the dominant tribe in Najran, along with some other loyalist Najranis started strong resistance against the occupation forces. However, a strong segment of the tribal leaders in Najran sided with the occupying power and some became passive, waiting to take a side at the end of the crisis.   Sheikh Jabir Abu sag, the strong man at the time, managed to get quick support from King Abdul Aziz Bin Saud and was able to lead the Yam tribes and all of the Najrani resistance fighting the Yemeni forces in all parts of Najran and Bilad Yam.   Later, in the spring of 1934, the Army of Bin Saud under the command of Prince Saud son of Abdul Aziz carried out a massive campaign, surrounding Najran from the north and north west, and defeated the Yemeni Army. Najran became part of Saudi Arabia.

Places we will take Flat Stanley
Flat Stanley at the Al Ukhdood Hotel, Najran













Al-Ukhdood ( الأخدود) The name Al-Ukhdud means ‘the ditch’ (sometimes ‘the trench’, sometimes ‘the groove’) and is mentioned in the Holy Quran as the site of a massacre of Christians in 107BH (525)  The Frankincense Trade Route from Yemen passed through Al-Ukhdud (the town now known as Najran) on its way to Makkah, Madinah and then on to Palestine, Syria, the Arabian Gulf and Mesopotamia.  Cities along the main caravan routes were able to levy taxes on the merchants, and in this way they became rich. At its peak, Al-Ukhdud was one of the most important trading cities in Southern Arabia and its wealth was demonstrated by the high quality construction of the main buildings. There still remain substantial areas of dressed stone, and ornate bronze drain spouts.

Al-Ukhdud declined in importance when traders discovered how to sail to India on the monsoon winds. Around the same time there was a decline in demand for frankincense when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in 235 BH (395).  The resurgence of Najran and the settlements around Al-Ukhdud was mainly due to the rise of Christianity in the area and the influence of Byzantium in the centuries before Islam.

Al-Ukhdud is mentioned in the Holy Quran as being the site of a massacre of Christians in 101BH (525). This event is sometimes referred to as the massacre of the Najran martyrs.  “Cursed were the People of the Ditch. Of fire fed with fuel. When they sat by it. And they witnessed what they were doing against the believers. And they had no fault except that they believed in Allah, the Almighty, Worthy of all praise! To Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth! And Allah is Witness over everything.” (85:4-9)

Dhu Nuwas laid siege to Al-Ukhdud. When the town capitulated, the inhabitants were given an impossible choice – convert or die. They chose the latter and thousands were thrown into a burning ditch.  The ditch (which may be a defensive moat) is still visible, and archaeologists have found evidence of burning which supports the written accounts of the tragedy.  In revenge for this attack the Ethiopians (Abyssinians) invaded and deposed Dhu Nuwas. For the next few decades, the area was under Abyssinian rule. The city of Al-Ukhdud readily accepted Islam in 10H (631) and has remained staunchly Islamic since.

Main Entrance at Al Ukhdood
Flat Stanley & Abdulwahed at Al Ukhdood's Millstone
Flat Stanley at Al Ukhdood
Flat Stanley at Al Ukhdood's 300 year old tree





















In Bir Hima there are some 300 different locations containing stone engravings and drawings, including prehistoric depictions of animals. You’ll find engravings of human figures and giraffes which date from around 5500 BC.  The area is a little difficult to reach, but the journey is worth it. Once there you’ll see evidence of Neolithic settlements in the Bir Hima area at Wadi Tathlith, and Jebel Sawdh.

Flat Stanley at Bir Hima
Flat Stanley at Bir Hima













Najran architecture : Traditional adobe and brick architectural styles in Najran are called midmakh buildings. They are very distinctive and reflect the influence of Yemeni design in the Province

The buildings are made up of several stories. The lowest level is given over to livestock and can be without windows. The next level is for human habitation, and have small windows to keep out intruders. As you go up the building, the windows get larger to let in more light and air. Often these houses are clustered together around a central courtyard, so that members of the same family can live together.

These traditional buildings are still seen in many towns and villages, with some buildings well maintained (or restored) while others are deteriorating.  Some of these buildings are estimated to be several hundred years old.

