Balad- The Soul of Jeddah

Balad, the old Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, is a walled city still exhibiting the charm of the medieval times. It is an enchanting experience that I would like to share with others.


Balad- The Soul of Jeddah

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ahmed Nagoor on July 17, 2003

Jeddah, the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia is the most cosmopolitan city in the Middle East with people from more than 100 countries living there. Jeddah is the entry port for millions of Hajj pilgrims undertaking the mandatory pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. The thriving commercial port and cosmopolitan nature of the city sets it apart from other cities in the kingdom, where the Islamic rules are strictly implemented. Fuelled by petro-dollars the city has expanded to a large area with swanky supermarkets and commercial complexes, but the soul of Jeddah lies in the walled old city called as Balad. Balad, literally meaning "The Town", is where we can experience the exotic market places, historical buildings, roadside hawkers, giving an incomparable experience of a lifetime.${QuickSuggestions} First thing that any traveler or tourist should keep in his mind is that the culture of Arabia is completely different from the rest of the world. Small things such as wearing shorts in hot summer while going out are a normal thing elsewhere, but here it is a taboo. Here all people are expected to be dressed decently. Ladies are required by law to cover their entire body and their faces like all Muslim women with black veil, called "Abha/Burka". Arabs are a bit conservative and anything against their culture would be taken as an insult to them, so be careful in dressing and about offending the culture. Otherwise, the people are genuinely affectionate and friendly. Here all shops are closed during the compulsory prayer, five times a day. Make it a point to get the permission of the shopkeeper or the owner of the building before taking any photograph; this would avoid many unwanted problems. In the Middle East, Friday is the weekend and usually you would not find anybody moving around in the Friday morning. It is better time to take good photos of the old buildings without any interference.${BestWay} Jeddah has a fairly good public transport system in the sense that there are overcrowded mini buses that ply from one part to the other part of the city for a maximum fare of SR2 (US$.50). These buses are driven by mostly local Arabs. I encountered a kaleidoscope of people from more than 10 nations (Indian, Filipino, Sudani, Egyptian, Indonesian, Ethiopian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi . . .) speaking in their language, creating a chaos of sound, reflecting the very nature of the city. A trip in these mini buses is a must to know the real people, their attitude and I am sure any traveler would love to have a go at this transport for the different experience.

The city has a well developed taxi services mostly driven by expatriates from African and Asian countries. So getting around Jeddah is not a big issue with friendly people always ready to help you if you approached them. I always traveled by the mini buses to enjoy the atmosphere (it is also good on your wallet!!).


Local Restaurants in Balad

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Ahmed Nagoor on July 17, 2003

Don’t miss to have a glass of fresh fruit juice from a juice shop located near the subway entrance of Souk Al Alawi, where you could get juice from almost all fruits in the world. I went through the list of fruits and at last settled for a normal orange juice, not willing to take any risk. The Al Alawi Moroccan restaurant located neat the Biet Nasssif building is housed in an aesthetically restored building creating a mystical medieval environment for diners wishing to taste traditional Moroccan and African cuisine. There are many "Boofia's", or small cafeterias serving tea, coffee, sandwiches and also "Sherwma", a popular takeaway made with chicken pieces, onion and French fries rolled in traditional Arabian bread, "Qubuz", laced with mayonnaise and tomato ketchup. The sight of chicken pieces stacked together in a rotating center rod forming a conical shape and heated by an electric heater, with chef's cutting pieces of the chicken to give you a crispy, tasty and a mouthwatering Sherwma is a must for all travelers in any Middle-East countries.

Any one interested in culinary should visit the market place to just see the variety of food available there, starting from hawkers selling home made sweets and eateries in various shapes and colors from African, Syria, Misr and also Persian countries. An white colored Arabian sweet called "Halawa" is good to eat, but even though I generally like to eat sweets, I could not eat a full packet as it was so sweet too my comfort. As I walked round and round cutting through the by lanes of the market suddenly I found myself in a dead end with a open space in which elderly Arabs were sitting around and having their "Quawa" and smoking their traditional "Shesha", a jar like pot containing water through which charcoal heated tobacco smoke is inhaled through long winding hose. This is also called as "Mishal", which is a bigger one than the Shesha. The smoking hose is passed on to the next person in the circle and it goes on and on until the discussion is over or the tobacco is exhausted. Seeing me looking for a way to return, they invited me to join them, and even though I was interested to have a go at the smoking, I refused politely and returned back. Their next topic of their discussion, I imagined, would be about the tourist with a backpack and a camera in hand.

