Al-Nefud - Saudi Arabia

In northern Saudi Arabia you will find Al-Nefud, the second largest sandy desert in the Arabian Peninsula. Believe it or not, the Al-Nefud desert was home to lakes, rivers and wetlands in the distant past. The historic oasis Tayma is a reminder of those ancient times.

In northern Saudi Arabia, just above the city of Hail, you will find the second largest sandy desert in the Arabian Peninsula: Al-Nefud. The merciless Al-Nefud desert is as large as the Benelux countries and is characterized by crescent-shaped dunes. A direct result of the violent gusts of wind that ravage the area on a regular basis.

Stretching for hundreds of kilometers, the Al-Nefud Desert experienced alternating periods of extreme drought and fertility. Today, the green oases in the Al-Nefud desert can be counted on two hands. It is therefore hard to imagine that in the distant past, the seemingly endless Al-Nefud desert harbored lakes, rivers and wetlands, making it home to many people and animals.

The lurid discovery of an 85,000-year-old fossil of a human finger provided the earliest evidence of the presence of modern humans outside Africa and the Levant, the area east of the Mediterranean Sea.

Green sea in a world of gold in the western Al-Nefud desert

A fine example of a contemporary oasis and historic settlement is Tayma, in the western part of the Al-Nefud Desert. Archaeological studies show that Tayma has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and was an important place on several trade routes. The historical site is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament or Tenach), as the home of the son and descendants of Ishmael.

Today Tayma is a vibrant city and a welcome distraction from the desert violence. As you move through the city, it becomes clear at a glance why it has been inhabited here for thousands of years - a myriad of date palms form a sea of green in an otherwise golden world. Not surprisingly, Tayma is the perfect place to buy fresh dates. It is delicious and healthy fruit that tastes great with anything.

A well and forty camels

The Hadaj well in Tayma has a diameter of eighteen meters and is one of the largest wells in the Arabian Peninsula. Since the sixth century BC, it has been a coming and going of thirsty people and their animals here. The forty wooden wheels around the well were driven by sometimes as many as forty camels at a time. Via ropes that ran over the wooden wheels, barrels were hoisted up from the well. All this to supply the agricultural lands with water.

A few hundred meters from the Hadaj well stands the imposing Tayma Fort. The fort is built in the Najdi style, which you see a lot on the Arabian Peninsula. The architectural style can be recognized by the unfired clay bricks. For now, the fort is not open to the public, but it is well worth admiring the exterior.

Want to visit Tayma? Highway 70 and 15 cross the Al-Nefud Desert and take you comfortably from Hail to Tayma, on well-paved roads. A normal type of car will suffice. So there is no need to rent an expensive 4×4. The roadtrip to Tayma is also the perfect introduction to the Al-Nefud desert.

Admire the beautiful landscapes and get out regularly and then walk a few hundred meters into the desert. You will feel void in the great emptiness of Al-Nefud, a special and humble feeling that will stay with you for a long time.

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