Al Ahsa - Saudi Arabia

Al Ahsa takes its name from one of the largest oases on earth: the Al-Ahsa Oasis. In the middle of the desert are as many as three million date palm trees. Atop Al Qarah Mountain, you will be rewarded with a 360-degree view of the endless foliage of the Al-Ahsa Oasis.

Al Ahsa takes its name from one of the greatest oases on earth: the Al-Ahsa Oasis. It is not a mirage - nor are you suffering from sunstroke. In the middle of the desert, in an area the size of Eindhoven, are as many as three million date palm trees. The endless foliage stands out brightly against the sandy-colored frame of Ash-Sharqiyah, the country's easternmost and also largest province. You have to see it to believe it.

Unlike many other Saudi mega-projects, with bright green lawns and lavish fountains, the Al-Ahsa Oasis is irrigated naturally. In classical Arabic, ahsa means "the sound of underground water. Since the Stone Age, people and plants here have been fed by fresh water from underground springs. Over the centuries, numerous settlements sprouted in the oasis, including Al Hofuf, the largest city and commercial heart of the region. Al Hofuf is also known as Al Ahsa.

A sea of three million palm trees

Since 2018, part of the Al Ahsa Oasis has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The unique interplay between man and his environment can still be seen. Stroll along landscaped wells, canals and gardens, and visit the historic forts that were meant to protect the water treasure.

The scale and beauty of the Al Ahsa Oasis really become apparent once you look over it. If you walk to the top of the 75-meter-high Al Qarah Mountain, you will be rewarded with a 360-degree view. No matter where you look, everywhere you see that green foliage, with the endless desert on the horizon.

Go up independently or enlist a guide. Also worth exploring are the narrow gorges and illuminated caves that run like veins through Al Qarah Mountain. The whole thing has been renamed the Land of Civilizations park. If you want to go up, you must first buy a ticket at the museum.

Immerse yourself in the local culture of Al-Ahsa

That the former inhabitants of the Al-Ahsa Oasis were far ahead of their time can also be seen in the Jawatha Mosque. The religious structure, built in the seventh century by the Bani Abd Al Qays tribe, is considered the oldest mosque in eastern Arabia and one of the first in the Islamic sphere of influence. According to tradition, it was the site of the second Friday prayer in history, after the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.

Unfortunately, except for five mud brick arches, the original structure was lost to time. The design of the current mosque was based on the Masmak Fortress in Riyadh and is reminiscent of a sand castle. Friday prayers are still recited in the Jawatha mosque today.

If you love shopping, your prayers will be answered at the Souq Al Qaisariy in Al Hofuf. From Arabic spices to leather sandals and oil lamps; here you will find almost everything you need under one roof.

In the evening, the streets around the souk fill with street vendors. This is your chance to immerse yourself in the cuisine of Al-Ahsa. Hesawi, a red-grain rice, is a local favorite. Other specialties include thareed, a bread soup, marqooq, a lamb stew, and majboos, a rice dish sprinkled with saffron. Get to know the taste of Saudi Arabia.

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