Historical Jeddah AlBalad, Saudi Arabia

  • Jeddah AlBalad Facades Analysis
  • Coral stone constructions
  • The mashrabiyah
  • Jeddah AlBalad interiors
Blue painted wood latticework on mashrabiyah in Jeddah AlBalad Saudi Arabia
Turquoise wood latticework for mashrabiyah in Jeddah AlBalad, Saudi Arabia.

There are many reasons to visit Jeddah AlBalad neighborhood and it is a must do when visiting Saudi Arabia. Jeddah is the traditional Red Sea harbor town in Saudi Arabia for the Indian Ocean sea trading and the port of arrival for pilgrims to Makkah. The neighborhood of Al Balad is remarkable for the size and quality of its buildings in comparison with the relatively humble architecture of the nearby regions in Saudi Arabia. There is a whole neighborhood between preserved and forgotten that still keeps its commercial life at ground level and slowly gets renovated on the upper floors. This UNESCO World Heritage Site constructions are made of coral stones with intricate carpentry works painted often in colorful blue, green and turquoise tones.

AlBalad is a maze of 3 to 4 story high buildings with shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes set inside a heritage area. Although many buildings are crumbling down, others are beautifully restored with support of the authorities. The whole area is car-free. There are parking lots around Jeddah AlBalad, a small parking by the roundabout in the North of the neighborhood and a larger parking area in the West. Don’t even bother to search for parking in the few streets that are accessible by car, just leave your car and walk around.

Don’t miss the oldest mosque in Jeddah and one of the oldest in the region, Masjid Shaffie, is right in the middle of Al Balad neighborhood. The structure dates from the 13th century and the impressive minaret is over 800 years old built in Fatimid style.

During early summer the city celebrates Jeddah Season where culture fills the streets and squares of the neighborhood and all restaurants prepare special evenings with music.

Restored coral stone facade of Jeddah AlBalad in Saudi Arabia with mashrabiyah and door decorations
Restored coral stone façade in Jeddah AlBalad, Saudi Arabia.
Street view of Jeddah AlBalad in Saudi Arabia with turquoise and brown mashrabiyah facades with a palm tree
One of the most iconic corners of AlBalad, Nadalah Ibn Khalid Lane, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Facade of Jeddah AlBalad in Saudi Arabia white and brown with mashrabiyah roshan street scene
Restored building with antiques store in Bazan Lane, Jeddah AlBalad, Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah Al Balad façades analysis

There are different types of buildings in Jeddah AlBalad and facades show the interior structure. Jaimesan analyses the most typical models of facades through sketching them and presenting unique artwork to help understanding them.

Jaimesan artworks are perfect gifts for masalama or farewell gifts to colleagues as well as upscaled souvenirs to family and friends back home from one of Saudi Arabia’s world heritage site.

Our artwork is light to carry flat in a suitcase, can be dedicated, signed and personalized by the team or shipped directly to destination.

Art print watercolor of Jeddah AlBalad facade in Saudi Arabia Indian ink and brown color mashrabiyah
Watercolor painted art print of building in Bazan Lane in Jeddah AlBalad, Saudi Arabia. By Jaimesan. Black ink and watercolors.

There are different types of façades in Jeddah AlBalad. Most of them are built by addition of spaces without a global construction or design project. One example is this kind of facade is the corner of Bazan and Abu Inabah Lanes. 

Size of openings

Observe the size and position of the windows and mashrabiyah where main common rooms like majliss and living rooms have grand mashrabiyah, bedrooms have a larger window and service rooms have smaller windows. Some plots are big enough to keep the service windows to the back or interior patios but this example show them on the facade due to the narrower size of the plot.

Height of windows

Arab homes have windows located at different heights than western homes. Some windows will be high on the walls to let heated air go and keep the lower areas of the room more fresh where people sit. Some windows will be very low on the wall to have incoming air at sitting level. Remember that traditional sitting is on cushions on the floor. And finally, some other windows will be representative of the status of the house both inwards and outwards decorated with the best possible wood latticework. Check some interior images down in this article.

Private-public space

It is typical of the Arab world a particular relation between public space and private constructions, where public space has been traditionally neglected and occupied by private owners. Here we see the volumes sticking out of the facade making the sidewalk irregular. Luckily this fact has been kept until our days and we can enjoy the beauty of it!

This brown watercolor is the art work depicting the facade pictured in above images.

Other façades in Jeddah Al Balad are regular in their composition and, in general, have a similar proportion of openings/walls. More modern and wealthy buildings have been designed to keep proportions and verticality in the structure of openings and walls.

Drawing sketch watercolor of Jeddah AlBalad facade in Saudi Arabia Indian ink and blue color mashrabiyah
Blue watercolor painted black ink art print façade of Jeddah AlBalad, Saudi Arabia. By Jaimesan.
Ventilation

 The high humidity from the Red Sea in summer could only be fought by forcing cross-ventilation and the goal of this facade is to allow as much ventilation as possible inside the house.

