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Saudi Arabia is by far the largest of the Gulf States. More than half of the country is covered in sand though; making it something of an almost empty desert.
Alexander the Great's plans to conquer Arabia were cut short by his death.
By the 5th century AD Mecca had gained in stature over the Nabataean city of Petra, in present-day Jordan.
Jeddah started as a fishing village, when the Quadaa fishermen settled here some 2,500 years ago; its natural harbour and reef offering a good base for their fishing boats.
- The Soul of Jeddah:
Travel back in time to the land of Arabian Nights.
The prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca, in 570, but had to move to Medina when his teachings angered local residents.
When he was 60, the prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca with his followers, and conquered the city.
The Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) is the fifth of the 'Five Pillars of Islam' - the five most important acts of a Muslim (Sunni Islam) under Sharia law.
Special visas are issued to foreigners by the Government of Saudi Arabia, for the purpose of pilgrimage; although entrance to the city itself is forbidden to non-Muslims, as the entire city is considered a holy site in Islam.
Every sane and able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime, during the last month of the Islamic Calendar (Dhu al-Hijjah, or Month of Hajj).
His founding of Islam changed the course of history, and eventually turned Mecca into an important place of pilgrimage for Muslims.
Pilgrimage rites occur during a five-day period, between the 8th and 12th days of the twelfth lunar month.
The event is also marked by the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which falls on the 10th day of the lunar month.
Some 2 million pilgrims visit the Holy sites during the Hajj and some of the Holy places can be very crowded, particularly at the stoning of the Satans at Mina (BBC stoning story from 2003) and the circumambulation of the Kaaba.
Many pilgrims fly to Jeddah and then travel to Mecca by bus.
Some 25,000 British Muslims make the annual pilgrimage.
1. Muharram; 2. Safar; 3. Rabi' al-awwal; 4. Rabi' al-thani; 5. Jumada al-awwal; 6. Jumada al-thani; 7. Rajab; 8. Sha'aban; 9. Ramadan; 10. Shawwal; 11. Dhu al-Qi'dah; 12. Dhu al-Hijjah.
Medina is also an important holy city, as Muhammad's tomb is in the Mosque of the Prophet.
Le Meridien Medina: Khaled Bin El Waleed Road, Medina.
The spacious yet intimate lobby ushers you into perfect blend of contemporary elegance with a touch of traditional hospitality.
The only first class hotel outside the holy Haram area, Le Meridien Medina caters for both Muslims and other religious groups.
The Wahhabi and Saudis suffered many setbacks, but founded Riyadh as their capital in 1818, and then set out to reconquer the earlier lands they lost.
On arrival of the Ottomans, the dynasty was divided by civil war; and the defeated Saudis had to lie low and lick their wounds in Kuwait.
Abdul Aziz ibn Saud returned from Kuwait with an army to retake Riyadh in 1902.
By 1906 the Saudi forces controlled the Najd region again, and went on to capture the Hasa region in 1913; the Jebel Shammar in 1921; Mecca and Medina around 1924; and Asir in 1926.
Satisfied with these accumulative victories, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud declared himself king of Al Hijaz, made Mecca the religious capital, and gave his immense domain the name of Saudi Arabia.
British Embassy in Riyadh:
In 1985 the Diplomatic Community moved from Jeddah to the Diplomatic Quarter; a purpose built suburb of Riyadh which houses the majority of foreign embassies and delegations in Riyadh.
US Embassy in Riyadh:
P.O. Box 94309, Riyadh 11693.
Saturday to Wednesday 8:00-17:00 (except holidays).
Muhammad ibn Saud founded the Saud dynasty, near present-day Riyadh, during the 15th century.
The Wahhabi fundamentalist sect was formed by the religious leader Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the mid-18th century.
With the support of the Saudi armies, the movement spread to form a nationalist Arab state in the Najd.
Saudi Arabia Travel Guides
Weather in the Middle East:
Local weather forecasts for destinations around the Middle East.
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