A timeless oasis
The oasis of Dumat Al-Jandal is located in the very heart of the province of Al Jawf, 50 km south of Sakaka, the capital town and the seat of the Al-Jawf Emirate.
It is the largest and best-known oasis at the northern limit of the great al-Nafud desert. Its geographical position means that in the past it lay on both the east-west and north-south routes and became a natural port of call for traders.
The town has survived through the ages thanks to the local ability to exploit water, which is supplied by a complex hydraulic system of wells, channels, and underground tunnels named Qanât.
A visit to the local palm grove provides a most pleasant and picturesque experience for tourists; green fields and plants are distributed with apparent anarchy revealing the natural lushness of the area. Palm trees still provide the most delicious dates, olive trees and grapevines are wide spread and are often the home of exotic birds.
Over the centuries, it is believed that Dumat al-Jandal served as an important station in the complex system of trade routes crossing the Arabian Peninsula, both from the north to south and from east to west. The oasis is located half way between the main urban settlements that developed along the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine), the Arabian Gulf (Faîlaka, Bahrain, Thaj, etc) and Western Arabia –Madain Salih, Tayma, etc).
From the 8th century BCE, Assyrian texts refer to caravans arriving in Assyria from the “far off peoples of Tayma and Saba”. In order to reach Mesopotamia they could have passed through ancient Adummat, which is today’s Dumat al-Jandal.
During the 1st century BCE Dumat al-Jandal was incorporated in the Nabatean Empire and developed a rich culture till the 2nd century CE when it merged with Roman civilization following the inclusion of the oasis within the province of Arabia Petraea. From the 1st century CE onwards, Dumat al-Jandal is mentioned in Roman sources in relation to its strategic geographical position and as a commercial station in the north of the peninsula. In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder speaks of “Domatha” as an important oasis. Ptolemy, in the 2nd century CE also mentions “Dumaetha” in his Geography, describing it as a large city in Arabia.
In later Roman times the oasis was included in a trade circuit leading to Byzantium. The last attestations of commercial activity in the oasis date to the first centuries of the Islamic era.
In the 7th century Dumat al-Jandal saw four expeditions led by Prophet Mohamed and his companions and was fully subjugated by Islam in the days of first caliph Abu Bakr Assediq.
The site’s status as a major trade city only began to diminish in the 9th century CE when the caravan trade switched essentially to Makka and Medina and followed the pilgrimage routes or lead to Damascus and Baghdad by the Zubayda route.
Qasr Marid, the fortress of Dumat al-Jandal
The castle Marid (which means “the rebel” in Arabic) stands on a natural limestone outcrop overlooking the valley where the ancient oasis lies. Its position, occupying what appears to have been a genuine acropolis, suggests that this must have been the site of one of the oldest settlements at Dumat al-Jandal, dating at least back to Nabatean times.
The ‘Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque
The ‘Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque is certainly the most emblematic monument in the Al Jawf province, visited by hundreds of tourists each year and rightly presented in brochures as a hallmark of Saudi faith and pride.
According to Saudi scholars it was erected in the Umayyad period (661-749) although some attributes its construction to the time of Islam’s second caliph ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (634-644) and even carries his name.
Pyramidal in shape, the minaret has five storeys rising to a height of about 15 meters, and ends with a kind of pyramidion. According to Saudi scholars, the plan of the mosque is similar to that of the Prophet Mohamed’s house in al-Madina, although smaller. The minaret would have been built later and its original orientation, different from the Qibla, could be explained by the orientation of the alley and the construction of the adjacent neighborhood.
The oasis’ walls
In the 13th century, Abu Sa’ad al-Sakuni, whose remarks were reported by the medieval geographer Yaqut, mentions the presence of a “fortified enclosure, and inside it, Qasr Marid”. The monumental ancient enclosure wall located in the western sector of the oasis which stretches over more than 2.5 km probably dates back to Nabatean-Roman period.
The triclinium is an emblematic construction type of the Hellenistic, Etruscan, Roman and Nabatean eras. It comprised three large benches joined together to form a U shape around an empty place. In practice the triclinium was a venue for banqueting where an important part of the social and recreational life of a family or community took place. The triclinium of Dumat al-Jandal was built on the edge of a vast natural terrace dominating a valley to the west of the oasis. It offers an exceptional view over the whole oasis.
In the 19th century the oasis is made up of a succession of villages situated close to one another, also called “Suq”. Each village comprises a group of houses in mud-bricks with flat roofs, surrounded by a large circular enclosing wall in brick with just one entrance. The houses, set out in orderly fashion, are separated by small individual gardens. A vast space in the centre of the village was left empty, apparently to keep the camels and hold markets. Each village is presided over by a Sheikh, and the “confederation” of villages is placed under the authority of a grand Sheikh, who at the beginning of the 19th century collected a tribute for Ibn Saud.
A timeless oasis (author: Florent Egal)