Dating to pre-Islamic times, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest preserved site south of Jordan for the Nabataean civilization, making it a site with global significance. Recent excavations have pushed its origins back even earlier than believed, with the discovery of a Bronze Age tumulus and a bone carbon-dated to as early as 1892 BCE. Its tomb facades represent some of the best examples of Nabataean architecture and the many inscriptions provide important clues to its peoples and languages.
As the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom, it was second only to Petra as a place for the elite to bury their dead, and current research suggests it was the most southerly known outpost of the Roman presence. Excavations continue to unearth ancient mysteries, and today you can tour more than 100 well-preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut into the rock.
This natural sandstone outcrop has eroded over time to create the unmistakable likeness of a giant elephant with its trunk touching the ground. Towering more than 50 meters tall and surrounded by hundreds of nearby monoliths, this spectacular example of AlUla’s geomorphological wonders has become one of the region’s iconic images and top tourist attractions.
Perhaps one of Saudi Arabia’s most significant epigraphic sites, Jabal ‘Ikmah contains hundreds of etched and relief inscriptions acting as an “open library” for the Dadanitic and Lihyanic cultures as far back as the 6th through 3rd Centuries. These writings shed light on the origins of the Arabic language, beliefs and practices. Located 5 km north of Old Town AlUla, this location is believed to have been a highly spiritual place due to its secluded location in a canyon valley and inscriptions recording offerings and giving thanks.
AlUla was also capital of the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan from at least around the 8th century BCE until the early 1st century BCE. As the capital, it was considered one of the most developed cities on the Arabian Peninsula during the first millennium, owing its prosperity to being at a crossroads of the long-distance incense trade. Excavations by King Saud University recovered colossal human-figure sculptures, possibly from inside a temple. The necropolis of the Lion Tombs is the standout feature of this site.