Madain Saleh (Al-Hijr) dates back to the Nabataeans Civilization considered as one of the very important archaeological site in Saudi Arabia that is called "The Capital of the Monuments" as it contains huge amount of diverse and multifaceted monuments.
Inscriptions engraved on rocks, facades of graves and mountains to the existence of civilizations that had prevailed and fallen in the area where architecture and sculpture flourished. Every grave facet represents a cemetery for one family.
The levels of these graves vary depending on the level of social and financial status of its owners. Because of the proper climate and natural conditions in adaptation to the availability of fresh water in the area, people settled there.
The Kingdom of Nabataeans with its capital Petra in Jordan expanded to dominate Madain Saleh, which reach during that period, the peak of civility and civilization. They innovated in carving stones, drilling wells in the rocks, digging rainwater tanks and carving places of worship in the rocks. Studies shows that Madain Saleh governed by the Nabataeans, then by the Romanians who dominated the north Arabian Peninsula in 106 AD and changed the trade route between the south and north of Arabian Peninsula to the Red Sea, which made Madain Saleh lose its strategic importance in terms of trade and taxation collected from transit convoys.
It lost its status gradually until it became a mere station for pilgrims, providing them with water and food. The Abbasids built castles on the Shami Pilgrimage road including Madain Saleh Castle in Al-Hijr, which is still there.
Then, the Ottoman State extended the Hejaz Railway to transport pilgrims from Levant, Turkey and Palestine to Makkah and built a main station in Madain Saleh including houses, workshops for the maintenance of locomotives, offices and dormitories for staff and water tank. After that, Al-Hijr ruled by Al-Sharaf for a short period.
Then, together with Al-Ula were subject to the Saudi regime in 1924 under the rule of King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud. The name "Madain Saleh" is somewhat new and has nothing to do with the Prophet Saleh (Peace be upon Him), the name "Madain Saleh" was given to Al-Hijr area almost 1400 years ago. Ibn Nasser Addin Mohammed ibn Abdullah quoted Abu Kassim Mohammed Saleh Alborzali that Madain Saleh that located near Al-Ula on the Shami pilgrimage road is an Islamic town and Saleh to which it attributed is one of Beni Abbas ibn Abdul Motalib.
So many people later thought that the name belonged to the Prophet Saleh (Peace be upon Him) who was sent to the people of Thamud. Sheikh Hamad Aljasser (May Allah have mercy on him), had an article published in Arab Magazine under the title of "Al-Hijr is not Madain Saleh". In addition, some old maps determine the location of the city of Saleh to other of Al-Ula, near Moghira or Al-Mabiat Village with reference to the location of Al-Ula and Al-Hijr on the same map.
Al-Ula is located in the northwestern part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the line of 37, 55, 58 longitude and 26, 29, 36 latitude. It is 290 km. from Madinah to the south of Al-Ula - Shajwa road. There is another 370 km. road linking Al-Ula to Madinah i.e. Madinah - Tabouk road passing through Khaibar. It is link to the western city of Hail via Hail – Al-Ula road at 416 km. It is 250 km. away from Al-Wajh Governorate on the Red Sea coast and to the east by Al-Ula - Al-Wajh - Beda road and 250 km. from Tabouk to the north via Tabouk - Al-Ula - Albrekah desert road and Tabouk - Jahra - Tayma road (470 km).
Al-Ula is famous for its fertile land, abundance of water resources and numerous farms. It is surrounded by mountains composed of sandy rocks to the East and West. The city is located between two mountains in a flat plain, which penetrated by the famous Al-Ula Valley or the so-called Arashidi stream. Arashidi valley is fed by small tributaries of the eastern and western mountain chains until it meet with Al Jazl – Al-Kabeer Valley at a point called Khoshaibah, which in turn continue southwards until it reaches the point of convergence with Al-Hammad Valley and Wadi Khaibar at a place called Salilah. From there, it moves to the west until it ends at the Red Sea near Yanbu. Al-Ula mountains are considered natural extension of Asarawat chain of mountains extending from South to North of Saudi Arabia with length of more than 2,500 km.
Al-Ula is bordered from the West and behind Al-Ula sandy mountains by Owerud, which is one of the largest natural mountains in Saudi Arabia with a width that differs from one place to another with an average of 40 km. and more than 200 km. long. Their elevation is almost 950 m. above sea level. This area is famous for its wild rabbits, deer, reindeers and migratory wild birds. Hunters frequently visit it in the specified seasons. Al-Ula is 22 km. to the south of Madain Saleh and linked them through three paved roads. Al-Ula and Madain Saleh are now fully connected to each other.
Al-Ula climate is moderate in comparison with different part of Saudi Arabia’s temperature. The average highest temperature during summer months is 43 degrees Celsius (September and August) and average lowest temperature degree in the winter months is 9 degrees Celsius (December and January). The average rate of annual rainfall is 254 mm. that can reach 64 / 24 mm. during the month of January. Average relative humidity rate ranges between 12% in June and 49.5% in December and January. Al-Ula is 825 m. above sea level. This elevation increases or decreases depending on the nature of land and valleys.
Al-Ula and Madain Saleh lies over large underground water reservoir, which geologically called as Al-Ula basin where the layers of sedimentary rocks contain large amounts of fresh groundwater formed millions of geological years ago. The annual rainfalls on the region provide this reservoir with renewable water through the streams flowing in the main valley from the north towards the south. This valley slopes from the north to the south where it is fed by tributaries coming from the Eastern and Western mountains in Herrat Owerud, from Madain Saleh in the north passing by Therbah, Shalal, Melsen, Atheeb, Saq, Telat Al-Hammad, Telat Al-Mathbaha, Telat Abu Al-Hasseen, Mesial Al-Khalos, Mesial Sadr and others. Al-Ula and Moghira meet at the valley over the village of Khoshaibah to the South with the Great Al-Jazl Valley.
Al-Ula terrain consists of sandy mountains bordering from the east such as Mount Almojder and Arezikea Mountains from the west. Each Al-Ula mountain has a corresponding name known among the local population. The flat plains between mountains are fertile agricultural area varying in width depending on the nature of the mountains and terrain.