Arabia the Beautiful: A Special Issue
Years ago in America the lonely grandeur of plain and sky and mountain inspired a hymn that sang of a vast and lovely land stretching away to the majesty of purple mountains towering up toward blue and spacious skies. The hymn was called America the Beautiful.
Recently, beneath the spacious skies of another, much older land, the lyrics of that hymn came, almost unconsciously, to the lips of a small party of Americans traveling through the north western corner of Saudi Arabia. For there, in a valley of golden sandstone, they found Arabia the Beautiful.
The valley is called Mada'in Salih—the "City of Salih"—and it lies on an ancient caravan route 500 miles north of Jiddah deep in the region called the Hijaz. Around it are other valleys dotted with high spines of eroded sand stone marching off in rows toward the west where, legends say, lie even larger valleys, rich in formations of unimaginable beauty.
It is a strange country almost entirely unknown to the West. The Hijaz Railway once served the region but that was in an era when few travelers ventured into Saudi Arabia. Until very recently, in fact, visitors were numbered in the dozens and even today fewer than 200 Westerners have ever been there. Therefore, this issue of Aramco World is devoted to Mada'in Salih and the monuments, natural and other wise, that make it truly, Arabia the Beautiful.