A land of dreams of ancient Arabia
Ha’il Province (Arabic: حائل), located in the centre north of the country, is a land where the dream landscapes of Arabia are the theatre of the 1001 Nights. Indeed from the grandiose white volcanoes of the Harrat Bani Rashid on the west till the vast extends of dunes of the majestic Nafud Al-Kebir surrounding the legendary Jebel Shammar, and from the ancient artists of prehistory till the early explorers of Arabia, Hail Province offers a travel through both mythical Arabian landscapes and time.
Its capital, the city of Ha’il lays on the eastern side of the massive Jebel Shammar which gave his name to one of the tribes of Saudi Arabia, the Al-Shammary, originating from this region of the Arabian Peninsula and that can be found today till Syria and the Levant.
Ha’il is well known by the generosity of its people in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world as it is the place where lived Hatim al-Tai who was a famous Arab poet and one of the characters of the 1001 Nights. Stories about his extreme generosity have made him an icon to Arabs up till the present day, as in the proverbial phrase "more generous than Hatem".
Ha'il Province host two of the few sites of Saudi Arabia listed as UNESCO World Heritage: Jubbah and Ash-Shuwamis.
The Arabian Peninsula has probably been inhabited by mankind for 1 million years thanks to its location close to the cradle of humanity in Eastern Africa and to several periods of humid climate which saw lush vegetation growing in many areas which today are arid. Those early inhabitants have left tracks of their presence with tools and ancient rock art in many places, and the Province of Ha’il is one the territories where men let some of their most magnificent testimonies of the ancient human presence and the green past of this today's dry land.
Indeed throughout the whole Province men have carved in the rock some of the most aesthetic rock art for about 10 000 years representing human beings but also animals like buffalos, ibexes, ostriches, lions, camels,... along with inscriptions in ancient alphabets. For their outstanding richness the most famous sites of Jubbah and Ash-Shuwamis were listed as UNESCO World Heritage in 2015.
The time of caravan trade and pilgrimage
When the caravan trade developed in the Arabian Peninsula from the 1st millennium BC the Province of Ha’il became one of its crossroads thanks its strategic location in the middle of the north of the Peninsula. Indeed, it was not only on the way of an east-west road between the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea but also on a north-south road between the ancient Empires of Mesopotamia and Yemen (Saba, Hadramawut, Himyar,...). As surprising as it sounds it is quite probable that caravans used to cross the Nafud-al-Kebir (“the great sand dunes desert”) that separates the city of Ha’il located on the southern side of the desert from Dumat-al-Jandal on the northern side.
Later on Ha’il became one of the major stopovers on the Darb Zubaida, the pilgrimage road built on the 12th century by the Queen of Baghdad.
Land of predilection of early explorers of Arabia
From 1836 until 1921 Ha’il City was the center of the Emirate of Ha’il led by a clan of the Shammar tribe, the Bani Rashid. This Emirate stretched from the actual border with Iraq till Wadi Ad-Dawasir in today's central Saudi Arabia.
During the Al Rashid period many foreign travelers visited Ha'il and the Rashidi emirs, and described their impressions in different journals and books, including those of Georg August Wallin (1854), William Gifford Palgrave (1865), Charles Huber (1878), Lady Anne Blunt (1881), Charles Montagu Doughty (1888), and Gertrude Bell (1914).
In 1921, King Abdulaziz was able to regain Riyadh and then capture the city of Ha'il. In 1922 the whole province of Ha'il became part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Ha’il Province offers a mix of landscapes with, on one side, the typical sand dune desert of Nefud-al-Kebir and on the other side mountainous landscapes with, notably, the majestic Jebel Shammar, a granite massif located to the north of the city of Ha’il where green wadi can be found
But it’s where rock and sand mix together than the most stunning landscapes are created, like in the area of the Jibal Sunaynah, a group of sharp granite rocks surrounded by sand banks, located on the west of the city of Ha’il.
Along the southern border of the immense Nefud Al-Kebir some sandstone formations show the limitless creativity of the erosion on this more friable rock. The fancy shapes and natural arch of the Jibal Hibran give an idea of what a traveler can admire when roaming in that area.
Sand banks laying on the mountains' sides offer easy access to stunning view points on both the massifs and the surrounding desert plains.
Places to visit in Hail Province
A land of dreams of ancient Arabia (author: Florent Egal)