Historical Jeddah

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Historical Jeddah 3

What it means - How to pronounce it

There are two possible meaning to Jeddah. The first is pronunced " Juddah" which means seashore in Arabic. The other is "Jaddah" meaning grandmother, which probably proves that Eve (mother of all humans) was buried in it. It is said that Adam and Eve when descended from heaven were in different cities; Adam was in India and Eve in Jeddah. They met by Arafat Mountain (a famous mountain close by Makkah).


The the early existence of Jeddah, dates back 3000 years. It is said the tribe "Quda'a" lived in this region 2500 years ago where there was a small fishermen's village, which gradually developed to become one of the important stations on the trade route which connected the civilizations of the Mediterranean area to those in the East. The stages of development and the importance of the region drew the attention of the Sassanic Persian Empire which invaded and occupied it in the 6th century A.D. and to them goes the credit of drawing the first plan of the city and the system of cisterns and wells for storing rain water to ensure continuity of supply.

The city of Jeddah became closely connected with the advance of Islam because it is the gate to the Two Holy Mosques from the sea. In 26H, the 3rd Caliph Othman Bin Affan, chose Jeddah to become the main port for Makkah, and as time passed by the importance of Jeddah grew. Its strategic location made it the main port for pilgrims to the Holy Land and for the importation of goods, fabrics, and spices that served the entire Hijaz and Najd Regions. It gradually became one of the most famous and important Islamic cities.

Like most of the Hijaz cities, Jeddah was affected by the Ottoman style in its buildings, and architecture, which still exists in the heart of the historical area within the city. In addition to that, it was also affected by other architectural styles such as the Egyptian which is a mixture of local Islamic and European.

In modern times, the opening of the Suez Canal had a great effect on the city. It increased the commercial activity of the city. Ships going to or coming from the Mediterranean Sea stopped by Jeddah, which made it one of the most important and known cities in the Middle East. In the long history of Jeddah, it gathered within its walls all kinds of races and professions. The pilgrims and the traders brought a mixture of cultures, ideas, and civilizations. These effects give it a special flavor of mixed Islamic and international civilization.

Old Jeddah Wall and Gates

The city of Jeddah was the target of many Portuguese attacks by sea. This made the Sultan Kanswa Al Ghoury in 910 A.D. send commander " Husein Al Kurdi" to Jeddah in order to build a wall around the city. To fortify it and provide it with fortresses, towers and guns to repel the warships which attacked it.

As soon as Hussein Al Kurdi and his companions arrived to Jeddah, they built the wall and surrounded it with a ditch for more fortifications against the attacks of the enemies. The ditch protected the wall from the danger of the floods flowing to the sea. A quick look at the plan of the wall shows that it had an irregular multi sided shape similar to the letter " D". Its construction was completed in nine months, and was built with coral reef blocks. The city wall had many gates, the most famous of which, up to our times, are those (on) looking inland, being the Eastern Gate known as " Bab Makkah" (bab means in Arabic: door) because it opens in the direction of Makkah city and was the gate used by pilgrims when leaving or entering Jeddah. The second door, in the north, is" Bab Al Madina" which opens in the direction of Al Madina city. In the south, " Bab Al Sharif" is situated.

Following the invention of the Automobile and its arrival in Jeddah, a new gate was opened in the northern part of the wall next to " Bab Al Madina: and was called " Al Bab Al Jadid" (the new gate). It was used by cars leaving or entering Jeddah. The reason for choosing the site of this gate was that it was near government buildings and foreign consulates, which made use of cars in their tasks.

Because of the expansion of the city and the spread of new buildings outside the wall, the wall was demolished in 1947 A.D. The only part remaining up to date is the south eastern tower in a corner of the pervious car park of now demolished, Bab Sherif Hospital. It is one of the oldest historic monuments of the city.

Sectors within the Wall

Jeddah, within the wall, was divided to several sectors called " Harat" or " Hay" by ancient residents. Those sectors got their names from their geographic locations inside the wall or from the famous events that took place within them.

These sectors are:

  • Harat Al Sham: situated in the northern part of the city facing " Al Sham" countries (meaning Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon). In this sector are Dar Al Saruti, Dar Al Zaher, Dar Aal Banajah, and Dar Al Sherif Muhanna Al Abdali ( dar means house ).
  • Harat Al Mazloum: this name was given to the sector in memory of the late Abdul Karim Al Barazanji who was killed there by the Ottman Government. It is situated in the north-eastern part of the city, north of Al Alawi street. It contains Dar Ba Eshen, Dar Aal Gabel, Al Shafei mosque and Souk Al Jameh (souk means market).
  • Harat Al Yaman: it is situated in the south of the city, south of Al Alawi street. It was so called because it is in the direction of Yeman. It contains Dar Aal Naseef and Dar Al Jamjoum.
  • Harat Al Bahr: (bahr means sea) it is the southwestern part pf the city over looking the sea. It contains the Quarantine.

