by Chiara Ciampricotti Iacoangeli
Exploring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a real opportunity if you wish to travel and have an adventure, even when traveling to well-populated areas.
This time, we were not completely unaware of our destination as we had done some research before, and that was sufficient to make the drive just a few miles from Dhahran to reach an incredible place. Indeed, when we arrived at our destination, we could not believe our eyes to see such a wonderful natural spot.
I am referring to al-Hasa, situated in the region of Al Sharqiyah, which is dominated by an immense oasis that hosts about 3,000 palm trees. Al-Hasa is considered one of the largest natural agricultural palm oasis in the world.
Al-Hasa offers a real opportunity to experience
one of the Kingdom’s most fascinating tourist
sites, right here in the heart of the Eastern
An Area of Historic Importance
It also has an important geographical and strategic location, playing an important role in the regional history for centuries. With cultural links with ancient world civilizations in Levant — a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of the Arabian Peninsula — Egypt, and Mesopotamia, it was the gateway of the Arabian Peninsula to the outside world and a communication bridge between the Gulf and the Indian subcontinent.
It was, and still is, a land port that connects the Kingdom with other Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman, where caravans of pilgrims crossed from these countries to the Holy Land. Al-Hasa has one of the richest areas of groundwater sources, where its green plateaus with its farms and palms constitute a living garden in a sea of sand — the result of a large number of water springs that flow naturally and profusely. It also has one of the largest areas of palm trees spread over 10,000 hectares of agricultural land, producing one of the best types of dates in the world. Additionally, the production of rice and various fruits and vegetables also abounds.
Ocher invades a large rocky area, rich in
gigantic formations made of strange
protuberances that look like immense
The Caves of Al-Hasa
Today, al-Hasa is a well-structured and emerging tourist site.
Green is not the only color that dominates, as the colors of the desert are the protagonists. Ocher invades a large rocky area, rich in gigantic formations made of strange protuberances that look like immense mushrooms.
We continue our trip and climb a hill by car from which we have a complete view of the oasis despite the fog.
I am not able to find archaeological studies on this place, and I have confirmed that, even though there are plans in place that look to increase tourism, few historiographical studies have been conducted so far. By surfing on the internet, I found out an article written by three different geologists: Mahbub Hussain, Fadhel Al Khlifah, and Nazrul I. Khandaker, who analyzed the rocky mass of the place. They assume that this place is a maze of caves, which was developed by calcareous marn, sandstone and clay during the upper Miocene and lower Pliocene.
There is also a traditional restaurant inside the oasis, serving delicious Arabic dishes. Bakers prepare the Arabic bread in front of customers, filling the hot oven with the dough, and the menu is enriched by typical recipes while the waiters are available to explain ingredients and suggest what to experience.
Pottery is one tradition that has always played an important part in al-Hasa culture and heritage. The potters are adept at their craft and create fine perforated ceramics, usually rough and without glazing.
The al Qara mountains are known for high, linear and neat landscapes inside the caves and for the sharp and narrow canyons. The shape of this area sees an alternation of red and gray intervals due to the dominance of calcareous sandstone. Calcareous sediments show, in some morphological aspects, the presence of palygorskite, since the cave’s sediments were deposited in lacustrine mold mud.
The caves are considered to be an interesting topic from the geological and geo-morphological point of view. However, in the past, their attraction was linked to the fact that people reached them for a visit or commercial purpose.
The principal entrance of the entire sector is situated on the southern section facing the palm plantations of al-Hasa Oasis, about 75 meters above the local motorway. The area alternates between plateaus and steep slopes. Even the formations of such mushrooms that are not far from the caves is self-explanatory. What is different from other caves is that the interior is less oozy, powder is brought by the wind, and guano circulates. As it is suggested in the exposition on the outer walls, shaping processesare still on the go and the rocky openings will be enlarging and take on even more original formations.
Nevertheless, once you enter inside and move your eyes upwards to glimpse the sun rays that filter in and observe the shadows that are created through the artificial lighting, listening to a melodic Arabian background brings you to a mystical path. The majesty of the place makes you dream ofdistant, mysterious, unrevealed times with the graffiti art that sends you back to the Hittite civilization.
While there is no evidence of such a connection, still something is breathed into this labyrinthine pathway within these steep cavities. An extreme sense of smallness and finitude is felt compared to the majestic rule of nature.
What is different from other caves is that the
interior is less oozy, powder is brought by the
wind, and guano circulates. As it is suggested
in the exposition on the outer walls, shaping
processes are still on the go and the rocky
openings will be enlarging and take on even
more original formations.
Pottery is one tradition that has always played an important part in al-Hasa’s culture and heritage. It’s possible to experience the handmade production of Arabic traditional cultural artifacts — clay pots, jugs and candle holders. The potters are adept at their craft and create fine perforated ceramics, usually rough and without glazing. The following stage is to place them in the kiln, which is made of bricks and plastered with clay. When the firing is over, it takes a day for the cooling of the kiln before the pots are brought out to be displayed and sold.
There is also a traditional restaurant inside the oasis, serving delicious Arabic dishes. It reminds me of a sort of big open courtyard with fountains, as you can take advantage and eat under the shade of the palm trees.There are bakers who prepare the Arabic bread in front of customers, filling the hot oven with dough. The menu is enriched by typical recipes and the waiters are available to explain ingredients and suggest what to experience. There’s also a small room museum furnished with antiques, as a display of old farm houses.
Al-Hasa offers a trip to previous times — to the distant past of ancient and ancestral times and also to the more recent times rich in traditional habits and crafts. In al-Hasa, you can experience a different landscape, from the flat expanse of the desert to the smoothed rocky formations, and from the arid soil to the lush greenery of the oasis. That day we received a precious gift and left completely fulfilled.