After Mecca, Medina is the most sacred city in the Islamic religion. And like Mecca, central Medina is also closed to non-Muslims (although they can still visit the outer parts of the city). Home to the “Prophet’s Mosque”, where the Prophet Muhammad is buried, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that Medina is a pious city with many spectacular religious buildings and monuments. It’s undeniably beautiful and, compared to most cities, both clean and tranquil – so perfectly suited for a divine experience.
The most visited site is, for obvious reasons, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, or the Prophet’s Mosque. The mosque was built in 622 by the Prophet Muhammad adjacent to his house, although it’s been renovated and expanded considerably since then. It’s iconic green dome narrowly escaped destruction by the Wahhabis in the early 19th-century, as they sought to prevent the veneration of the city’s grandest religious buildings. Adjacent to the mosque is the Jannatul Baqi graveyard where many of the Prophet Muhammad’s relatives and close companions are buried.
The Quba Mosque is also a key pilgrimage site and, although the building itself has changed dramatically, it’s widely considered to be the oldest mosque in the world, with the foundation stones laid by the Prophet Muhammad upon his arrival in Medina from Mecca.
Also worth visiting are the Seven Mosques, a complex of mosques built at the foot of Mount Sela to commemorate the famous Battle of the Trench, which took place there. Despite its name, it actually consists of just six mosques, as the Masjid al-Qiblatayn has since been separated from the complex. This mosque is also important because it’s where the direction of prayer changed from Jerusalem to Mecca.
There are also several museums covering a great deal of information on Islamic history, the Prophet Muhammad and the development of Medina. Highlights include the beautiful Al Madina Museum, the Dar Al Madina Museum and the Koran Museum.
People and Traditions
The people of Medina are unsurprisingly conservative and devout. Traditions and celebrations revolve entirely around the teachings of Islam. While non-Muslim expats do reside just outside the area, there is little tolerance for irreligious behaviour. Non-Muslim visitors to the outskirts should note that any attempt to enter the city centre could result in their deportation from the country.
Medina summers are extremely hot, with highs averaging in the 40s (ºC) and nighttime temperatures rarely dipping below 20ºC. Winters are cooler, with temperatures ranging from about 10 to 25ºC. What little rain there is falls almost entirely during the cooler months.
Medina also boasts several good shopping options for the devout. The Rashed Mall is a spectacular shopping centre that deserves a visit even if the Old Bazaar is more appealing to you. The latter is the place to find bargains on more or less anything, from traditional Arabian products and beyond – just so long as it’s halal!
Although the city might play second fiddle to Mecca, the main activity in Medina is pilgrimage. Many sites where pilgrims go to pay their respects have already been mentioned, but there are several less central sites that are worth the trip and can also be visited by non-Muslims. The Grave of Hamzah is the resting place of the Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, located at the foot of Mount Uhud, where the devout go to pay their respects to the Medians who died during the Battle of Uhud.
The Mada’in Tombs are a breathtaking archaeological treasure. This ancient town was carved into the mountains by the Nabateans and is evocative of their more famous capital, Petra. There are also remnants of ancient Lihyanite and Roman settlements. There’s also the Wadi e Jinn, a valley where things are said to roll or flow uphill rather than down.