Biblical Archaeology Review 44:6, November/December 2018

Strata: Where Is It?

A. Algeria

B. Jordan

C. Iran

D. Mexico

E. Saudi Arabia

Answer: (E) Saudi Arabia

Mada’in Saleh—a second rose-red city half as old as time—can be found in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Known to the ancient world as Hegra, the site thrived as a major Nabatean outpost from the end of the first century B.C.E. through the first century C.E. For caravanners, it was an oasis in the middle of the desert—made possible by an advanced hydraulic system.

With numerous wells and canals, the city consists of a central residential area of primarily mudbrick structures surrounded by a necropolis. The Nabateans carved more than 100 elaborate tombs from the region’s sandstone. Qasr al-Farid, the site’s largest tomb, is pictured here.

Mada’in Saleh resembles the famous site of Petra (ancient Raqmu, the Nabateans’ capital), located in Jordan. Both functioned as outposts along the lucrative spice route. Not only was Mada’in Saleh the Nabateans’ southernmost settlement, but it was also its second-largest city.

Inscriptions and cave paintings attest to a pre-Nabatean presence at the site, but Mada’in Saleh was not extensively settled before the Nabateans. In 106 C.E., the Romans annexed Nabatea, gaining control of Mada’in Saleh. They prioritized water trade routes over land routes, which decreased the caravan trade and gradually led to the site’s desertion.

In 2008, it became Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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