Arriving in the old town of Jeddah turned out to be pretty easy, and after we leave our bags in a hotel at the edge of Al Balad, it is time to explore in the warm afternoon sunlight. As soon as I walk into the narrow streets and alleys behind one of the main thoroughfares, my eyes turn upward, and spot the first wooden balconies for which this historic part of Jeddah is known. Al Balad reminds me of old towns in Zanzibar and Mombasa, but the deeper I delve into the maze of alleys, and the more traditional houses I see, the more I am overwhelmed by the amazing collection of unique, and often elegantly carved, balconies. I particularly like the facades facing west, which receive the best light to make their balconies stand out even more. It does not take long for me to understand why Al Balad is a recognised Unesco World Heritage site.
Al Balad, simply meaning The Town, dates back to the 7th century CE, and for a long time was the city centre of Jeddah. It was a walled city, but the walls were torn down in the 1940s. When Jeddah grew wealthier, and the narrow ancient streets of Al Balad could not accommodate traffic, residents moved out, and were replaced by immigrants. Efforts are underway to restore this gem of an old town, but in many places, you can see that much still needs to be done. We can only hope that Al Balad will be saved, because it is a magnificent maze of an old town, charming, attractive, and for most visitors should be on the top of their Jeddah wish list. Jeddah of course is the main entry point for pilgrims on their way to Mecca, and while the walls are gone, Mecca Gate is still there.
Cruising the streets without a clear aim is probably the best way to get the feel of Al Balad. I end up of the arteries filled with traffic that delineate the old town, and I quickly walk back into the quiet alleys of Al Balad because I just cannot get enough of its authentic charm. Even the tallest, newer buildings have walls full of balconies clinging to them. The balconies come in various colours: dark brown, green, and light blue are the most common. Some of the buildings have become famous, like Beit Al Balad and Naseef House, and while they look beautiful, I prefer to stick to the backstreets for the more authentic experience. On the day of my departure from the country, when I still think I will be back a week later, I drive back to Al Balad for another walk in its attractive streets. Little do I know that the Covid-19 virus is about to suspend all travel, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will close its borders.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Al Balad balconies (Saudi Arabia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Al Balad balconies. Read more about this site.