Holy city of Medina, perhaps more than any other municipality in Saudi Arabia, treasures its historic sites.
By Rob L. Wagner
19 June 2015
MEDINA- Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Medina, perhaps more than any other municipality in the kingdom, treasures its historic sites. Guests cannot only make their religious journey, but also take in the city’s history. This is particularly true due to Medina’s significance in Islamic history and the city’s efforts to preserve landmarks exemplifying traditional Turkish architecture.
The Seven Mosques is one such landmark, site of the Battle of Trench, or Ghazwa-e-Khandaq, found on the western edge of Sela mountain. Here, outnumbered Muslims dug a trench to defend Medina from Quraish tribes. The mosques are today important sites for Muslims to visit during Umrah and Hajj.
On a recent visit to the Seven Mosques, Ibrahim Alyeenbawi, a native of Medina, guided his visitor through the history of the six ancient mosques and the seventh modern structure as dozens of tour buses bringing the faithful from Indonesia, Malaysia and South Asia filled the car park.
“These mosques are closed now for restoration, but people continue to come from all around to understand how Muslims from long ago performed their prayers,” Alyeenbawi said.
The most significant of the six historic mosques is al-Fath mosque on the side of Sela mountain. Constructed between 705 and 711, it was refurbished in 1179. Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid I rehabilitated it in 1851. At the entrance, visitors scribble the names of family and friends on the wall while giving prayers for them, although Saudi authorities strongly discourage the practice.
Twenty metres south of al- Fath is the Salman Al-Farisi mosque, named for the Prophet Mohammed’s companion, Salman, who suggested that Medina residents dig the trench to defend the city against Quraish invaders.
A striking feature of the mosques is their small size, indicating a sparse population of the region during the time of the Prophet. The Salman Al-Farisi mosque has just a single 7-metre-long hall that measures only 2 metres wide. Its construction began in 1179 and also underwent refurbishment under Sultan Abdul Al-Majid, according to Alyeenbawi.
The Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq mosque is 15 metres southwest of the Salman Al-Farisi mosque, and named after Abu Bakr, the first caliph who made his Eid prayers there.
Just a few metres south lay the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque. The details of its origins are vague, although its name indicates that Omar bin Al-Khattab, the second caliph, may have had prayed there. The mosque features the same architectural characteristics as the Al-Fath mosque, indicating they were constructed during the same period. The mosques, in fact, are utilitarian and without adornment.
High on the hilltop above these structures is the Ali bin Abu Talib mosque, which is in poor condition and measuring only 8.5 metres long and 6.5 metres wide. A short distance to the west is the Fatimah Al- Zahra Mosque. Its distinction is it is even smaller — 4 metres by 3 metres. The centrepiece of the Seven Mosques historic site is the modern Al-Khandaq mosque at the base of the mountain. It boasts a central court and twin minarets.
The Saudi Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs began renovation of the six old mosques in 2009, but only the $7 million Al-Khandaq mosque renovation was completed yet.
How to get there
Flights from London to Medina via Jeddah start at about $700. If driving from Jeddah, take Route 4050 north to Medina about 410 kilometres. The drive is about four hours.
What to do
It’s recommended that Muslim visitors stop at the Quba mosque when first arriving in Medina to perform two raka’as before continuing into the city. Visitors are encouraged to visit Masjid Al-Qiblatain and the Grave of Hamzah after they pray at the Prophet’s mosque (Masjid An-Nabi). The refurbished Ottoman railway station, housing the Hejaz Railway Museum, is a perfect example of Ottoman architecture that has influenced Saudi building designs in surrounding neighbourhoods.
What you should know
Central Medina is open only to Muslims. However, non-Muslims have access to the outlying areas of the city marked by specific zones. A favourite venue for non-Muslims is Mada’in Saleh, a pre-Islamic archaeological site dating to the first century. Mada’in Saleh is about 375 kilometres north of Medina via Route 328, about a 4-hour drive from the city.