Najran Architecture
Al Emarah Palace













The historic Emarah Palace, built in 1362H (1942) and recently restored, provides an ideal opportunity to learn about the history of the province in the last 100 years or so of the Saudi State. It is a beautiful adobe building with distinctive Najrani features including white washed windows and crown-like battlements around the top.

Al A'an Palace



The Al-Aan Palace is one of the most remarkable pieces of architecture in the Wadi Najran.  The main tower is 5 storeys high and dominates the oasis from the summit of a rocky outcrop.  You can’t go into the building because people live there, but there’s an excellent view from the car park over the oasis.  Najran’s fort has only been around since 1942 and was decommissioned in 1967 when relations with Yemen improved.  Built as a self-sustaining complex, it has around 60 rooms, including livestock pens and its own mosque.



The 73-meters high Najran dam is one of the region’s tourist attractions and is considered one of the most beautiful touristy places with its natural charming view, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy scenic views on both sides of the dam.   It is the largest water dam in the Kingdom, the Najran Valley Dam, with a storage capacity of 85 million cubic meters (3,000 million cubic feet), it cost total 772 million Saudi Riyals.  Little known fact:  when you stand at the dam and look south, the Yemen border can be seen meters away across the wadi bed.

Flat Stanley at the Najran Dam
Flat Stanley at the Najran Dam













Najran Popular Market The market is near the Old Royal Palace and consists of many single storey buildings. This market is considered to be one of the most popular traditional markets in the Kingdom. Even today, there are many craftsmen who still have stalls in this market.  The market has acquired a reputation for being one of the best places for tourists and sightseers to visit when in this area.

Flat Stanley finds "A Cache Too Far"
Flat Stanley at "Hash Cache 1"











The Raoum Castle, located on the peak of Mount Raoum in Najran Region, is distinctive for its historic and scenic location. It overlooks Al-Hudhun agricultural village and the green oasis on the banks of Najran Valley.  Mount Raoum, is 1,800 meters high, the historic castle appeared at the peak, surrounded by a thick wall made of blocks carved from rocks. The castle has several small windows at the top which were used for defense.  Inside, there are five rooms built of mud, rocks and plaster, a spiral staircase and the roof is made of wood from palm, ithil and sidr trees. The castle reflects the region’s history, civilization and ancient architectural style and art.

Flat Stanley at Qaryat Al Faw
Flat Stanley at Qaryat Al Faw













Qaryat al-fau, or Qaryat al-Fāw, also appears in the southern text as Qaryat Dhu Kahl, Qaryat al-Hamraa and Dhat al-Jnan.  Today people in the region called it Qaryat al-fau, the name deriving from its geographical location at a passageway through the Tuwaiq Mountains where it intersects with Wadi Al Dawasir, overlooking the northwestern edge of the Empty Quarter desert. It is located about 700 km southwest of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia. Qaryat al-fau is classified as one of the most important ancient pre-Islamic cities in Saudi Arabia, and it was the capital of the Kinda Kingdom from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD, which was one of the ancient Arab kingdoms in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula. The Kinda originally came from Yemen after the demolition of the Marib Dam which led to the fall of the Kingdom of Sheba. In fact, after the demolition of the Marib dam the kingdom of Sheba was divided into three tribal areas, one of the tribes being the Kinda, which was a part of the Sabaean Kingdom of Ma’rib. The other two tribes were Muntherids, who built their kingdom in southern Iraq, and the Ghassan, whose kingdom was in what is now called Syria. The Kingdom of Kindah is thought by many historians to have been a Bedouin tribal kingdom, unlike other organised kingdoms founded in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Rub’ al Khali (الربع الخالي‎) or Empty Quarter is one of the largest sand deserts in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including southern Saudi Arabia, and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.  The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi) (the area between long. 44°30′ −56°30′E., and lat. 16°30′ −23°00′N), more than the combined land areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.  The desert is neither inhabited nor traversed by the Bedouin.  It is, however, periodically entered by geocachers and Flat Stanley.

Empty Quarter
Stuck in the Empty Quarter

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