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Monday, March 11, 2013

Visit to Al Balad


The Souk

In the heart of Jeddah lies Al Balad, the historic market area that is an absolute must-see on any visit to Jeddah.  It houses the oldest buildings located in Jeddah, some of the few remnants of Hijazi culture left over from the capture of the city by Saudi Arabia's first king, Abdulaziz.

Al Balad is an expansive souk with both open-air shops and stalls within long buildings like this one
I only visited Al Balad at night the first time we were in Saudi Arabia as an evening activity after a day of meetings and a quick stop to purchase souvenirs.  Our first night, our guides tried to keep the entire group of 10 students together, which never really works.  We lost one student, who was a savvy enough traveler to hail a cab and make it back to the hotel before us, even though he knew no Arabic.

Al Balad is well-lit and feasible as a tourist day or night.  You will however see a marked difference in the place depending on the time of day you visit.  The shops are known to sell things at much lower prices than brick and mortar stores of the city, so the area is frequented by poor or low-class immigrant /expatriate workers, but even more so in the evening.  In the evenings, the place is incredibly crowded and the intriguing architecture, save for the mosques, are unlit and hidden from view, so I recommend you visit during the day.

What You'll Find Here
This man has been selling prayer beads in a stall in Al Balad for 38 years.  He also gave us each  a set of beads of our choice.  I chose a simple, amber-scented set.

There are few women shopping in Al Balad
My favorite mosque picture from Al Balad
During the call to prayer you hear a symphony (or cacophony, depending on your point of view) of many muezzin from all of the surrounding mosques calling the believers.
Salesman in a spice shop
Piles of spices

Dates! The best kind are Medina dates, which are usually packaged and pricey

Dresses for sale in a stall
 Al Balad Architecture, Now Dilapidated and Ignored




The wood on these old buildings is rotting, and nothing is being done about it at all

An old water fountain.  Wealthier families would have these installed in the street as a public service for all to utilize.
Nasseef House

Nasseef is the oldest home in Jeddah.  It was owned by a local merchant until Jeddah was taken by king Abdulaziz and his army, when the king took it over for himself.  It then served as a library and is now a museum that is usually open to the public, but was unfortunately closed the day I was by.  The house used to just be known as "the house with the tree" since keeping a tree in blazing Saudi Arabia is pretty difficult and few homes had them.
Nasseef House in Al Balad


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Troy, AL, United States
I am a Political Science student at Troy University in southeastern Alabama. I have been given fantastic opportunities to travel to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among other brief trips, to study and glimpse other cultures. I believe there is much to be learned about other people while studying, and I want to share my experiences with you.