From battlefield to glampsite: the story of Saudi’s Khaybar


A Saudi city greatest identified for a fierce battle between the Prophet Mohammed and Jewish tribes is remodelling itself as an upscale vacationer draw in step with the dominion’s rebranding efforts.

Situated in an oasis amid a volcanic subject north of Medina, the settlement of Khaybar was as soon as home to hundreds of Jews, who have been defeated in a decisive seventh-century battle with the Prophet’s military as Islam expanded throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

The chant “Khaybar, Khaybar, o Jews, the army of Mohammed will return” can nonetheless typically be heard at present-day anti-Israel demonstrations, drawing objections from teams such because the Anti-Defamation League, which says it “can be perceived as a threat of armed violence”.

Last month, Saudi Arabia inaugurated a brand new guests’ centre in Khaybar, which takes an extended view of the realm’s historical past by highlighting references in historical texts to its conquest by Babylonian-era King Nabonidus.

At the centre, shows keep away from mentioning the seventh-century battle and vacationers can organize hikes to close by volcanoes, strolls via lush palm springs or helicopter excursions over historical tombs and desert kites, that are dry stone partitions that served as animal traps.

The venture is a part of a broader push within the conservative Sunni Muslim nation, which solely started issuing tourism visas in 2019, to draw some 30 million international guests yearly by the tip of the last decade, up from 4 million final 12 months.

Khaybar tour information Enass al-Sharif mentioned it was essential to shine a light-weight on options of the realm that transcend its significance to Islam.

“Khaybar has a strong relationship with religion and it has a close relationship with the Prophet,” she advised AFP.

However, “it also has a strong relationship with history and civilisation. All these things were collected in one place, which is why it is attracting many tourists.”

– ‘Quantum leap’ –

Archaeologists imagine Khaybar has been inhabited for over 200,000 years, and it as soon as served as a significant cease alongside the so-called Incense Route that linked it to Medina to the south, and the desert metropolis of Al-Ula to the north.

But within the 1970s, the Saudi authorities started pushing residents to depart the outdated settlements for brand spanking new constructions with fashionable plumbing and electrical energy.

“We wanted some civilisation and development… so we left,” recalled Saifi al-Shilali, a Khaybar native who was in his early 20s when his household moved away.

Since then, the outdated settlements have been deserted, and Shilali, now in his 60s, is amongst those that have been agitating for a revival.

The transformation of Khaybar into a possible tourism draw “is something we have been waiting for for a long time,” he advised AFP.

“With my interest in research in Khaybar and in tourism… we have been waiting for this moment, so we consider it a quantum leap.”

Like different Saudi sights similar to Al-Ula, a budding arts hub situated amongst historical Nabataean tombs, Khaybar is essentially geared towards well-heeled travellers.

The Khaybar Volcano Camp guarantees an “exclusive stay” that “takes glamping to another level”, with 10 rooms surrounded by imposing mountains.

The focus lies squarely on the setting slightly than the historic occasions that befell there.

The camp even includes a reiki power therapeutic grasp named Chamuel who conducts sound meditation classes, inviting company to enter “your own magical garden, a place beyond time and space”.

– Unsolved mysteries –

All the whereas, an archaeological survey and excavation venture continues to unearth new particulars about human exercise within the space in addition to how its local weather has advanced.

The venture, backed by the French authorities and anticipated to final via the tip of 2024, has already yielded a deeper understanding of neolithic campsites, canals and rock artwork.

Among essentially the most intriguing finds are the “pendant tombs”, rock formations that when considered from above resemble a pendant hanging from a series.

The story behind them “remains a mystery”, in line with the guests’ centre, although archaeologists imagine they date again 5,000 years.

Khaybar residents like Shilali are wanting to be taught extra in regards to the individuals who constructed them as a part of rounding out an image of the area’s previous — together with the Prophet Mohammed’s seventh-century victory, but additionally every part else.

“I think we are supposed to shed light on Khaybar as a historical region whose roots go back to prehistoric periods, including the Jewish period,” he mentioned.

“I believe that the history should be known in its true form, without any exaggerations.”