Adventures in the Desert: Ottoman Castle Near Rabigh

By | February 24, 2012

Today we went on a bit of an adventure into the desert. It’s always fun to get out of KAUST to visit the “real” Saudi Arabia.   So, we planned a trip with several cars of friends to take a short journey north to the ruins of an old Ottoman building in the desert. I’ve done a bit of research and think it may either called Hisn al Jafa or Alia Palace.

I’m a little (read: very) fuzzy on my Saudi history. I gather that the Ottoman empire extended into the Mecca region until 1916 and that there are quite a few settlements leftover from the Ottoman time in the region that have gone un-loved (or worse). This particular building is in ruins, but it appears from the map images that it was at one time quite a large settlement.

Anyhow, it’s only about an hour north of KAUST, so is a nice day or half-day trip for anyone interested in getting off-compound and exploring in the desert. Once there, you can visit the ruins, meet some camels, do a bit of dune bashing and have a picnic. When we went, we had the site all to ourselves… and the camels, of course!

How to get there:

Head north on Rt 5 for approx 50kms. Take a right  on 919. Then take left hand turn onto dirt road and head back towards the highway. I suggest printing a few of the google maps to guide you as there are several dirt tracks around.

View Larger Map


A few other recommendations:

  • There is apparently a wadi nearby with lovely birds. We didn’t find the particular spot that was recommended, but I imagine all around is a birdwatcher’s paradise. If you have the coordinates to this area, let me know and I’ll add it to the map and this post. [UPDATE: My friend Sou wrote me to say that she “went to the Wadi first through the junction to Rabigh then looked for a dirt road that lead to the castle from the north.”]
  • Bring more than one car in case you get stuck in the sand. The roads are probably fine for a non 4wd vehicle, but it’s usually a good idea to travel in groups when venturing off-road. [UPDATE: Sou also mentioned that she brought a sedan along with a 4wd: “The sedan got stuck a couple of times but all we needed was just a few pushes and shoves to get it out of the sand again.”]
  • If you do have a 4wd, there are some tracks marked on the map where you can go dune bashing. (please be careful! )
  • There are no facilities here – bring what you need to eat, drink, and use the loo.
  • Most importantly: LEAVE NO TRACE! This is an unprotected historical area. Do not take or leave anything, and be careful around the rocks.

I hope that anyone who decides to visit has a great time!  If you do go, please let me know how your trip was and if you have any tips or additions to my post. I’ll be happy to update this space!