From the largest oasis to the largest desert
The Eastern Province is not only the largest of the 13 provinces of Saudi Arabia but it also hosts two of its most iconic features: the largest sand dune desert in the world, the Rub' Al-Khali, and the largest oil field in the world, Ghawar. Without forgetting the 500 kilometers of shoreline on the Arabian Gulf with countless pristine beaches and the majestic landscapes of Al-Ahsa region.
Its location along the Arabian Gulf links this region to the great history of the ancient Empires of Mesopotamia, Persia, and even Greece. Today the activity of the region is mainly driven by the exploitation of the oil and gas reserves by the state-owned company ARAMCO.
It is well known that during the Bronze Age on the Arabian Peninsula the neighbouring island of Bahrain was populated by people who built thousands of tumulus-shaped tombs. What is less known is that such human activity took place as well in today's Eastern Province. As an example it is believed that the site of Yabrin which hosts more than 3000 tombs was part of the same civilization as today's island of Bahrain, although it is located 300 kilometers from the Gulf.
From the 4th millennium BC Mesopotamian texts mention a great civilization living in a paradise place called Dilmun.
For a long time it was thought that Dilmun was only a legend but scholars of the 20th century clearly identified the Island of Bahrain as being the capital of this mythical land.
But the Dilmun civilization wasn't limited to that island and instead included part of today's governate of Al-Ahsa and spread along the Arabian Gulf coast until the island of Tarut close to Qatif and possibly even until the island of Failaka in today's Kuwait.
This mythical land of Bahrain, located on a major ancient maritime road between the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, and India was originally under the influence of Mesopotamia, conquered in the century 6th by the Persian Achaemid Empire, and later incorporated in Hellenistic Greece from the 3rd centuries AD by the fleet of Alexander the Great, who gave it the name of Tylos. It was later included in the Seleucid, Parthian, and Persian Empire till the Muslim conquest in the 7th century AD.
But during antiquity the Arabian Gulf coast was not the only place of major human activity as the Eastern Province was also crossed by the famous in-land caravan trade roads of frankincense and other valuable commodities travelling from ancient Yemen towards all the great empires. The Greek geographer of the first century BC, Strabo, mentions a major trade city named Gerrha and mentioned about its inhabitants that "Because of their trade, the Gerrhans became the richest of the Arabs". It is still debated today whether the ruins of Gerrha corresponds to the archaeological site of Al-Thaj or have to be found in the area of today's oasis of Al-Hofuf.
Places to visit in Eastern Province
A traveler in Eastern Province will enjoy visiting the following sites:
Tours organizing trips to the Eastern Province
From the largest oasis to the largest desert (author: Florent Egal)