Friday, 13 October 2017
Military History Photo Friday: Historic Forts in Saudi Arabia
When we think of Saudi Arabia, we generally don't think of castles, but a fair number dot the arid landscape of the desert kingdom. One of the most impressive is Marid Castle, pictured above. Located in the ancient city of Dumat al-Jandal in the north of the country. The city dates all the way back to at least the tenth century BC. It's unclear how old the fort is, but it existed by 272 AD. It was the site of numerous battles, most recently in 1853 and 1909. During the second attack it withstood a siege of ten months before finally falling.
Perhaps the most impressive fortification was Ajyad Fortress, an Ottoman citadel built in 1780 overlooking Mecca in order to protect the holy city from raiders. Despite the Bedouin being Muslims themselves, they weren't averse to robbing Muslim pilgrims. In a controversial move, the Saudi government demolished the historic fort in 2002 in order to build luxury a hotel for rich pilgrims. This has been part of an ongoing campaign to demolish historic sites, especially ones from the pre-Islamic period or sites that remind the Saudis of the time when they were part of the Ottoman Empire.
Many small forts were built at oases along the pilgrimage route to protect the pilgrims from bandits. Some date to the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (ruled 1520-1566), who had forts built to protect the main routes. This one at Dhat al-Hajj still stands, although in poorer condition than this photo from 1907 shows. It's a simple structure, but that would be all that would be needed to ward off the Bedouin, who lacked artillery.
A similar fort stands at Al-Ukhaydir, and was also built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. This photo from 1907 shows the fort at the center and some Bedouin tents to the left.
Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons, because that's probably the closest I'll ever get to Saudi Arabia.