Marvel at the beauty of the village of Rijal Almaa in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, which dates back over 700 years
Once a sleepy village on the steep slopes of the mountains in Saudi Arabia's southwestern Asir region, the town of Rijal Almaa has now garnered the world's attention. In 2021, following the kingdom's robust tourism development strategy, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) inscribed the destination on the list of the best tourist villages in the world.
Dating back to the eighth century, the town is home to well-preserved examples of the fort-like stone architecture that is native to this region. It's a striking testament to the traditional Arabian architecture found across the country, which stands out against the natural beauty of the area. And the kingdom is inviting history and culture buffs from all over the world to discover its many marvels.
Located about 45 kilometres from Abha city, Rijal Almaa straddles the southwestern border of the kingdom. The village comprises 60 multi-storey structures built from grey and brown stone, clay and wood. The wooden balconies and tiny white windows offer insight into the vibrant colour schemes that adorn the interiors of these houses, from orange and red to green and blue. These bright hues give the town the name of Rijal Almaa, which translates to "the brightest men". While exploring, it is important to be aware that many of these homes are still lived in, which, in fact, offers the perfect opportunity to learn more about the local way of life.
The perimeter of Rijal Almaa is dotted with more than a dozen watchtowers, which, in the past, served as defensive vantage points, offering views over the entire village. Completing the setting are the rolling verdant hills, which surround the village. During the cooler months, dense clouds envelop this settlement in the early hours of the morning, making the entire scene seem surreal.
Journey into the past
Rijal Almaa was once a significant commerce hub in the Arabian peninsula. It connected cities across the region and facilitated the exchange of spices, grains, perfumes and handcrafted jewellery. Items that travelled as far as from the Far East were easy to find in the region, thanks to this strategic trade route.
Its storied past also bears witness to the Asiri tribes defeating the Ottoman army in this very village. Although the Ottoman army was 50,000 strong, the victory of the Asiri tribes forced them to sign a treaty granting the region independence from the Ottoman Empire. Highlighting the town's history, Rijal Almaa Heritage Village houses a museum that tells the story of the city through ancient relics and artefacts.
The locals of Rijal Almaa remain committed to preserving their culture, which is why, when you visit, they will be happy to regale you with tales about their heritage. It is common to find men in their traditional attire, called futa, which is a vibrant outfit that consists of a wraparound skirt with colourful stripes. The villagers are also often spotted wearing floral wreaths on their heads, made of delicate arrangements of flowers and herbs, a practice that visitors are encouraged to participate in.
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