Saudi's Yanbu Night Market offers centuries of history at no extra cost

The buildings there are of traditional coastal design and construction, and the area is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike

  
People play football in Jeddah's historic district January 1,2013.

People play football in Jeddah's historic district January 1,2013.

REUTERS/Susan Baaghil
 
JEDDAH: Yanbu Night Market, the Saudi city’s oldest marketplace, has been pulling in the crowds, young and old, for generations. After a period of decline it has undergone a restoration and revival in recent years, and is now considered one of the most important historical sites on the Kingdom’s west coast.


Residents believe its origins can be traced back hundreds of years to the days when merchant ships carrying supplies from Africa and East Asia, and passenger ships filled with pilgrims arriving for Hajj and Umrah, would dock there.

It was dubbed the “night market” by sailors and fisherman who would buy provisions there shortly before setting sail in the early hours of the morning. The fishermen would return to sell their fresh catches and so it became known as one of the finest fish markets in the region. Thousands of fishermen have set up stalls there through the years, and the latest generation continues the tradition, selling their wares to residents and restaurants.

Turki Al-Khaldi, who was born in Thuwal, north of Yanbu, fondly remembers accompanying his father on long journeys to and from Yanbu to buy food and supplies for the family home.

“When I was a child, we only had the beaches to play on, or some small parks, and so these trips were special, specifically because I was the eldest child and my father believed that I needed to learn everything from him,” he told Arab News. “They might be two-hour trips now, but they used to take a bit longer, 30 or more years ago, and my father would tell tales of sailors coming from everywhere and the different sizes of ships that would dock.

“I saw everything in the market, though it didn’t look like what my father used to describe from his younger days. But I remember seeing large crates of dates being sold; an assortment of seafood, fresh and dried; textiles; cookware and so much more. The market had everything.

FASTFACT

Said to have been established hundreds of years ago, the market is considered one of the most important historical sites on Saudi Arabia’s west coast.

“Of course, it’s not the same today; it has become a tourist attraction and there’s been so much development in Yanbu that I can hardly recognize it. It’s amazing that I can now bring my own children and show them the different shops — the fish is still excellent too, which is a plus for my family.”

In the past few years a number of successful projects have been launched to revive the market and restore it to something approaching its former glory, after several decades of decline during which the number of traders and visitors gradually fell.

Now, the old shops have reopened and the heritage and unique identity of the market has been reinforced as part of a project to rehabilitate Al-Sour neighborhood, Yanbu’s historical area. The buildings there are of traditional coastal design and construction, and the area is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

This year, market authorities say visitor numbers have been boosted by its participation in the Kingdom’s Our Summer, Your Mood season, which was launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority in June and continues until Sep. 30. It features 500 diverse tourist experiences offered by more than 250 private-sector partners.

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