A coveted high land of religion and scent
Taif is located less than 100 kilometers from Makkah but at 1800 meters of altitude, in a valley on the eastern side of the Hejaz mountains. The millennia old city lays at the crossroads of two of the most important historical roads of the Arabian Peninsula: the frankincense road that originated in Yemen more than 3000 years ago, and the pilgrimage road to Makkah whose Ka'aba was already a place of worshiping before the advent of Islam and which hosts today the largest pilgrimage in the world.
Natural wonders of Taif
Nowadays the smell of incense no longer perfumes the street of Taif but another scent has ensured the continued celebrity of the region.
Indeed, a unique specie of rose, the Rosa damascena trigintipetala that grows in the valley around Taif is the fame of the region. Its fragrance is used as ingredient for the finest perfumes by prestigious brands such as Ormonde Jayne Perfumery, Perris, Chanel, and Guerlain.
The icon of the city is celebrated every beginning of offspring at the Taif Rose Festival.
Taif is also a favorite summer destination for Saudis looking for the pleasant weather offered by the altitude while most of the Arabian Peninsula endures suffocating heat. For its cooler climate and fertile land the region earned its title of "Garden of the Hejaz” whose beauty can be admired in the Al-Hada natural reserve and the village of Ash-Shafa perched at 2200 above sea level. Taif's highest point, the Jebel Daka is even the fifth highest peak of Saudi Arabia.
A cable car station starting at Al-Kurr water-park village leads to the the top of Al-Hada Mountain which includes a restaurant and hotel with a great view on the surrounding valley and massif.
High mountains around Taif have also become a favorite place for climbers who can practice their favorite sport in Al-Hada, Al-Shifa, Bani Saad, Thaqif, Bal-Harith, Bani Malik, and other close locations.
Historical places in Taif
The ancient human presence in Taif is attested by rock art engraved in a site about 40 kilometers north of Taif close to the old Okaz souq.
This famous pre-Islamic gathering place was a scene for annual social, political and commercial gatherings, but also the location of competitive recitation of poetry and prose. The building’s remains include prominent outlines of walls of basaltic stones but the main attraction is the 10 700 square meters of iconic patterned membrane of the Souk Okaz Public Theatre where a festival revives since 2008 the local tradition of public art.
The location of Taif on ancient travels route is still visible today along the 4 kilometers of the Kara ancient road. It is divided into two parts, the first one for pedestrians and the second for the animals. About 1700m of this Road have been restored and rehabilitated by Taif branch of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.
The strategic location of Taif at the crossroads of the Hejaz's trade and pilgrimage roads made of it a very disputed placed that saw many different rulers. The first famous conquest of the city took place in 631 CE after Makkah and Tabuk were seized by Muslims armies. Therefore people of Taif accepted to destroy their idols and embraced Islam. The prophet Muhamad was given a sanctuary in Wadi Mitna in a small house now used as a mosque.
In 677 the Caliph Muawiyah built one of the 34 dams of Taif area as attested by an inscription in ancient Arabic script carved in a nearby rock.
Taif was incorporated to the Ottoman Empire in 1517 along with the Hejaz after the troops of Selim I conquered the Mamluk Sultanate. The city remained Ottoman until 1802 year when it was conquered by troops allied to the House of Saud that would afterwards seized Makkah and Madinah.
The loss of the Holy Cities was a blow to the Ottoman sultan Mahmud II who called upon his nominal viceroy in Egypt Muhammad Ali who launched an attack on the Hejaz and reconquered Ta'if in 1813.
The same year the Swiss traveler and orientalist Johann Ludwig Burkhardt visited Taif just after its recapture by Muhammad Ali that he could even interview. Burckhardt left a precious testimony of the barely known Hejaz of the 19th century. He relates that the wall and ditch around the city had been built by a ruler named Othman Al-Medhayfe and the fortifications included three gates and several towers along the city walls.
He noted the destruction of the city caused by the conquest of 1802 with most buildings still in ruins and the tomb of Abdullah bin Abbas, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and ancestor of the Abbasids Caliphs, had been severely damaged.
When Burckhardt visited Taif the city was a storehouse for coffee and its population was still mostly Thaqif, a tribe that attests the continuity of human presence in the area as it believed to have lived there for at least 1 500 years.
In 1843 the Ottomans refurbished the castle, in 1869 the military barracks and a hükumet konagi - a mansion for government business – was built, and a post office was established sometime later.
In 1916, the Hashemites, a tribe who originates from the same family than the Prophet Muhammad launched a revolt against the Ottoman Empire in Makkah in June and took Ta’if in September. The city thus later became a part of the self-proclaimed Hashemite Kingdom of Hejaz. But the city was retaken just 10 years later by the Ikhwans allied to the House of Saud and in 1926 Abdulaziz Al-Saud was officially recognized as the new king of Hejaz. Ta'if remained a part of the Kingdom of Hejaz until Abdulaziz Al-Saud unified his two kingdoms into one under the title of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. The fist King of Saudi Arabia used to stay at Shubra Palace which is today the regional museum of Ta'if.
The rick history of Ta'if is celebrated in Shubra Palace which used to be the residence of King Abdul-Aziz as a place to preside the Cabinet during summers. Also, it was used as the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation, and recently it is turned into one of the most important museums in the Kingdom.
A coveted high land of religion and scent (author: Florent Egal)