Local Balad Restaurants
Balad
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Ancient buildings in Balad

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ahmed Nagoor on July 17, 2003

The December morning was quiet and cool as I started crisscrossing the lanes and by lanes, stopping by to have a closer look at the century's old multi-storied buildings. Almost all the buildings house shops in the ground floor and residential quarters in the upper floors. The architecture of the building is unique for this region in that they are built mainly from rectangular mud bricks or cut stones. The lower portions of the walls are made of stone bricks while the mud bricks replace are predominantly used in the upper walls with latticed wooden poles placed horizontally running the entire length of the walls every 4 to 5 feet height. This different architecture tickled my engineering brain to think of the advantages offered by this method of construction. Wood is flexible in compression and distributes the load evenly to the lower bricks also effectively stopping any cracks in the wall developing beyond them, which makes repair work easier in addition to increasing the life of the building. The engineering mind of the medieval Arabs could be easily gauged by looking at these beautifully constructed multi-storied buildings, which has withstood the ravages of time and harsh environment of Arabia.
Ancient buildings in Balad
Balad, Jeddah
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Makkets in Balad

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ahmed Nagoor on July 17, 2003

All of us during our childhood dreamed to be Aladdin, to be a part of the fabulous 1001 Arabian Nights tales, wishing to be there when it happened. The closest place one can get is "Balad"- Literally translated as "The city", a part of Old Jeddah. Balad attracted me the very first time I saw it, it was evening, the sun slowly slipping into the Red sea and as night tries to spread darkness, Balad, with its narrow stone topped lanes, treaded by travelers and traders for centuries, come to life showcasing a vibrant market place teaming with traders and street hawkers shouting to get the attention of bystanders, which reminded me of market streets back in India, giving me a feeling of being at home. To any new visitor it is confusing as you are just pushed along by the teaming crowd, if you are not sure of where you are going.

Balad is one big market place that contains many specialized market such as Souq Al Nada showcasing glittering and eye catching Arabian, African and Asian design Gold And Silver ornaments; Textile market, Souq Al Jamia, named after the Bedouin tribes Who used to sell textiles, spices, grains at this place; the Souq Al Alawi, that cuts through Balad from East to West and Gabel Street Souq, selling an assorted variety of wares including spices, electronics, perfumes, dates, honey and household articles. The smell of the various spices and eateries sold in the market combine together to produce an exotic aroma that changes as you along through various markets in this area.

Makkets in Balad
Balad, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

History of Jeddah

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ahmed Nagoor on July 17, 2003

History of Balad and Jeddah:

As I walked through the silent lanes of Balad, my mind flew backward in time to think about the history of Jeddah. Present day Jeddah came into existence as a fishing village when the "Quadaa" fishermen tribe settled 2500 years ago as its natural harbor and reef offered good fishing. The city grew into an important trading outpost as it was situated on the trading routes between Yemen and Europe. The city was fortified with limestone coral walls as early as 1000 AD, which was recorded by noted traveler Nasir-I-Kusuro. The earlier fortification had two gates one facing the east towards Mecca and the other towards the sea. The fortification was strengthened in 16th century to protect the city from Portuguese attack with six watchtowers and gates. The gates Bab Makkah facing East, Bab Sharif facing South, Bab Al Bunt, Bab Sharaf and Bab Al Madinah facing North, Bab Al Magharibah facing west. The turbulent history of Jeddah saw it alternatively coming under the rule of Turkish Ottoman Empire, Egypt’s Mamalukes and Saudi’s of Central Arabia until the Saudi King Abdul Aziz took over the Western province of Hejaz, including the city of Jeddah. The King Abdul Aziz Historical Square, which is at the heart of the Balad, is where the people of Jeddah welcomed King Abdul Aziz and his army on the 23rd of September 1924. This day of annexing the Hejaz province is celebrated as National Day in Saudi Arabia.


Rendezvous with a Local Arab

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ahmed Nagoor on July 17, 2003

Enchanting Rendezvous with a local Arab

As I was giving some work to my newly acquired camera, shooting the old buildings, with the highly carved and turquoise exterior walls, some awaiting reconstruction and others crumbling down unable to with stand the test of the time, an elderly Arab called me and said some thing in Arabic, which was beyond my comprehension. Aware of the fact that Arabs do not like visitors to take photos in public places, I packed my gears and started to leave the place. He followed me and caught my hand and tugged me -- now the worst fear of any foreigner in Arabia, offending the local culture, which could potentially land you in jail, even on a verbal complaint by the locals was beginning to come true. I was perplexed and becoming nervous, tried to free my hand from his grip. Sensing my anxiety, he said " Taal, Sadiq, Taal", which, based on my vocabulary of a handful of Arabic words acquired in my past seven months of stay in Saudi Arabia, translates into "Come, Friend, Come." On hearing the word "friend", I felt a little ease as I was led to his house.

I was offered dates and traditional Arabian coffee, "Quawa", over which we had some sort of conversation, he in Arabic and I in English and more animated action spread in between. He was kind enough to permit me to visit the first floor of his house from where I had an insider’s view from the latticed and carved woodwork windows called "Rowasheen", that allows air and light through the balcony while blocking the direct sunlight, heat and prying eyes from outside. Bidding farewell to my new friend, the rough and tough image of the Arabs, which have been built by the international media and expatriates stories exploded inside me as it dawned on me that people all over are basically good, and we should not believe the images.


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