Unayzah, the “Paris of Najd”

Guest post by Alberto Di Gennaro – SANDS

Unayzah is an ancient city located in Central Arabia, in the historical region of Najd, in the south of Al-Qassim province and of the Wadi al-Rummah (Rumma Valley), which is the longest valley on the Arabian Peninsula.

Historically, Unayzah was an important stopping point for Muslim pilgrims from Mesopotamia and Persia on their way to Medina and Makkah. Many historians believe that Unayzah was inhabited years before the spread of Islam, citing its reference in numerous poems by some of the most important poets of pre-Islamic Arabia such as Imr ‘al-Qais, an Arabian poet in the 6th century CE, and also the son of one of the last Kindite kings.

Unayzah is surrounded by sand dunes to the north and west, known locally as Al-Ghamis Sands. Unayzah is one of the most beautiful oases in the peninsula. It possesses about 500,000 date palms, and Unayzahans claim that they produce the best dates in the world.

The province of Najd, with its ancient cities, gardens, date plantations and wadis, is considered the heartland of the Kingdom. Over time, Unayzah was called, the “Paris of Najd”, as well as “the Queen of al‑Qaṣsim”.

The title of “Paris of Najd”, is an expression coined by Amin al‑Riḥani, a Lebanese writer and traveler who visited the city in 1922. A century later, many still remember Unayzah by this label, perhaps because it has attracted visitors since pre-Islamic times.

Located on a historic caravan route between the Arabian lands and Mesopotamia, the city was a passing point for pilgrims from many parts of the Middle East traveling to Makkah and Madinah. Zubaydah, (the route from Baghdad to Makkah and Medina, was renamed the “Darb Zubaydah in her honor), the wife of the Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid, made a stop there and ordered the digging of a number of wells for the pilgrims.

Unayzah is one of the few places in the desert to have retained part of its Najdi architectural heritage; notable the Al Bassam House, one of the most important buildings in the Qassim region; this palace made of mud has an area of over 3,500 square meters, built in accordance with Najdi style.

Al Bassam House represents an era of architectural evolution in the province of Unaizah. The city is also famous for its numerous libraries and katatib (Quranic schools).

Al Bassam House

Unayzah, the crossroads of the main trade and caravan routes, gave the city strategic and economic importance in an era in which traffic faced long and difficult land routes. Until the 1930s, caravans starting from Unayzah, each with between 40 and 140 camels, regularly carried goods between Unayzah and Kuwait, Riyadh, Medina and Makkah, as well as its merchants were engaged in more lucrative long-distance export trade of camels and horses to Egypt, Syria, Iraq.

Along the times, Unayzah ever enjoyed the reputation of being a multi‑lingual, trade‑oriented, and multi‑ethnic urban center.

SANDS is a weekly newsletter written and curated by Alberto Di Gennaro, hosted by SquareKufic. You can subscribe to the newsletter via LinkedIn, or read the articles here, at SquareKufic.

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