A Saudi city open to the world

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In a country that is still synonym for many people of remote lands remained unknown for millennia, Jeddah shows a very different picture as a seaport city that has a long lasting tradition of exchanges with the rest of the world. This connectedness of Jeddah is attested by its Gamma+ ranking in 2012 by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.

Jeddah is a leader city in Saudi in terms of scientific research and engineering in Saudi Arabia that was rewarded by the 2thinknow Innovation Cities Emerging 11 Index that placed Jeddah at the fourth rank in the Africa - Middle-East region.

The Headquarters Business Park (photo: skyscrapercenter.com)

The Headquarters Business Park (photo: skyscrapercenter.com)

Jeddah Seashore (photo: Sami Naik)

Jeddah Seashore (photo: Sami Naik)

Jeddah has also natural assets thanks to its location on the Tihama plain along the Red Sea shore and its colorful coral reefs and white sand beaches — hence its nickname the “Bride of the Red Sea”.

The richness of the Red Sea waters can be admired directly from the shore where reefs are home of colorful corals and fish. Obhur on the north of Jeddah is famous among divers for its resorts with private beaches and its dive center.

Red Sea marvels are celebrated at the Fakieh Aquarium where are displayed more than 200 species including Sharks, Groupies, String Rays, Napoleon Wrasse, Sea Horses, Murrays, etc...

Fakieh Aquarium (photo: fakiehaquarium.com)

Fakieh Aquarium (photo: fakiehaquarium.com)

Coral reef in Obhur (photo: Ilkka Tuohela)

Coral reef in Obhur (photo: Ilkka Tuohela)

Pilgrimage Terminal at Jeddah Airport

Pilgrimage Terminal at Jeddah Airport

Jeddah is famous in the Muslim world as being the gateway to Makkah where hundreds of thousands of Muslim land every year for performing the pilgrimage to the Prophet Mosque and the Ka'aba.

History of Jeddah

The origin of the city of Jeddah is somehow linked to the one of its name that can be found under three different wordings that correspond to three explanations:​

  • 'Jeddah': this most common orthography claims that Jeddah was named after the Sheikh (head) of the tribe of Quda'ah, whose name was 'Jeddah bin Jarm bin Rayyan bin Helwan bin Ali bin Issac bin Quda'ah'
  • 'Joddah': meaning "seaside" in Arabic this name is quoted by the great Arab geographer of the 12th century CE Yaqout Al-Hamawi and is also mentioned by the famous Arab traveler of the 14th century CE Ibn Battuta.
  • 'Jaddah': this word means "grandmother" in Arab which could be linked to the belief that Hawa'a or 'Eve'-mother of all humans landed there from heaven and is buried in the city. There is a cemetery in the city known as 'Maqbarat Ummana Hawa'a' ('Cemetery of Our Mother Eve').

Whatever the origin of the name truly is, it is certain that Jeddah's area has been inhabited for several thousands of years as attested by some ancient stone structures (probably tombs) located in the Harrat Al-Jabriyah and the Harrat Nuqrah on the east of the city and that probably date back to the Bronze Age, meaning the 3rd millennia BCE.  And Thamudic inscriptions carved on the rocks of the surrounding wadis prove the activity of Jeddah area during the caravan trade period some 2000 years ago.

In 630 CE Jeddah was part of the early conquest of Muslim led by the Prophet Mohamed and was given the role of seaport of Makkah in 647 BCE by the third Muslim Caliph Othman Ibn Affan.​ From that time till nowadays Jeddah has remained the gateway to Makkah for pilgrims coming from out of the Arabian Peninsula.

In 969 CE the Fatimid Caliphate based in Cairo conquered the Hejaz including Makkah and Jeddah who benefited from the extensive maritime trade network the Fatimid rulers developed. Jeddah established ties with through the Indian Ocean all the way until China and its Song Dynasty.

In 1171 CE the famous ruler Saladin seized Jerusalem (Al-Quds in Arabic) and founded the new Ayyubid Caliphate that incorporated the Hejaz six years later in 1177 CE. This period of economic prosperity and intellectual activity Jeddah saw a reinforcement of Sunni Islam and its trade ties extended to Africa and Southeast Asia. In 1254 a knightly military caste named Mamlouk took power in Egypt and gained control of the Hejaz.

Unlike these changes of political power that didn't fundamentally modify the situation and role od Jeddah, the crossing of the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese admiral Vasco de Gama​ in 1497 CE was a turning point in Jeddah's relationship with the outside world. As a response to the Portuguese hostile incursion in the Indian Ocean a joint fleet was formed by Mamlouks, Gujarat (in today's northwestern India),  and Zamorin (today's Calicut).

This fleet first stopped at Jeddah to erect a stone wall as a harbor of refuge but then was destroyed in 1509 at the naval battle of Diu.

Portuguese attack on Jeddah 1517 (16th century the Ottoman age of exploration by Giancarlo Casale)

Portuguese attack on Jeddah 1517 (16th century the Ottoman age of exploration by Giancarlo Casale)

After this victory the Portuguese ruled over the Indian Ocean and even will seize Oman and Bahrain. But they never succeeded to keep control over Jeddah. A testimony of this attempt to control the Red Sea is a cemetery were Portuguese soldiers were buried that still remains today and is known as the Christian Graves.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turk ruler Selim I conquered the Mamluk Sultanate including the Hejaz. The Ottomans rebuilt the weak walls of Jeddah in 1525 following their victory over the Portuguese armada, adding to it six watchtowers and six city gates, among which the Makkah Gate on the east and the Madinah Gate on the north. The Turks also built the Qishla of Jeddah, a small castle for the soldiers that is still today in the old city.

In 1802 CE Nejdi forces of the Saudi State founded by Ibn Saud in Diriyah conquered both Makkah and Jeddah. But the Sultan of Mahmud II ordered to his viceroy of Egypt Ali Pasha to retake the cities, what was done after the Battle of Jeddah in 1813 CE won by Muhammad Ali.

Jeddah, mid-1800s (photo: James Wellsted)

Jeddah, mid-1800s (photo: James Wellsted)

In 1916 the Sharif of Makkah, Hussein Bin Ali Al-Hashimi, fomented an Arab revolt that overthrew the Ottoman ruling in the region, and became the King of the Hejaz. But only 8 years later Hussein lost Makkah to the Nejdi troops of Abdelaziz bin Saud and in 1925 Jeddah was also seized. Abdelaziz bin Saud added the title King of Hejaz to his position of Sultan of Nejd which was a major step towards the creation of the second Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially founded in 1932.

From 1928 to 1932, the new Khuzam Palace was built as the new residence of King Abdul Aziz in Jeddah that will become in 1995 the Regional Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography. The remaining walls and gates of the old city were demolished in 1947. A fire in 1982 destroyed some ancient buildings in the old town center, called Al-Balad, but much is still preserved despite the commercial interest to tear down old houses and this urban ensemble was listed by as UNESCO World Heritage in 2014.

Three eras of Jeddah's history, the ancient walls, Al-Balad, and the modern city (photo: Andy Conder)

Three eras of Jeddah's history, the ancient walls, Al-Balad, and the modern city (photo: Andy Conder)

Places of interest in Jeddah

Tours organizing trips in Jeddah

Bubblers - Scuba Divers community (click on the logo)

Bubblers - Scuba Divers community (click on the logo)

More information about Jeddah



A Saudi city open to the world (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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