Ushaiqer is located about 200 kilometers northwest of Riyadh, and it is one of the oldest settlements in the region. In the old times, it used to be a necessary stop for pilgrims coming from Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran and heading further west toward the holy sites of Islam. Ushaiqer first appears in the writings of Al-Hutay’a, an Arab poet that lived in the 7th century, but its origins are probably much older.
With modern transport, Ushaiqer lost its importance. What was once a thriving center of learning and trade is now a quaint cluster of mud houses and deserted narrow alleys. The idea of a “heritage village” brings to mind a place where one can observe a traditional lifestyle. Ushaiqer fits the bill in the sense that one can observe traditional architecture and visit a museum displaying ancient weapons, everyday utensils, embroidered clothing, and artisanal jewelry. The old section of Ushaiqer, however, is abandoned.
Ushaiqer, as a heritage village, is a work in progress. Some buildings have been restored, while others lay in varying degrees of disrepair. The labyrinthine network of alleys is safe to walk through, but entering any of the open buildings is a hazard. The thick walls of the houses and the walkways between buildings provide some shelter from the unforgiving sun. At the outskirts of Ushaiqer are palm groves and wells.
A couple of interesting architectural features of these houses are the recurring triangular shape in windows and roofs, and the widespread use of columns with distinctive capitals to support the ceiling. The roofs consist of local timber and interlaced palm fronds, which fare well in this weather if maintained regularly, but deteriorate fast if abandoned. The doors, also made of local timber, exhibit geometric decorations and rudimentary but effective locking devices.