Jeddah is a huge beast of a city and we have managed to visit a few interesting parts of the city during our time here away from the Hotel Show Saudi Arabia 2018, where we were working. While I am here on a business trip with Young Pioneer Tours, we are enjoying the culture and ways of the country.
The Old Town of Jeddah is a stunnigator, we headed here on day 3 of our Saudi Arabia adventure. After arriving into Jeddah where we stayed at the Hotel Mercure in Al Hamra, we got a taxi to the famous fish market then backpacked across the bridge and through the sights of this marvellous Old Town, itself a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. Trust me – the place is magnificent and travel never bored the daylights out of me despite being 900 cities into this wacaday journey. Leave the liars by the wayside and tour this sort of epic daydreamic urbanity.
This was an excellent day out for our group. The Old Jeddah, the original Jeddah. I felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to see such a place, so thanks to all at the Hotel Show and Young Pioneer Tours for their help. These were my top 7 sights from the Old Town.
Jeddah Souq Al Alawi
Everyone loves a good Souq (market/bazar/walking trading zone) when backpacking the Middle East and while I saw many more like this one in places like United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait etc., the Saudi Arabia once was different. There were no females vending, not all the shops were open and the Souq seemed very free and relaxed.
Nobody was trying to sell products too much in your face. This Souq simply was much less “touristic” if you can even use that word in a country which permits only business, commercial, family and pilgrimage visas. All sorts of things for sale – bananas, books, gold, fridge magnets, perfume. It’s also the best place in the city to exchange money.
North City Gate
The elaborate entrance gate to Jeddah’s UNESCO World Heritage remains relatively intact. However, it is sitting alone these days, when once there would have been walls here. The arch is by a more modern roundabout and outdoor park, and sits next to the UNESCO World Heritage sign. This is one of a few gates that survive today. It has seen some reconstruction work in recent times.
The most recommended building to check out in the Old Town is Nasseef House. However, this is also the most modern building as it has been renovated, repainted and strengthened as it is of high historical importance. The Nasseef House sits in the Old Town’s main square in front of a Saudi Arabia flag. It was once famous for being the place were popular traders lived. It was built between 1872 to 1881 for Omar Nasseef Efendi, who was governor of Jeddah at the time and a member of a wealthy merchant family.
I learnt that the Nasseef House was once a museum and used to house lectures. These days, it is not open to the public or visitors as a museum, but a tour and visit can be arranged if you contact the local government in advance, our contact Sami is the man to sort you out.
Hejaz Coffee Museum and Cafe
While tourism hasn’t taken off in Saudi Arabia yet, good coffee is never far away. Here at the Hejaz Coffee Museum you can escape the ugly realms of a Ratsbux Coffee, a Costalotta Coffee or a Sunken Donuts inside an old traditional building in Jeddah’s Old Town. Just a one minute walk from the Nasseef House and main square, this is a great place for coffee and relaxation.
We were the only visitors but I couldn’t help but think if this city ever became popular and opened to tourism, this would be an up and coming Wi-Fi cafe complete with an excellent museum inside. We went in for a mid-day cup of coffee, which was about 9 Riyals each ($2.50 US).
Al Shafi’i Mosque
Al Shafi’i Mosque in Old Jeddah, is considered to be the oldest remaining mosque in city. Onm our visit, it was being renovated yet we witnessed the call to prayer from another nearby Mosque. Don’t miss it – the minaret is estimated to be 900 years old, with our man in the know, Sami claiming the building itself is 1,300 years old.
Beit Al Balad
Beit Al Balad was once a museum (it has been closed as that purpose for 8 years now, despite sources such as Lonely Planet claiming it was still open in 2016 – it wasn’t – we met the manager!). We still managed to get inside and check it out, though it has now been highly modernised and is used by the local council as an office.
The Saudi Art Association
Sitting as a prominent building with a metal horse and carriage outside is The Saudi Art Association. It’s an impressive white building with distinctively green painted window frames and balconies. In the area nearby, there are some art displays and a shop. Though The Saudi Art Association itself was not open as a gallery during our visit in April 2018.
Our thanks also to Sami who invited us into his family house in the Old Town so we could drink tea and coffee there, eat dates and talk about life in a historic building. On life’s lunatical corridor, this was a day to savour.