Shade

Sun exposure is also a threat for house comfort and all openings have a mashrabiyah which allow for ventilation but not for direct sun access. Also all facades are painted white to increase solar reflection and reduce its heating effect. The fact that AlBalad is built with coral stones also helps for thermal isolation. 

Sketch of Facade of Jeddah AlBalad painted in green watercolor
Art quality print with hand painted watercolor.
Available in green, blue, brown and black and white.

This house has a leaning façade. It is thicker in the lower floors and thinner in the upper floors, although the rooms inside must be about the same size.

Some other buildings are of a much more humble origin but they do not lack charm, still decorated with wooden latticework and bright colors. This house in Abu Inabah Street has two interesting features: the shading structure of the roof and a continuous mashrabiyah with an outside shelf.

Drawing sketch watercolor of Jeddah AlBalad facade in Saudi Arabia Indian ink and turquoise color mashrabiyah
Watercolor painted black ink art work façade in Abu Inabah Lane in Jeddah AlBalad, Saudi Arabia. By Jaimesan.
Roof structures

The top floor was added after the first two floors were done, built with higher ceiling but also using the roof terrace. Observe the wooden panel is higher than the construction on its left which means that this space is an outdoor sitting area protected from the sun and views by a wooden structure, the roof mashrabiyah.

Different latticework

This facade has 3 different type of mashrabiyah: the one with opening larger than the visual protection, the one which opening matches the visual protection and the one with vertical wooden stripes. The mashrabiyah on first floor is continuous probably to ease the construction and make the whole structure more sturdy. Also, there is a continuous shelf on first and second floors which use is a mystery to me.

This example shows the scaling of windows from larger rooms at the corner of the plot to the smallest for service rooms, probably bathrooms, to the neighbor plot. Middle size windows could be bedrooms.

frame with artwork on wood easel in front of pink sofa showing facade of Jeddah AlBalad Saudi Arabia
Framed facade of Jeddah Al Balad, Saudi Arabia, at home. Black ink and watercolor. IKEA standard frame.
Mug and travel mug with Jeddah AlBalad design Saudi Arabia

We have developed a collection of items with Jeddah AlBalad facades theme!

Coral stone constructions

Example of coral stone wall with inlaid wood layer
Coral stone wall under construction, typical traditional Red Sea technique.

Coral stone walls are a mixed technique of coral stones with limestone concrete and layers of wood planks for regularity. Afterwards, they are covered with plaster and painted. The traditional houses along the Saudi Arabian coast to the Red Sea are built in this technique called coral houses. There are very nice examples of coral houses in AlWajh and Yanbu, further North along the coast. You can see the coral skeleton structure of the stones in the image. The wood planks also structure the composition of the façades. Most probably, coral stones cannot be cut into proper regular shapes and the wood planks distribute the weight and forces as well as set the horizontality every 4-5 rows of stones.

The mashrabiyah

The main feature of this neighborhood is the abundance of mashrabiya, also called roshan or shanshul. Mashrabiyah are wooden over structures added to the façade openings to provide sun protection and privacy. Usually, the mashrabiyah covers windows and encloses balconies with wood latticework. When built on roofs, the mashrabiyah provides shade, ideal for evening outdoor sitting as the windows can be opened while keeping the privacy. The interiors are just fabulous spaces with high ceilings for stratification of temperature, filtered natural light and bespoke built cabinets and sitting areas.

If you look carefully at the drawings, there are different types of mashrabiyah with different capacity for privacy.

Green turquoise mashrabiyah wood latticework in Jeddah Al Balad in Saudi Arabia
Turquoise painted wood latticework in mashrabiyah in Jeddah Al Balad, Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah AlBalad interiors

Interior room of coral house with mashrabiyah
Interior of a house in Jeddah AlBalad to be restored.

The interiors of these constructions are stunning. Of course, some will be more refined than other, but all of them have the atmosphere qualities needed in the region: filtering the sharp sunlight, allowing for cross-ventilation to cope with the high humidity in summer and protecting the privacy of the Arab family. Coral stones are not that strong and therefore walls are thick, allowing for built-in cabinets and shelves.

It is also typical of these houses communicating windows between rooms. They allow for cross-ventilation during the day and privacy during the night. Some larger houses have a splendid sitting room, diwan or majlis, that we have to imagine covered in carpets, with bespoke made cushions and low furniture, hanging lamps and fabrics. The Gayer-Anderson museum in Cairo is a splendid example of Arab home interior. For sure there are even nicer examples in real Arab homes, still for us to investigate one day, inshallah. 

Interior room of coral house in Jeddah AlBalad in Saudi Arabia
Beautiful interior of Jeddah AlBalad building to be restored, Saudi Arabia.
Interior of traditional Arab house in the Gayer-Anderson museum in Cairo Egypt
Interior of the Gayer-Anderson Museum in Cairo, Egypt.
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