Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Taif (kind of): a photo album, part 4 (this is the last one)

This was the view from the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel where we stayed in Taif.

The morning fog was so nice over the city of Taif.

After breakfast we drove about 200 kilometers north of Taif to the Al Waba crater. 

According to Dawi, locals don't know if this crater was caused by a meteor, or a volcano. The popular local legend is that the mountain that used to be here fell in love with another mountain in the north and moved itself so it could be close to its love. 

The crater is just on the other side of a little rise, at the end of a long desert road. We were driving and driving and finally Dawi pointed straight ahead and said, "It's right there." But we couldn't see anything. Then we go to the top of the rise and THIS was in front of us. It was very cool.

There is absolutely NOTHING close to this crater, so it was deafeningly quiet. Such a beautiful time to sit and look at a wonder of nature.

You could walk right along the edge. There was a little trail that the locals had worn down in their cars. Thankfully, the only graffiti at this site was on the little white gazebos put there to provide shade for picnicking families.

Mister posited on whether the rock surrounding the crater was igneous or not.

I just enjoyed the view. Walking around on the loose rocks was exceedingly difficult with my hair flying in my face, my abaya getting underfoot, and my hijab trying to float away in the steady wind.

The mountains surrounding the crater were so pretty.

On our way back to Jeddah, Dawi stopped the car and showed us the ruins of an old outpost built by Zubaydah, the wife of Harun Al Rashid, an Abbasid Caliph (~800 AD). She built posts like this about every 40 km along the Hajj route from Baghdad to Mecca. 

We were able to go inside the protective walls, which have been worn away over the years.

We could see the remains of the merchant stalls built into the walls, providing relief for road weary hajjis. 

Of course, I had to get a shot of the Mister poking around the ancient ruins.

A cross section of the wall.

The entrance of the outpost.

And there you have it, folks! The highlights of the photos we took on our semester vacation to Jeddah. We are now back to the grindstone full swing. We've got about 10 weeks until our next vacation in March, when we will be relaxing in Sri Lanka. You know we'll be keeping you updated on the our latest observations on the life of an expat in Saudi Arabia.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, January 30, 2012

Taif: a photo album, part 3 (there are a lot of parts to this album)

After we saw the Turkish fort, we headed toward an old dam. On the way we saw 2 mosques, this being the first of them. This one was built by a former slave of the Prophet Mohammed named Bilal Ibn Ribah. At least, that's what our tour guide told us. Apparently this was the minaret from which Ribah used to give the athan. He was the first man to give the athan, being instructed to do so by the Prophet.

We went into the minaret.

Looking at this photo now, it looks like these are bullet holes, but I don't think that's the case. I didn't ask our tour guide because I didn't really notice them at the time. I just thought it was normal wear and tear. It probably was.

Dang, I am informative today!

There it is. Just hanging out on the side of the road. All that protects this historically significant site is a chain link fence.

Next we went to a mosque that was built on the site where the angel Gabriel (Gibreel in Arabic) appeared to the Prophet Mohammed, who was basically being attacked by the locals he was trying to convert to Islam. They didn't appreciate his efforts, so they were throwing rocks at him. Gabriel appeared and told the Prophet, and I'm paraphrasing, "I can destroy these people, if they're bothering you." And the Prophet said (again, paraphrasing), "Nah, that's ok. I'll show them mercy because I want them to see the truth."

So anyway, this picture shows the spot where one of the rocks that was being thrown at Mohammed is placed. According to our tour guide, this rock has the imprint of the Prophet's hands (although another local claimed it was his elbow) from where he caught it..or something like that. The story got a big muddled.

Anyway, the Saudis have since covered that rock with concrete because they didn't want it to become a pilgrimage site.

This is what that mosque looked like. I'm a horrible blogger because I did not write down the name of this mosque and have now forgotten it.


I didn't go in, but this is what it looked like inside.

After that we continued on to the dam. At one point, the government built a roadway over this dam so people could cross over it, but then the shabab began using the bridge as a hangout spot and vandalizing it. So the government built a gated fence around the dam and only someone like Dawi, who knows the guard, can get inside the fence.

Unfortunately, the guard wasn't there or something, so we just had to snap photos as best we could from the outside of the fence. 

Basically when I asked what the deal was with this dam, Dawi said, "It's an old dam."

I apologize, readers. I didn't get the details on this old dam. I don't know who built it, I don't know how old it is, I don't know the name of the "river" it is damming. I fail.

