National Geographic : 2014 Jul
Out of Eden walk, part two 91 fight before we got to Mecca, and a splendid camel in front of me was shot through the heart.”) This literary Hejaz, if it ever truly existed, has long since disappeared under American-style suburbs and strip malls. Yet outside the old pilgrim’s port of Al Wajh, we stumble upon the ghost of one of the most famous of these Orientalists. Workmen are cleaning out a well. The well lies within the high rock walls of Al Zurayb fortress, built 400 years ago by the Ot- tomans. The laborers haul up old explosives: can- non shells that look like rusted pineapples. The ordnance was chucked down the well in panic, probably in January 1917. At that time a camel- back Arab army was approaching fast. The tribes home. (He died of dysentery and was buried with Muslim rites in Cairo.) There is the brilliant and pompous Englishman Richard Francis Burton, who, if he can be believed, actually touched the Kaaba, the holiest of holies—a massive cube of volcanic stone in Mecca toward which all Mus- lims must pray. These Europeans witnessed a world locked in time. They found Red Sea towns built of shining white coral blocks, their arched doors and window shutters painted sea green and dazzling nomad blue. They passed through walled cities whose tall gates creaked shut at dusk. They galloped camels between fortified oases with wild-haired men, the Bedouin, whom they found harshly admirable. (Burton: “We had another For centuries the stone and mud-brick houses of Al Ula hosted religious travelers and traders carrying spices and incense. In the 1970s Saudi authorities moved residents of the old quarter to a brand-new city next door.