Jeddah - Saudi Arabia

Jeddah is a modern metropolis with an ancient soul. Al-Balad, the Old City, is a historical maze where Thousand and One Nights fairy tales seem to become reality. Stroll through the souks and narrow alleys of Al-Balad and be blown away by the many impressions.

If you have been watching the Formula One race in Saudi Arabia, you already caught a glimpse of Jeddah. The country's second city is dotted with highways and concrete buildings. But if you think the modern metropolis on the Red Sea has no soul, you are wrong.

Jeddah was born out of Al-Balad. Its ancient, seventh-century center is an Arab gem with a Mediterranean feel. A maze of more than 650 historic buildings made of coral stone, glue brick and wood. Elaborate wooden rawasheen balconies hang from the facades, tropical plants climb up the walls and the smell of fresh spices meets you on every street corner. Stroll through the souks and narrow alleys and be blown away by the many impressions while visiting Al-Balad.

Be mindful of the many merchants touting their wares here. Most, however, will respect a friendly rejection and respond with a smile. Al-Balad is best visited in the evening, after the last prayer. Then you are assured of open stores and a table at a restaurant (highly recommended is Foul Fattah, a restaurant that has been around for more than 40 years). Park your rental car, if you already have one, at the hotel and take a cab to Al-Balad. This way you avoid traffic stress and don't drive around endlessly looking for a parking spot.

Al-Balad has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014 and is being largely renovated in line with UNESCO guidelines, reusing original materials wherever possible. The goal of the restoration is not to turn the neighborhood into a tourist attraction, however, it is to return the young generation of Saudi citizens to what was once the beating heart of Jeddah.

The Gateway to Mecca

The pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, is basically mandatory for every adult and healthy Muslim. Where pilgrims today arrive at one of the largest airport terminals in the world, they used to arrive by boat. The port of Al-Balad had a strategic location on the Red Sea and the trade route toward the Indian Ocean. For a long time, the coastal town served as the gateway to Mecca, located ninety kilometers away. Thus, in addition to the transit of goods, the port also provided for the supply of pilgrims.

The House of Nassif in Al-Balad

Little remains of the historic city's seventh-century remains. But do not grieve; while walking through Al-Balad you can still marvel at centuries-old architecture. Some of the imposing buildings have served as city palaces. The most famous is the House of Nassif, built between 1872 and 1881 for Omar Nassif, then governor of Jeddah. The house measures as much as nine hundred square meters and was one of the first Ottoman-style buildings.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the House of Nassif was inhabited for about ten years by the first king and founder of Saudi Arabia: Abdoel Aziz al Saud. For Saudi Arabians, therefore, the structure is of great historical value.

Since 2009, the house in Al-Balad has been open to the public. The museum hosts exhibitions and lectures by historians. The rooftop terrace is the ideal place to try sobia, a fermented sweet drink or especially try the kebab with green peppers.

Jeddah Corniche

The area is located in northern Jeddah on a promenade of more than 4 kilometers along golden sandy beaches, bays, resorts and luxury stores. The Jeddah Corniche is also known as the Jeddah Waterfront. It is a beautiful location with lushly landscaped walking and biking trails, where people love to stroll, run or cycle along the various paths and piers. In the evening, locals gather here to enjoy the sunset or, after an afternoon relaxing on the beach, finish the day at one of the typical Arabic restaurants. It is also the ideal place to strike up a conversation with locals and thus learn more about the mysterious Saudi Arabia.

High, higher, highest

In Jeddah, they have a penchant for height, and the Tower of Jeddah embodies this love perfectly. With a height of more than 1 kilometer, the Tower of Jeddah is to become the very tallest skyscraper world. With this, it will eclipse the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The architect of this skyscraper is American Adrian Smith, who was previously involved in the development of the Burj. Although construction has been stalled for several years, the project is now back in full swing. Eventually, the tower will house apartments, hotels, stores and, at 682 meters, the world's highest observation deck. Just a little more patience, and in a few years, Saudi Arabia will literally be at your feet.

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