Next we went back toward the Taif town center and saw a couple really beautiful houses. This house is called the Katib house because the man who used to live here wrote the first agreement that brought unification between the tribes of Saudi Arabia (thus creating the country we know today). He was basically the contract guy. Dawi said that, essentially,  if you needed any legal documents written up, he was the guy to see. (Katib mean "author" or "writer" in Arabic)

The house was soo colorful and pretty! It was locked up, so we couldn't poke around inside. What an unfortunate waste!! This would be such a cool historical site if it were preserved and open to the public!

Then we went down the street to the Gazzaz house. The Gazzaz family owns perfume and jewelry stores all around the country, but they originated in Taif (land of the roses that are used in many perfumes today). This was their palatial family home. It currently lies abandoned, gutted by a fire several years ago. This house was astoundingly beautiful! Again, what a colossal cultural loss! This house could be a beautiful venue for wedding receptions or business meetings if it were restored. Or it could be a very posh hotel. Such a waste.

We got to poke around a bit because so many of the windows and doors were non existent after the fire. This was the back veranda.

Wouldn't this make a beautiful lobby or dining hall?

The back facade reminded us of something out of Gone With the Wind. It looked like an old plantation house after the Civil War. Echos of its luxurious past were whispering through the scorch marks and creeping vines.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Taif: a photo album, part 2

Our next stop in Taif was a rebuilt Turkish fort. Like so many other things we saw on this trip, the fort was just hanging out on the side of the highway. This one had been completely rebuilt ("restored") by the government a few years ago using the same stones or stones from the surrounding area.

Upon entering the fort, we were surrounded by graffiti. So anticlimactic.

No ramps, no plaques, nothing to explain the history. It was like the government just rebuilt the fort, clapped the dust off their hands, and said, "Meh, good enough." The historians in both of us collectively facepalmed.

In the hill on which the fort is built, there are ancient Nabataean carvings. Some rocks with carvings were cut out of the hillside and used in the rebuilding of the fort. The rebuilding of the fort was overseen by the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Culture and Information. ...facepalm.

Right next to the fort are the ruins of some outbuildings that were also build by the Turks. Our tour guide didn't know what these buildings were used for. He kept calling them houses, so perhaps there was once a village on this spot?

Like all the other ruins on this trip, we were able to poke around. It was pretty cool to be so hands on with history. 

I have a lot of pictures of my Mister surrounded by ruins.

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Taif: A photo album, part 1

After we had our day tour of Jeddah, the Mister and I met back up with Dawi and drove 200 miles outside the city to a mountain town called Taif (tah-eef). Taif is noted for its cooler weather and rose farms. Yes, I said rose farms. One of Taif's main exports is rose water that is used in many Middle Eastern recipes. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any roses being grown because they are only cultivated in the summer during the rainy season. But we did get to see all kinds of really cool things. I've decided to share the gems of Taif in sections, photo album style. In the case of Taif, pictures really are worth a thousand words.

ew, I just gagged on my own cheesy cliche-ness.


The mountains were so pretty. I thought it was so funny to see naked mountains, I'm so used to seeing the Blue Ridge mountains covered in a blanket of green.

The Mister napped as the desert scenery passed us by. He was so grateful to have two days without the stress of driving in Saudi Arabia.

MONKEYS! Specifically, baboons. They were scary! The people just throw food at them, something we were strongly cautioned against when visiting Gibraltar. They even let their kids throw rocks at the monkeys, even the mothers with babies! So I was afraid to get out of the car to take pictures of them. 

The "Donkey Trail" is a restored path that shows how traders and invaders got to Taif before modern roads.

Mountains so grand.

Once in Taif, Dawi showed us an old watchtower, all that remained of a Turkish fort. Appropriately, the watchtower has been built into the wall surrounding a modern military compound.

Me in front of the door of the Shobra Palace. The Shobra Palace served as the office building for King Faisal before he became King. It was built by an Ottoman who spent lots of time in Egypt. He brought the materials for the house from Egypt, and gave the house his newly adopted Egyptian family name.

The inside of the Shobra Palace.

The beautifully restored facade of the Shobra Palace.

Inside the Shobra Palace is a small museum. It had tombstones from early Islamic graveyards. Saudis don't use tombstones anymore (all bodies are buried in unmarked graves), so these are rare examples of tombstones from the area. I wonder what they did with the bodies that were (are?) in the graves where the tombs were taken....

More photos from Taif tomorrow.

Vicariously yours,