More about the Arabian Peninsula
In the romanticized view of the Western World Arabia is part of the Orient
, the land of the Bedouins with caravans crossing the mighty hot desert, the scene of the stories from Thousand and One Nights, the land of Sultans with immense riches living in magnificent palaces and have enormous Harems at their disposal.
Arabia is the homeland of Arab Bedouins and the Arabian language, the historic birthplace of Islam and the Arab-Islamic culture which originated in the towns of Mecca and Medina at the beginning of the 7th-Century.
The Arabian Peninsula is the original home of the Bedouin, pastoral nomadic tribes known as the "desert dwellers," they were herding dromedary camels and goats. Isolated oases punctuate the Arabian Desert; places with patches of vegetation surrounded by vast arid areas of land, where enough freshwater enables people for some agriculture. These oases were important stops along traditional trade routes, where caravans could rest and recover from the day's journey and replenish food and water. Small caravan passing stations developed into larger market towns like the city of Ta'i (present-day Ha'il), the former capital of the Emirate of Jabal Shammar.
Other human centers were the coastal settlements on the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, and the settled rural areas of western Yemen and southwestern Saudi Arabia. Even in modern times the interior of the peninsula is still sparsely
populated due to the arid climate and a hostile environment.
In the current definition, Arabia consists of seven 'independent' nations. Saudi Arabia
occupies about four-fifths of the peninsula. The rest of the land is shared by Kuwait
, the United Arab Emirates
(U.A.E.), and Yemen
; and there is the archipelago of Bahrain
in the Persian Gulf.
Arabia is the easternmost part of the Arab world, which also includes Jordan
, as well as all the countries in Northern Africa
, plus Somalia
in the Horn of Africa. Geographically the Arabian Peninsula includes also small sections of southern Iraq and the southern parts of Jordan.
According to International Monetary Fund, Qatar (1), Kuwait (7), and the United Arab Emirates (8) are in the Top-10 of countries with the highest GDP (PPP), Saudi Arabia is on place 12, followed by Bahrain (15), Oman (24). Yemen on 161. 
Bahrain, officially the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a sheikhdom consisting of Bahrain Island and a group of smaller islands in the Persian Gulf. Head of state is the self-proclaimed king. Capital city is Manama
Kuwait, officially the State of Kuwait is a constitutional emirate with a semi-democratic political system. The head of state is the Emir. Capital is Kuwait City
Oman, officially the Sultanate of Oman, is an absolute monarchy. The head of state is the Sultan. The country is located at the southeastern corner of the Arabian peninsula, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Capital city is Muscat
Qatar, officially the State of Qatar, is a unitary constitutional monarchy occupying a peninsula on the west coast of the Persian Gulf. Head of state of Qatar is the Emir. Capital city is Doha
Saudi Arabia, officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the largest country in the Arabian peninsula. With an area
of 2.15 million km², it is about four times the size of France
. The country is home to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca
and Medina. Head of state is the king; capital city is Riyadh
. Located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia lies the Dammam metropolitan area, an urban sprawl around the city centers of Damman, Dhahran, Al Khobar, and Qatif. About 100 km to the north of Dammam lies Jubail Industrial City, a port and the largest industrial city in the world.
Other major cities are Jeddah, the seaport on the Red Sea coast and the principal gateway for pilgrims to Mecca. Hofuf an urban center in the Al-Ahsa Oasis and the closest city to the great Ghawar oil field. Tabuk is an ancient city near the Midian Mountains close to the Jordan–Saudi Arabia border. Ta'if, the unofficial summer capital of Saudi Arabia and Buraidah, an urban center in the Al-Qassim Region in the center of the peninsula.
