6 April 2016

Al Balad

The original settlement of Al Balad was the very first place I wanted to see in Jeddah.  This historic centre, more than 2,000 years old, is now a UNESCO world heritage site.  Balad (meaning the ‘town’) was an old fishing village located around a small natural harbour and was where, traditionally, pilgrims bound for Mecca made landfall in KSA.  Of course the small harbour has become the largest port in the country and one of the busiest in the world and many Jeddawis have moved north to the new residential centre leaving the original settlement to crumble.  While we knew the evening would be the most vibrant time to visit we decided to go in the daytime to get our bearings during the quiet hours and will return later on to view the hustle and bustle and ambience of the souk at night. 

Al Balad Jeddah
Al Balad is the oldest part of Jeddah
Al Balad Jeddah
Pedestrian lanes and covered souks combine to give the area a special ambiance
Our driver dropped us off at the edge of the district near the modern commercial centres.  We found ourselves rather disappointed as we had hoped for some old world charm.  We were not to be disappointed.  A few short steps inland and we noticed that the modern buildings started to give way to some much older structures.

Al Balad Jeddah
Newer buildings give way to the more atmospheric UNESCO site
One of the main features of the Al Balad area is the souk.  Although it looks small at first glance it is extensive and contains many side streets.  We got the impression that we could purchase just about anything we wanted here from abbayas, thobes and sandals to incense, toys and gold.  As with any market anywhere in the world the friendly stall holders were just waiting to strike up a conversation and show off their wears.   The market places are punctuated with beautifully carved entrance ways to small mosques hidden behind and above the shops and there are plenty of places to rest and enjoy a typically Arabian treat of coffee with cardamom or a refreshing fruit juice.  If you are looking for the smooth tourist experience of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul the souk here will disappoint, it is all together earthier, used by locals and much more dilapidated thus, as a result, has a great deal of charm.

Al Balad Jeddah
Friendly shop keepers invite you in
Al Balad Jeddah
Whilst mysterious doors appear seemingly out of nowhere
Coming out of the covered souk we joined what was signposted as the ‘historic hajj route’ which took pilgrims from the port to the Mecca gate.  The route is lined with still more shops.  A short way along the route the feel of the area changes significantly.  There are no more modern buildings to be seen.  Instead we found ourselves in a maze of lanes dominated by Balad’s famous coral houses.

Beautiful balconies adorn many of the houses
Al Balad Jeddah
In Balad even the street lights are beautiful
Al Balad Jeddah
Trees give much needed shade
More mundane (but delicious) wares are also for sale
Al Balad Jeddah
The streets become quiet at prayer time
Many of these houses have beautiful wooden balconies complete with lattice screens designed to let the cool air circulate in the houses and for women to look out without being observed.  A lot of the houses are falling into disrepair and some have collapsed in their entirety.  From the rubble it is possible to see the coral which was used as a unique building material for these houses.  Some of the houses are undergoing extensive renovation works.  The Nasif House has been completed and is open for viewing, a place we will certainly return to explore in more detail. 

Al Balad Jeddah
Many of the houses are crumbling into nothing
The Nasif House has been fully restored. 
Al Balad Jeddah
Others are undergoing extensive renovations
Al Balad Jeddah
As are some of the more accessible features
We took some time wandering in and out of the side streets, looking at the beautiful signs, carvings and doorways that can be found all over the area and, of course, looking skywards to view the distinctive and beautiful balconies. Every now and then a shaded courtyard with a tree offered some relief.  In KSA everything stops and all shops shut for half an hour during prayers.  As non-Muslims, prayers do not apply to us, so just before closing time we bought some fruit and enjoyed a break in the shade of a large tree in a quiet corner.

Al Balad Jeddah
Beautiful ceramics are commonplace
Al Balad Jeddah
Cats are everywhere
Al Balad Jeddah
Even something as functional as a door has been decorated
Al Balad Jeddah
The coral that has been used is clear in some of the buldings
Al Balad Jeddah
It almost beggars belief that cars, carts and pedestrians can
make their way through this maze of streets
Posted as part of the TravelAtHome linky the place for inspiration for places to visit that you might not otherwise hear about.

Ersatz Expat

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6 comments:

  1. I love to see local places like this, where everyone is just going about their day to day lives. I love the ceramic tiles, beautiful, and interesting to see coral used in building x

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    1. Thanks Sara - it is such a beautiful area

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  2. Having a good wander around the backstreets is always interesting when you are in a new town, but what streets you have found here. Cool! Looking forward to the post about the evening adventures!

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    1. Thanks Mama it was certainly an experience and we hope to go in the evening sometime!

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  3. Fascinating to see a different picture of KSA as so little is known about it apart form the bad press it gets in the West. I'd love to explore the souk; the more earthy and gritty the better! Sorry I've taken so long to get around to commenting on #travelathome this month, I was away for school hols and as you know I run a linky on the same day and I still haven't even caught up with that! Finally catching up now. thanks for your very moving comment on my post "13 hill villages"

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    1. I really must get round to writing a 'French' post for your linky. Exploring this practically unknown (to outsiders) part of the world was one of the big draws of coming to live here.

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