Jeddah, a bustling modern city and commercial hub, often called “The Bride of the Red Sea” has been an important city to civilisation in the Arabian Peninsula for 1500 years or so.
The second largest city in Saudi Arabia, with a population, and estimates vary widely, of nearly three million souls and covering an area of some 1600 sq km, it stretches along the shores from a busy industrial and port area in the south to expensive sea-shore residential areas in the north.
Until 1932, it was the capital of the Kingdom, Riyadh taking over in 1932 when the Al Saud dynasty finally became firmly established as the ruling family.
Quite apart from Jeddah’s importance as entrepot and commercial centre, a function that has sustained it for a couple of millennia, it has great importance as the ‘Gateway to Mecca’ some 60 miles by road to the east as it welcomes pilgrims by sea and air from all over the world for the yearly Hajj (around 2.5 million) and the Umra (Minor Pilgrimage) season that sees another 3 million or so.
The old city of Jeddah, Al Balad, gradually fell into disrepair as the new modern city developed. However, Jeddah had some very active local conservationists and engaged the attention of Prince Sultan bin Salman (the Saudi Spaceman) when he headed up the Saudi Commission for Tourism.
Al Balad, translated as "The Town”, was founded in the 7th century and historically served as the centre of Jeddah. Al-Balad's defensive walls were torn down in the 1940s. In the 1970s and 1980s, when Jeddah began to become wealthier due to the oil boom, many Jeddawis moved north, and the area fell into disrepair.
Over the last two decades or so, the combined efforts of Prince Sultan and the conservationists have halted the decline of Al Balad and seen a vigorous programme of conservation and restoration get underway.
In 2014, Balad became a UNESCO world Heritage site, the third in Saudi Arabia at the time, and finally achieved the status it richly deserved.