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of absolute hereditary monarchies. The country is located at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the south coast of the Persian Gulf. A Federal Supreme Council governs the country consisting of the seven emirs of the seven emirates. Head of state is the president; the office is de facto hereditary. Capital city is Abu Dhabi
Yemen, officially the Republic of Yemen (since 1990), is among the poorest countries in the Arab World. Yemen, which occupies the south-western corner of the Arabian peninsula, has been devastated by a civil war that began in 2015. Capital city is Sana'a
Geography of the Arabian Peninsula
With an area
of 3.2 million km² (1.25 million mi²), the Arabian Peninsula is about the size of the India
n subcontinent. The northern part is within the subtropical climate zone; the southern section lies in the tropics.
The peninsula consists mostly of a hostile, inhospitable desert in the interior, sand as far as the eye can see, which prevented much settlement of the interior for long times.
The northern area of the desert is known as the an-Nafud desert; then there is the ad-Dahna desert, a vast crescent-shaped stretch of sand between the an-Nafud desert in the north and the Rub' al-Khali desert (the Empty Quarter) in the south. Situated in the center of the peninsula is an upland, the Nejd plateau which extends to the Tuwaiq Mountains and beyond.
The vast central part of the peninsula, west of the ad-Dahna desert is known as the Najd
, an upland sloping downwards from west to east, and ranging in elevation from 750 m to over 1,500 m. The central-eastern part of the Najd, a kidney-shaped historical region is known as Al-Yamama; it is characterized by oasis settlements with agricultural and trading activities dating back to pre-Islamic times.
Along the 2,200 km (1,400 mi) long Red Sea coast of the peninsula, from the Gulf of Aqaba in the north to the Bab el Mandeb in the south, stretches the Tihamah, a narrow sandy coastal plain. Parallel to the Tihamah runs a deeply dissected mountain chain, known as the Red Sea escarpment; geologically it is one of the youngest escarpments in the world.
The northern part of the mountain chain is known as Hijaz, the southern as the Asir mountains. The highest mountains are in the southwestern part of the peninsula in Yemen. There the mountain range is known as Sarawat. Jabal an-Nabi Shu'ayb
near Sana'a is the highest peak in the Arabian Peninsula at 3,666 m (12,028 ft). Another mountain range is along Oman's northern coastal region, the Al Hajar Mountains, geologically the continuation of the Zagros mountain range, a fold and thrust belt along the Iranian coast. The highest peak is Jebel Shams at 3,006 m (9,862 ft).
The Spice and Incense Routes- Trade between Arabia and the rest of the world.
Long-distance trade played a major role in the cultural, religious, and artistic exchanges that took place between the major centers of civilization in Europe and Asia during antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Due to the lack of rivers, the primary means of transport for the region in the past was the ship of the desert (the camel) for the interior, and ships and boats for moving goods to and along the coast of the peninsula. Inland camel trains have carried passengers and commodities on a regular or semi-regular service between ports, oases, and trade cities. Port cities were focal points of trade. Those ports were waypoints on the incense and spice trade in an ancient network of trade routes like the trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Indian Ocean trade network, and the Silk Road which connected the Far East with the markets in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe. For centuries seaports along the coast of Arabia allocated goods across the ancient and medieval world.
Important ancient port cities along the Red Sea coast were Aqaba (Elath, or Aelana), today Jordan's only coastal city on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. The port of Yanbu (Yanbu' Al Bahr) was a stopover on the spice and incense route from Yemen to Egypt. Jeddah, al-Serrian, at the coast near Mecca, was an important port during Nabataeans frankincense trade, and Muza (Mokka). Southern ports were Aden, Cana or Qana' (modern Bir Ali), and Salalah (Mina' Raysut). The ports of Muscat, and Qalhat in Oman. The ancient city of ed-Dur (Umm Al Quwain) in the UAE was the most important port in the Persian Gulf during the first Century CE. Gerrha (Al Uqayr), Muharraq (Tylos) in Bahrain, Darin on Tarout Island in eastern Saudi Arabia, al-Qurain and Teredon in today Kuwait, southwest of Basra, Iraq.
