Founded in the 7th century, the historic city center of Jeddah, Al-Balad, literally translates to "the Town." Though Al-Balad's original city walls came down in the 1940s, its unique architecture and charm is preserved to this day. With the old city gates, historic mosques, a variety of traditional markets (souqs), and a museum, there's plenty to see and do in the Al-Balad section of Jeddah.
Historic old town
Al-Balad is memorable for its distinctive and tight-knit alleyways, streets, piazzas, and quads, which provide relief from the direct heat of the sun and add to the distinct charm of the city center. Al-Balad is made up of four old quarters: Al-Sham, Al-Mazloom, Al-Bahar, and Al-Yaman. It is home to several famous mosques, such as Al-Basha, Ukash, and Al-Hanafi, each with inspiring architecture and histories spanning centuries. The cemetery in the neighborhood is famous for its folklore, and legend has it that Eve (Hawwa in Arabic) is buried there.
Gateway to Mecca
Located 75 km away from the holy city, this port city was once the meeting point for pilgrims where they congregated before continuing their journey together. Al-Balad is home to a historic gate called Bab Mecca, which is a popular attraction in the old town. Another popular attraction is Masjid al Shafi’i, the oldest mosque in Jeddah. Built in the traditional style of the period 970–1171 CE, the colorful mosque has walls with intricate Islamic calligraphy and patterns.
This historic part of Jeddah is a must-visit for shopping aficionados who love a good bargain and unusual souvenirs. There are hundreds of small shops or souqs along the narrow alleys, filled with everything from watches and clothes to incense and antiques. Remember to haggle for your price. If you visit during Ramadan, you can experience numerous traditions and get a glimpse of the unique Saudi culture. It is also the best time to sample some mouthwatering Saudi delicacies with the locals as they break their fast. However, the opening hours of shops may differ during this time.
A cultural center
Al-Balad is also home to the famous Naseef House dating back to the 19th century. Once the house of a famous family and later the residence of King Abdul Aziz, it was converted to a museum and cultural center in 2009. The architecture of the house is fascinating with ramp-like stairs where camels carrying supplies could go up and down. Head up to the rooftop for a view of the entire area, admire the calligraphy on the walls, or take a picture with the oldest tree in Jeddah. The house is also popularly known as “the house with the tree” because it was once the only surviving tree in the city.
Good to know
When shopping in the souqs, be prepared to haggle for a fair price. You may even have to pretend to leave before you and the seller agree. If you are visiting during Ramadan, take the trouble of finding out prayer timings and plan your excursions accordingly. It is also a good idea to dress modestly.