Old Jeddah's Mosques

The mosques of the old historic city are famous for their old building and for the beautiful style of their architecture. The most famous mosques are:

  • Al Shafei Mosque: it is situated in Harat Al Mazloum in Souk AL Jameh. It is the oldest mosque in Jeddah. It is said that its minaret was built in the 7th century H (13th century A.D.). It is unique in its construction being a large quadrilateral mosque with an open yard inside to allow natural aeration and lighting within all parts of the structure.
  • Othman Bin Affan Mosque: it is called " Al Abanous Mosque" because it has two pillars of ebony. It is situated in Harat Al Mazloum and has a big minaret. It was built in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
  • Al Basha Mosque: situated at Harat Al Sham, it was built by Bakr Pasha who was the governer of Jeddah in 1735 A.D. It had an inclined minaret which was an architectural feature of the city until 1978 A.D. when the mosque was demolished and a new one was built in its place.
  • Oukashah Mosque: situated in Gabel street west. It was build by Oukasha Abaza. The floors were elevated above street level and are accessible via several steps. It is in good condition and is always full of worshippers.
  • Al Me'emar Mosque: situated in Al Alawi street west in Harat Al Mozloum. It was built by Mostafa Meemar Pasha in 1284 H and was given his name. It is in good condition and prayers are performed in it.
  • Al Hanafi Mosque: situated in Harat Al Sham and was build in 1240 H. It was repaired several times.

These are numerous mosques and prayer rooms within the wall of Jeddah where the five daily prayers are performed. Some of them are built according to the old style and some are modern. These mosques meet the needs of worshipping residents and visitors.

Commercial Markets within the Wall

The total area within the wall of Jeddah was about 1.5 Km2. It still has some of the touches of the traditional life with its old economic and social features centered around the mosques and souks. Some of the most famous souks within the old city which constitutes a vital economic artery of the area are: Souk Al Alawi, Souk Gabel and Souk AL Nada, which is the most famous of them all. Souk Al Alawi is situated in the eastern part of the city and separates the northern part from Al Yaman sector in the south. The souk has always been distinguished by the display of a large number of articles and materials, and families visit it to buy their needs of clothes, spices, other household articles and many others. As to souk AL Badou, which is situated near the gate of Makkah, it specializes in the display of spices, grains and various fabrics. It attracts Bedouins who are interested in these items, this is where it got its name.

Souk Gabel has witnessed a radical change in the type of goods displayed, from clothes, shoes, gold and occasion/ Eid requirements to electric appliances, watches, and more. Souk Gabel has lost some of its brilliance and vitality following the expansion of the city and with the rise of commercial centers on the outskirts.

Souk Al Nada is an important old souk. It extends across the west part of the old city and has secondary branches that created some kind of competition leading to changes in the nature of goods sold within. The north part of souk Al Nada has become recently famous for stationary items and book shops, fish and meat shops, as well as watch repair shops. The southern part of the souk preserves its modern nature through selling clothes, fabrics, and gold.

The Manpower of the Old Jeddah

Now we have got to know a little about the history of Jeddah and about certain aspects of its architectural arts, we must take the opportunity to talk about the manpower needed to built the city. The determination defied all obstacles in order to build the imposing structure of the city, an effort that has been appreciated and acknowledged by generations.

The manpower in Jeddah was divided into five categories: the master builders, the stonecutters, the promoters, the mortar carriers, and the mixers. They all worked as one hand to build the town with no class differences or discriminations, except for their individual skills. The five categories are defined briefly as follows:

  • Master builder: who builds and stacks stones depending on the structure type.
  • Stonecutter: who defines the measurements of stone blocks, cuts and polishes them.
  • Promoter: the laborer who carried the stone blocks to the master builder.
  • Mixer: who prepares the mortar by mixing the mud from mud basin with water to soften.
  • Mortar carrier: who carries the mortar from the mixer to the master.

This pyramid of manpower is headed by an experienced master who takes up the role of the contractor of our days, but he is paid daily like the rest of the laborers.

This was the structure and those were the people who mixed stones from the mountain with sand from the sea and wood from the tree to build the city, which relates to generations the everlasting stories of their ancestors to show them the skillful touch.

In spite of the love of those people to their profession and their dedication, the profession did not give them a secure future, which guaranteed a better life for them. It depended on their strength, speed and creativity and what they got in return is a meager daily wage. Their situation was politely expressed in a known saying that describes their profession " you start a cutter and end up a beggar".

Although these people did not find for themselves a secure financial future, they enjoyed the respect and admiration of the descending generations for the beautiful creative work they have done with such little means. They faced harsh factors of nature to build the old city of Jeddah.

Is it not appropriate for everyone to take care of Jeddah and to preserve it? Jeddah is the history and the tradition and the only link we have with the past.

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