Among the most valuable goods traded during antiquity and the Middle Ages were frankincense, myrrh and balsam resin, fossil resin like amber, pearls and corals, indigo, coffee, salt, spices like pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmegs, metals like gold, silver, tin, and copper, ebony, precious stones, ivory, exotic wood, textiles made of wool, silk, and cotton, opium, khat (Catha edulis), and hashish, wine, and slaves were among the primary commodities.
Transportation in modern times.
Nowadays transport on the Arabian Peninsula takes place mostly on the road. Highways connect cities and regions. Domestic bus services are one way to travel, air travel seems more convenient.
The Dammam–Riyadh line is a passenger railway line in Saudi Arabia, linking the Eastern Province's capital of Dammam with the Saudi capital Riyadh.
The Haramain high-speed railway (Western railway) is a 453-kilometer-long (281 mi) double-track high-speed inter-city rail transport system in Saudi Arabia. It links the holy cities of Medina and Mecca via King Abdullah Economic City, King Abdulaziz International Airport, and Jeddah. The railway was inaugurated in October 2018.
Gulf Railway (GCC Railway) is a proposed railway system to connect major cities in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf Railway is scheduled to be completed by 2023.
Major airports on the Arabian Peninsula.
Bahrain International Airport
- IATA code
: BAH) in Muharraq, the airport is the kingdoms international airport and the hub for the national flag carrier Gulf Air.
Kuwait International Airport
- IATA code
: KWI) south of Kuwait City, is Kuwait's only public airport; it is the hub for Kuwait Airways and the Kuwait-based budget airline Jazeera Airways.
Muscat International Airport
- IATA code
: MCT); Oman's chief international airport is the hub for the sultanate's flag carrier Oman Air. There are two other international Airports in Oman, one in Sohar and the other in Salalah.
Hamad International Airport
at Doha (dohahamadairport.com
- IATA code
: DOH) is Qatar's principal airport and the primary port of entry and a hub for Qatar Airways.
United Arab Emirates
There are three major airports in the UAE, Dubai International Airport
- IATA code
: DXB), by far the busiest airport on the peninsula and hub for Emirates. Abu Dhabi International Airport
- IATA code
: AUH), serves the capital of the United Arab Emirates; it is the hub for Etihad Airways. Sharjah International Airport
- IATA code
: SHJ) serves Sharjah, it is a hub for the Emirati low-cost airline Air Arabia; the city is part of the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman metropolitan area.
King Abdulaziz International Airport
near Jeddah (www.jed-airport.com
- IATA code
: JED) is the busiest airport in Saudi Arabia and a hub for Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines) the national carrier. The airport serves the region around Jeddah and international pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah going to Mecca and Medina.
King Khalid International Airport
: RUH), serves the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
King Fahd International Airport
: DMM); KFIA is a major airport near Dammam; it serves the cities of Damman, Dhahran, Al Khobar, and Qatif.
World Heritage Sites in Arabia
Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman
The World Heritage Site includes five aflaj irrigation systems; they are representative for some 3,000 'falajs,' ancient, still functioning irrigation systems in Oman. Using gravity, water is channeled from underground sources or springs for the cultivation of palms and other produce in the extremely arid desert landscape. The Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman
dates back to the year 500 CE, although there is archaeological evidence that this kind of irrigation systems already existed in this region since more than 4,500 years. Falaj Daris in the city of Nizwa is the largest of those irrigation systems in Oman.
The Archaeological Sites of Bat,
Al-Khutm, and Al-Ayn
View of the Royal Tombs in Petra in southern Jordan.
