Rijal Alma – Rijal Alma, Saudi Arabia - Atlas Obscura

Rijal Alma

Rijal Alma, Saudi Arabia

A 900-year-old village located in the highland of the Asir region that features historic architecture.  

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This village was an important settlement for pilgrims from Yemen doing the haj, as they would travel through this mountainous area to reach their destination. With the arrival of modern means of transport, the village lost its strategic importance but managed to retain its charm.

One of the most noticeable characteristics is the height of the stone buildings in Rijal Alma. Constructing a five- or six-floor stone building required technical expertise radically different from that which is used in simpler one, or two-floor buildings. The latter can be erected using rudimentary pillars to sustain the whole structure, but an increase in height calls for main walls made of stone and clay to fortify the building. More than 60 of these multi-floor buildings can be found in Rijal Alma—the tallest consists of eight floors. Some have been perfectly restored, while others, mainly in the northern section of the village, remain in a dire state of disrepair.

Another striking characteristic of these buildings is the use of geometric and floral patterns for decorating internal and external walls, which is meant to call to mind the perfection inherent to religious depictions of the Garden of Eden. This architectural trait can be observed throughout the Asir region, but Rijal Alma brings a level of sophistication that is unique. One aspect of this art that is worth mentioning is that its development and preservation are largely attributed to women.

The first two floors of these buildings were usually dedicated to livestock and storage, while people usually occupied the upper floors. This arrangement increased the defensive capability of the house. Considering that raiding and tribal animosity were relatively common, it would have been hard for attackers to reach the upper floors of a stone house, especially compared with one, or two-floor buildings common in other parts of Saudi Arabia.

A museum has been opened in the center of the village that showcases local cultural artifacts.

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December 14, 2022

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