We then went in our modern caravan of a bus and three 4×4 cars with our police escort to navigate the 400 km run to Ha’il the true “heart of Arabia” The desert route was serene and the blooming desert landscape was occasionally animated by herds of wandering camels.
It must have looked the same in the late 19th century when Wilfred Scawen and Lady Anne Blunt made their first visit to Nejd to procure some of Ibn Rashid’s famous Arabian horses.
From the train station we continued to the Ottoman fort of al Hijr constructed around the water cistern and housing a small ethnographic museum.
According to to the prominent Saudi archaeologist Abdel Rahman al Ansary, Al Ula or the ancient site of Al Hijr was the capital of the kingdom of Dedan, one of the principal settlements of Arabia established around the 6th century BCE, and mentioned in the Old Testament and Assyrian inscriptions as DDN.
It reduced travelling time from over two months to three days, but the railway was not completed to Mecca obliging pilgrims to travel from Medina with the caravans.
The next day we set off for Al Ula, 350 kms north of Medina.
Next to the tomb area a joint Saudi French team have spent several seasons excavating the city of the living, a complex of houses, gardens administrative buildings and roads which will give us insight into the daily life of the enigmatic Nabateans.