Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, with a population of about 1.5 m. It is located on the Red Sea coast in the western province of Hejaz. The main port of the Kingdom, Jeddah has evolved into one of the Arab world’s most important commercial centres. It is also the principal gateway into the country for Muslim pilgrims visiting the two holy mosques at Makkah and Madinah. The name Jeddah is thought to derive from the Arabic word meaning ‘ancestor of women’. This theory is given credence by the location of what is traditionally believed to have been Eve’s tomb within the city (a site since destroyed by the government).
Jeddah began as a small fishing settlement about 2,500 years ago. In AD 647 it was chosen by the caliph as the main port for the holy Islamic city of Makkah, and became known as Bilad al Kanasil, meaning City of Consulates. Having later fallen under Ottoman rule, the town was fortified in the sixteenth century by a stone wall, originally incorporating four gates. The town remained under Turkish sovereignty until the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Jeddah developed as one of the principal ports on the trade route between the Mediterranean and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. As it became more prosperous and cosmopolitan, European diplomatic delegations were established there. From 1916 Jeddah was part of the Kingdom of Hejaz, which was conquered by Abdulaziz in 1925. Following Saudi unification, its growth continued and in 1947 the city walls, as an obsolete obstacle to further expansion, were demolished.
Jeddah has maintained its status as a major trading centre, although in recent years government ministries and foreign embassies have transferred to the capital, Riyadh. It is one of the principal ports in the Middle East, handling more than half of the Kingdom’s sea traffic. The city has also been the focus since the mid-1970s of vast new commercial construction, financed by oil revenues. Having encompassed a land area of only 1 km2 in 1947, it now covers 560 km2, and its paved corniche along the Red Sea coastline stretches 80 km from north to south. The King Abdulaziz University was founded in 1967. The international airport is the busiest in the country for both passengers and freight. Its Hajj Terminal was built exclusively to accommodate some of the two million Muslim visitors who perform the pilgrimage annually. About 97% of pilgrims arriving by sea and 98% of those arriving by air pass through Jeddah. The city is also becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination in its own right. The Kingdom Tower, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2019, is set to be the world’s tallest building. However, its final height has yet to be revealed.
Places of Interest
Jeddah’s old city has examples of traditional houses built of coral limestone from the Red Sea and decorated with wooden facades. The Shorbatley House is among the best known. There is also a long-established souk or market. The main museums are the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, the Municipality Museum (in a restored traditional house) and the private Museum of Abdul Raouf Hassan Khalil. The Al-Shafee Mosque is one of the oldest in the city. The King Fahd Fountain by the coast is claimed to be the highest in the world.