Follow Vogue Arabia

Taking a Deep Dive into the History of Al Balad, Jeddah’s Oldest Neighborhood

On February 8-9, Vogue Arabia will take over the neighborhood of Al Balad with Hai Vogue, its first large-scale event in Saudi Arabia — and it’s open to the public! As we gear up for the big festival, which brings together fashion, music, culture, food and celebrities, we take you through the history of Al Balad, dating back to the 7th century. Read on to discover fun facts, and find out everything about Hai Vogue — from how to get tickets, to the line-up of musical performances coming your way — here.

history of al balad

Al Balad. Photo: Courtesy of Visit Saudi

Few towns that are thriving to this day have a history as rich and deeply significant as Jeddah‘s Al Balad. Below, we take you through some of  incredible stories behind the vibrant neighborhood.

The center of Jeddah

Even before learning of Al Balad’s historical value, the meaning of its name, ‘The Town’, implies just how important the location is to Jeddah. As the city’s oldest neighborhood and located on coastal land along the Red Sea, Al Balad served as the center of everything that transpired in Jeddah for the longest time in history. Some findings trace its foundation to the pre-Islamic era, however, it wasn’t until the 7th century AD when it came to be a seaport that would help transform the city. During this time, it performed twin roles as a gateway to Mecca for Muslim pilgrims from North Africa and South and Central Asia, and as a major connector along the Indian Ocean trade routes to facilitate regional commerce.

al balad

Photo: Yasser Mutwakil/Unsplash

A walled city

The early 1500s saw Jeddah under the Egyptian Mamluk reign, as part of which a wall was built around the city to fortify it and protect it from potential attacks from the Red Sea. Reportedly built by Jeddah’s residents, the wall was equipped with forts and watch towers, and featured eight main gates for people to enter or leave the city. In 1947, the wall was taken down as the city expanded to its edges, but some of the gates remain and have since been reinterpreted to preserve their history. One of the gates is known as Bab Mecca, as it faces the Holy City, and others are Bab Jadeed from the east, and Bab Shareef from the south.

Bait Nassif. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Growth in 19th century

The 19th century saw the establishment of a number of historical buildings in Al Balad, including coral-stone houses and wooden towers said to have been built by wealthy merchants. One of the most culturally significant structures in the neighborhood is Bait Nassif, which was once owned by its namesake family and later converted into a museum by the government. Among its many notable features is its interior staircase, which was wide enough for a camel to take water and supplies up to the top floors.

Vogue Arabia is taking over Jeddah’s Al Balad for a one-of-a-kind block party at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. On February 8 and 9, 2024, join us at Hai Vogue, where we will turn the spotlight on Saudi’s spirited youth and creative community, framed by the unique architecture and spirit of this historical neighborhood. Buy your tickets here

Read Next: Hai Vogue! Get Ready for a Block Party Like No Other in Jeddah’s Al Balad

View All
Vogue Collection