Aseer Province, named after the eponymous tribe, is one of the Saudi Arabian provinces crossed by the Sarawat mountains - the majestic massif spreading throughout the whole country along the Rea Sea shore from the border with Jordan down to Yemen. Aseer Province not only hosts the most southern part but also the highest point, named Jebel Sawdah, reaching nearly 3000 meters above sea level.
Its location on a high plateau ensures a climate which is not only cooler than the torrid Central Arabia but also more humid, thanks to the monsoon rains which water the abundant vegetation for several months every year.
Aseer Province is the northern territory of what was called "Arabia Felix" during antiquity. This name was given by the Romans to the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula because of its exceptionally pleasant environment.
But Aseer Province is not only about green plateaus; it also comprises vast desert plains of Central Arabia (also called Najd) on the north, and the grandiose cliffs to the west, which separate the high plateau to the coastal plain of Tihama. Thanks to these very different configurations a trip to Aseer Province can in fact experience three different climates in barely 100 kilometers!
Traditional Heritage of Aseer Province
Once a great producer of coffee, wheat, alfalfa, barley, senna, honey, and frankincense, Aseer Province has kept its agricultural traditions alive. In the museum of Al-Gheil, visitors can experience the lifestyle of Aseer people before the changes enabled by the discovery of oil. In today's famous markets of Abha and Khamis Mushayt some of the products that made the ancient reputation can still be found.
One of the most visible examples of cultural heritage in Aseer Province is its traditional architecture. Indeed, throughout the whole province plenty of old villages embellish the already charming landscapes.
Two main types of construction are identifiable: the ones made with mud bricks, like in Dhahran Al-Janub, and the ones made with stones, like the famous village of Rijal Alma'a
History of Aseer Province
Having been fertile for millennia, despite the climate changes, it is located to the north of the ancient Kingdoms of Sheeba and Himyar, within the territory named by the Romans 'Arabia Felix', which was crossed by caravans for more than a millennium, the Province of Aseer has a long history.
Indeed, prehistoric tombs, stone structures, abundant rock art, and ancient inscriptions that can be found in Aseer Province show it was inhabited for millennia. And not only its highest areas but also in today's dryer plain on the north.
Some inscriptions found in today's Yemen attests that in 25 BCE Aelius Gallus, the 2nd praefect of Roman Egypt, led an expedition to capture the city of Marib in today's Yemen in order to take control on the trade of frankincense, then a priceless commodity. Although the expedition reached its destination it remained a failure as the Romans never succeeded in keeping this area under control.
During the 5th and 6th centuries CE the area saw other military expeditions but this time coming from Yemen as the kings of Himyar, after having conquered the whole of Yemen, were attempting to take control of Central Arabia and its trade roads - the most famous being the one that had elephants ahead of the convoy and whose objective was to submit Mekkah. The failure to seize the Holy City is even quoted in the Quran which describes the invaders as "people of the elephant". This epic episode is supposed to have taken place in the year of the birth of the Prophet Mohamed, 570 CE.
The image of the elephants remained engrained in people's memory to the point that the route they took is still known today as the Road of the Elephant - "Darb Al-Feel" in Arabic. In his book "Arabian Highlands" Harry St John Philby mentions the Wadi Harjab in Aseer Province as being on this famous road.
Later in the 20th century, during his campaign to regain the control over Central Arabia, Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud sent his warriors, known as Ikhwan, to occupy Aseer Region, a situation finally formalized in 1934 with the signing of the Treaty of Taif between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The region was still largely unknown by the west when Harry St John Philby explored it in 1932 and it was finally no longer a blank spot on the map only when he published his observations in 1952.
Places to visit in Aseer Province
Tours organizing trips to Aseer Province
The Arabian Highlands (author: Florent Egal)