A major oasis city along the pilgrimage road from Baghdad

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The importance of the Darb Zubaydah

When the Abbasid Caliphs took power in 132AH/750 CE one of their first major decisions was to move the capital of the Caliphate from Damascus to Kufa in today’s Iraq. Shortly after this move, as early as the year 134 AH/751 CE, the first of the Abbasid Caliphs, Abdallah Abul'Abbas, ordered the installation of milestones, flags and lighthouses along the trail from Kufa to Makkah, named by then the Darb Heerah, in order to ease the trip of pilgrims and merchants.

In 762, The Caliph Al-Mansour chose a location 170 km north of Kufa to found a new city named Baghdad that would be the main capital of the Caliphate for five centuries during which the road between Baghdad/Kufa and Mekkah/Madinah became a major trade road and the most important pilgrimage route.

The succeeding caliphs completed the development of the route and provided it with all necessary amenities like water reservoirs, wells, palaces and rest houses all along the road. Zubaydah bint Ja’far, the granddaughter of the Caliph Abu Ja’far al-Mansour (the founder of Baghdad) and wife of the fifth Abbasid Caliph, Harun ar-Rashid, had a prominent role in the improvement of the facilities along the road. Her efforts to ease the perilous trip to Makkah were remembered and the road was renamed from Darb Heerah to Darb Zubaydah.

A major station located at a crossroads

Located halfway between Kufa and Makkah, and close to the crossroads between one road going to Madinah and another one leading to Makkah, the oasis of Fayd (in Arabic: فيد) was at the most strategic location of the Darb Zubaydah.

The oasis also benefited from underground water​ that was sourced from wells and nearby wadis that drain rainwater towards cisterns built by the people of Fayd. With such assets Fayd attracted pilgrims and merchants who converged to this oasis for more than five centuries, as attested to by famous Arab travelers.​

In 1327 CE (727 AH) the renowned Arab explorer Ibn Battuta visited Fayd after leaving Makkah: "We are in the fortified town of Fayd, a large fortress in a simple land. It is surrounded by a wall and the Arabs live there along with the pilgrims thanks to the trade. The pilgrims leave some of their belongings there when they arrive from Iraq on their way to Makkah and when they come back they collect them. Fayd is half way from to Baghdad, and from there to Kufa, it is a twelve-day march on a good road and they are thankful for the water in the cisterns".​

Pilgrimage and trade roads between Kufa and Makkah (credit: Hélène David)

Pilgrimage and trade roads between Kufa and Makkah (credit: Hélène David)

Al-Jazairi who died in 1572 CE (980 AH), described Fayd with these words: "It is a large fortress in the tower of Musharraf that is located in a simple stretch of land, surrounded by a wall of ancient architecture, and inhabited by Arabs who live with the pilgrim thanks to the trade. The water in this place is plenty in wells and the pilgrim will find a cistern where the water was gathered from the rain. In Fayd the pilgrim choose from the sheep and the meats and milk, and can buy from the camels what they need​".

Fayd archeological site

The Museum

Before accessing the archeological site the visitors go through the Fayd Museum which is worth checking out to see artifacts from the ancient fortress and its surroundings.

The richness of the unearthed items proves the long lasting and intense human activity such as millstones, jewels, earthenware jars, pottery, incense burners, coins, etc...

Some photos show aerial view of the main features of the ancient city and also some early Islamic inscriptions carved on rocks by pilgrims and merchants  in the surroundings of the city.

Millstones excavated at Fayd (photo: Florent Egal)

Millstones excavated at Fayd (photo: Florent Egal)

The old oasis city

On the south of the archeological site, excavations have revealed an area with ovens once used by the population of Fayd. Their amount and their distance to the fortress give an idea of the extend of the old city.

Some estimations state that at its golden age the ancient oasis city of Fayd hosted more than 1 000 souls that provided shelter and supplies to the pilgrims and merchants traveling between Baghdad and Makkah.

Old ovens of Fayd (photo: F. Egal)

Old ovens of Fayd (photo: F. Egal)

Main water cistern (photo: Florent Egal)

Main water cistern (photo: Florent Egal)

One of the most famous features of Fayd is its large cisterns that gathered water flowing from the nearby Harrat Umm Hurruj towards the oasis. The one located on the north of the fortress is about 22 meters wide and nearly 2 meters deep.

On the south of the excavations is the old mosque where Fayd's population, together with pilgrims and merchants from the east of the Muslim Empire used to pray for at least 5 centuries.

Fayd's mosque (photo: Florent Egal)

Fayd's mosque (photo: Florent Egal)

The Citadel

In order to protect the wealth of Fayd that aroused the envy of the surrounding populations the inhabitants of the oasis built impressive fortifications composed of two concentric compounds made of black basalt cut from the nearby lava fields of the Harrat Umm Al-Hurruj.

The two compound walls of the Citadel Fayd Citadel (photo: Florent Egal)

The two compound walls of the Citadel Fayd Citadel (photo: Florent Egal)

The most external compound is 750 meters long, includes 10 towers, and protected an inhabited area. The most central compound is 350 meters long and was the main military stronghold whose walls reached as high as seven meters. Those old walls were rebuilt recently to give to the visitors an idea of the importance of the fortified place of Fayd.

Habitations outside the walls of Fayd Fortress (photo: Florent Egal)

Habitations outside the walls of Fayd Fortress (photo: Florent Egal)

On the south of the fort, in between the two compound walls, the excavations unearthed the walls and pillars of what used to be the habitations and possibly the shops of the people of the old oasis of Fayd.

This part of the city in between the two compound walls shows an organized plan with houses built along a main street parallel to the walls.

How to visit the old oasis city of Fayd?

Fayd archeological site is just a 7-kilometer drive on tarmac on the east of the highway between Ha’il and Buraydah. There is a sign post on the highway that indicates Fayd - but watch out for changes to the spelling - and the nearby modern village is available on GoogleMaps. The archeological site is on the north of the road that leads to the village.

Directions in Fayd's ancient fortress (photo: Florent Egal)

Directions in Fayd's ancient fortress (photo: Florent Egal)

Once inside the site some panels show the directions to the main features and monuments of the archeological area.

The site is fenced and prior permission is required, hence we advise you to check with our guides who can arrange all administrative requirements with the Saudi authorities.

Gate of Fayd's archeological site (photo: Florent Egal)

Gate of Fayd's archeological site (photo: Florent Egal)

Tours organizing trips to the old oasis city of Fayd



A major city along the pilgrimage road from Baghdad (author: Florent Egal)

About the Author

My name is Florent Egal, I am a French national living in Riyadh since January 2010. After six years of exploration of Saudi Arabia I have decided to show with this website that KSA has much more to offer than the stereotype landscape of empty extends of sand dunes. I hope that after reading through these pages people will feel the same willingness and amazement than I have to discover this fascinating country

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