Al Ula oasis in Saudi Arabia

Crop plantation and palm trees with a mud brick construction in the background.

Al Ula is know for the location of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra, the large oasis and the stunning landscape.

Although most people knows Al Ula for the heritage site, the oasis is truly a gem. The old town of Al Ula with its fortification on top of a rock formation lies beside the manmade oasis and citizens used to live periods of time inside the oasis and periods inside the old town.

The oasis is a large extension of agriculture land originally planted in the three typical levels: crops on the ground level and fruit trees scattered under the regular plantation of date palms. The shade of the palms protects crops and fruit trees from the blazing sun.

The traditional irrigation system is by flooding, opening and closing earth channels to reach all the palm basins. It also irrigates the rest of the plantations and generates a microclimate that you feel right when you enter the palm forest.

Al Ula Oasis corridors

The access to the oasis is through narrow corridors between mud brick walls. Corridors are from 3,00 meters to 1,50 meters narrow and the walls are always above 1,80 meters. Those were good measures for donkeys and horses but cars and trucks made their way through destroying part of the properties once the oasis was abandoned.

Beautiful and through stone work for door openings in the main corridor of AL Ula oasis.
Some large constructions long the main corridor of Al Ula oasis. Discrete exteriors and lush interiors.
Main corridor with fallen wall that allows seeing the interior of the plantation.
The most urban sections of the main corridor access in Al Ula oasis.

There is one part of the corridors that are still in use and have some more urban character with two-story houses placed on both sides and even one building above the corridor.

 

Stone built arch entrance to a farm. Observe the square site-cut, believed to be for opening the door from the outside.

Door openings are most of the times built in well-cut stones using either a long stone as lintel or wood pieces, often irregular. All does have a small square shaped hole on the side built in stone. This square is supposed to be for opening the door from outside but I wonder why would it be easy to open from outside, perhaps is the place where a simple key could be placed. Haven’t found the answer yet.

The doors are made of a combination of palm tree trunk planks and wood sticks to keep them together. None of the remaining doors is either painted or treated.

Inside the oasis, the walls are longer and constructions are scattered, always with the stunning background of the sandstone mountains with their characteristic reddish colour of Al Ula.

Corridor of Al Ula Oasis connects buildings and properties.
Corridor in Al Ula Oasis with typical sandstone mountain background.

Al Ula Oasis mud brick constructions

Al Ula Oasis mud house. Observe the low windows and the decorated roof parapet.
Mud brick house in the oasis of Al Ula with service building.
Al Ula Oasis semi-detached houses.
Semi-detached mud house in the oasis of Al Ula with roof parapet decorations.

The above sketches are reconstructions of the buildings as per evidence in the site, from the little remnants still on place. Form follows function with traditional constructions techniques.

Stairs inside of a mud brick house in Al Ula Oasis.

The oasis of Al Ula contains many different constructions all of them built in mud bricks. Maximum two story high with well-cut stones enforcements in some corners.

Some buildings are just auxiliary constructions for the agriculture activity and some are more elaborated that must have contained dwelling. Most of them have access to the roof through stairs constructed by mud bricks, palm trunks and stones for the steps.

Some constructions are truly beautiful in their simplicity and no less challenging for the materials available and time of construction. 

Most roof parapets are destructed and few remain on place. The are built with mud bricks leaving perforations for wind to cool off the mud structure and providing privacy to the rooftop. Roofs were used for sleeping as they are the coolest place in the construction.  

Simple minimalistic architecture which held a shading structure beside now fallen.
Large mud brick farm house in the Oasis which upper floor flies over the main access corridor.
Two storey mud brick construction in Al Ula Oasis.
Large auxiliary construction. Observe the palm tree trunk as opening lintel.

Traditional shading structures

Running farm in Al Ula oasis. See one of the few remaining shading structure.

Typical auxiliary buildings for agriculture activity includes shading structures to sit under it or store machines or even animals. Traditional constructions techniques for that in mud bricks consists of mud brick pillars holding palm tree trunks and smaller palm tree frond central branch or other natural elements for shading like weaved palm fronds or canes tied with palm fronds. 

Wood sticks can also make it as pillars for shading structures but they are harder to find and usually not long enough to reach an appropriate height. 

Picture on left is a current active farm which maintains both systems. The oasis has many constructions that once had shading structures which ruins are still visible.

About the author

Leave a Reply