Archaeological Sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn
, the prehistoric complex of Bat, al-Khutm and al-Ayn in Magan (today Oman) is located in the floodplain of the Wadi Sharsah, west of the Hajar Mountains. The site consists of archaeological remains of monumental towers, rural settlements, ancient irrigation systems for agriculture, and necropolises from the Bronze Age. They are the most complete and well-preserved examples of settlements and necropolises from the 3rd millennium BCE worldwide. The necropolis of Bat is located inside date palm gardens; it includes seven huge stone towers and several clusters of monumental "beehive" tombs and cairns, built with regularly cut stones. "Beehive" tombs are also found at Qubur Juhhal at al-Ayn.
Al-Balad is the historical center of Jeddah, for centuries the town was an important port for the Indian Ocean trade routes. Jeddah is located in the Tihamah region of the Hejaz on the coast of the Red Sea. The city has long served as the principal gateway for pilgrims to Mecca. Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah
is a World Heritage Site since 2014.
The Al-Hasa Oasis (Al-Ahsa) is located in the eastern Arabian Peninsula, about 60 km inland from the coast of the Persian Gulf near modern Hofuf. Saudi Arabia's largest oasis gets its water from artesian wells, canals, springs, and a drainage lake. The Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape
represents traces of continued human settlement in the Gulf region from Neolithic times to the present. Besides the irrigation system, the World Heritage Site of the oasis includes historical buildings like fortresses and mosques and other archaeological sites, as well as the urban fabric of the settlement.
A chariot pulled by two horses. The Rock Art in the Ha'il Region of Saudi Arabia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photo: Dr Majeed Khan © Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities
Zubarah in today Qatar was a walled coastal town, an important port, and a pearl trading center in the Persian Gulf in the 18th-Century. The Al Zubarah Archaeological Site
was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2013. Until today only a small part of the town has been excavated.
Bahla was an adobe-walled oasis in the Omani desert. The settlement was the capital of the Banu Nebhan, the dominant local tribe, from the 12th to the end of the 15th-Century. Bahla Fort is one of four historic fortresses situated at the foot of the Jebel Akhdar highlands. The World Heritage Site of Bahla Fort
includes the ruined Bahla Fort, with its walls and towers and the adjacent Friday Mosque.
Bahrain Pearling Trail
Harvesting pearls from oyster reefs in the Persian Gulf shaped the island of Bahrain’s economy for millennia. The World Heritage Site consists of seventeen buildings in Muharraq City, three offshore oyster beds in the waters of Muharraq Island, and the Qal’at Bu Mahir, a fortress on the southern tip of the island. The site is the last remaining complete example of the cultural tradition of pearling which declined in the 1930s when Japan developed cultured pearls and after oil was found in Bahrain. Read more at UNESCO's website about Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy
The Ancient City of Bosra
in today southwestern Syria was the capital of the Roman province of Arabia. Once the northern capital of the Nabataean civilization. In 106 A.D. Bosra was incorporated into the Roman Empire. The town was an important stopover on the ancient caravan route to Mecca.
Saad ibn Saud Palace in Diriyah near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. Diriyah served as the original capital of the Emirate of Diriyah under the first Saudi dynasty from 1744 to 1818. It is the biggest remaining Palace in Old Diriyah today.
Diriyah, a town on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh is located on either side of a narrow valley known as Wadi Hanifa. It was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, the Emirate of Diriyah (1744–1818). The At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah
is a World Heritage Site since 2010. The urban center, founded in the 15th-Century, was the center of political power and the starting point of the Salafi movement (Wahhabism), an ultraconservative Islamic doctrine. The former Saudi capital includes the remains of many palaces and an urban ensemble built in Najdi architectural style, which is specific to the center of the Arabian Peninsula.
Land of Frankincense
Frankincense is the resinous dried sap harvested from the olibanum-tree. In ancient times, frankincense was a highly-paid and sought-after commodity which was traded on the incense route (Oman-Yemen-Hijaz-Gaza-Damascus) and in long-distance trade to almost all parts of the ancient world. Oman, the Land of Frankincense
, was one source for fine frankincense, the frankincense trees (Boswellia sacra) of Wadi Dawkah and the remains of the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar and the affiliated ancient ports of Khor Rori and Al-Baleed give evidence of the trade in frankincense that flourished in this region for many centuries.
The Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madâin Sâlih)
a significant archaeological site of the Nabataean civilization. It was Saudi Arabia's first World Heritage site to be inscribed. Mada'in Saleh is located about 270 km southeast of the city of Tabuk in the governorate of Al-`Ula and was formerly known as Hegra or al-Hijr. It is the largest conserved site south of Petra, the former capital of the Nabataean civilization, seminomadic Arab people who inhabited northern Arabia and the southern Levant (Jordan).
The city of Petra
(Raqmu) was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, a major caravan-city and a trading hub at the crossroads between Arabia, Egypt, and Syria-Phoenicia in present-day southern Jordan. The site is famous for its rock-cut architecture as well as its mining and water engineering systems. Its extensive ruins include temples and tombs hewn from the rose-red sandstone cliffs.
The Ancient City of Qalhat
(or Calha) in Oman are the ruins of an urban settlement on the east coast of Arabia. It was an important port and a commercial center in the Arabian trade network between the 11th and 15th centuries CE with trade connections that linked the east coast of Arabia with city-states along the eastern coast of Africa, and ports in India, China, and Southeast Asia. Qalhat was a center of power of the Sultanate of Hormuz, which controlled access to the Persian Gulf on the Strait of Hormuz for several centuries. At its heyday, many cities on the south coast of Arabia were under the control of the sultanate, including Qalhat, Qurayyat, Muscat and Sohar. In 1508 the Portuguese destroyed the city. The primary motive for their endeavor was to bring the lucrative spice trade between India and the Ottoman Empire under Portuguese control.
Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun
The Dilmun civilization was a trading empire centered on the island of Bahrain. Qal'at al-Bahrain is considered the capital and the original harbor that linked maritime trade between ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus River civilization.
Rock Art in the Ha'il Region
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia
protects ancient Arab rock art at two locations in the northern part of the Najd. The Neolithic graffiti is found in a desert landscape in two different places, one at Jabal Umm Sinman at Jubbah, the other at Jabal Al-Manjor and Jabal Raat at Shuwaymis. The rock art depicts hunting scenes and a variety of human and animal figures.
Sana'a is situated in the center of the western part of Yemen in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200 m. It is the country's largest city and its capital since the second Century BC (although the seat of the internationally recognized government of Yemen moved to Aden in March 2015). The city has served as an urban center for the surrounding tribes of the region for centuries. The Old City of Sana'a
is a World Heritage Site since 1986. Sana'a cityscape is defined by closely spaced rammed earth and burnt brick towers rising several stories, decorated with geometric patterns of fired bricks and white gypsum.
Shibam is a city in the center of Yemen in the Governorate of Hadhramaut. The town is famous for its mudbrick-made high-rise buildings, sometimes referred to as the "Chicago of the Desert." A fortified wall surrounds the 16th-Century Old Walled City of Shibam
The desert landscape of Wadi Rum is a maze of monolithic rockscapes, sandstone mountains, narrow gorges, natural stone arches, towering cliffs, and caverns. The mixed natural and cultural site is situated in southern Jordan to the east of the city of Aqaba, near the border with Saudi Arabia. Petroglyphs, inscriptions, and archaeological remains within the site bear witness to 12,000 years of human occupation and interaction with the natural environment. The Wadi Rum Protected Area
is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011.
Zabid (or Zabed) is located in the southern Tihamah plain and is one of the oldest towns in Yemen. It was the capital of several dynasties from the 13th to the 15th-Century and became an administrative center of Yemen Eyalet, a province of the Ottoman Empire. The Historic Town of Zabid
was a major center of Islamic education and played a vital role in spreading Islam due to the very first Islamic university, consisting of ancient mosques and madrasas where students acquired Islamic knowledge and studied different other sciences like mathematics, especially Algebra.