City of Hail

Hail has developed into a modern agricultural, industrial and commercial center in north-central Saudi Arabia.

To the eyes of the desert traveler, whether he was part of a caravan in ancient times or is driving a vehicle along today's modern highways, the city of Hail is a welcome sight. In sharp contrast to the beige and sand colors of its surroundings, the main color of Hail is green, in the form of vast date palm groves, wheat fields and vegetable gardens that carpet the broad valley floor.

Since ancient times, Hail has been a magnet attracting people from all points of the compass. Rock carvings and petroglyphs provide evidence of human habitation here stretching back more than 18,000 years. What has brought so many people to Hail is water.

Situated at the southern fringes of the great Nafud Desert, one of the most inhospitable places on earth, the Hail valley is surrounded by the Jabal Shammar mountain range. Water from the massif collects on the granite floor of the valley under a layer of soil with the result that trees, particularly those that run deep roots, can collect the moisture.

These aquifers also made agriculture possible. Artifacts indicate the presence of permanent settlements of farmers in the Hail valley more than three thousand years ago. The first- century AD Roman geographer Ptolomy refers to Hail, though by its pre-Islamic names of Arre Kome or Aine. Over the centuries, the inhabitants dug a network of wells to provide drinking water, as well as to feed vast irrigation canals that sustain extensive date palms and grain fields.

With the advent of Islam in the seventh century AD, the Arabian Peninsula attained a greater importance on the world stage. The spiritual heart of a vast Islamic empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west was the city of Makkah, the site of the Holy Mosque and the Ka'abah at its center toward which all Muslims face to pray. As this empire prospered, more and more Muslims began making the pilgrimage to the Holy City.

Farm in Hail

Agricultural goods produced in Hail's extensive orchards and farms are distributed throughout Saudi Arabia and exported abroad.

Located along the famous Darb Zubaydah caravan route that brought pilgrim caravans from Mesopotamia, Persia and Central Asia to Makkah and Madinah, the city of Hail became a strategic stopping point. Built 12 centuries ago and named after the wife of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, the caravan route included hundreds of wells and cisterns, remnants of which are still visible in Hail. The valley's importance was further enhanced by its position astride the commercial caravan trail running from the Arabian Gulf ports to Damascus. As a consequence, Hail prospered by provisioning these caravans. The Arab traveler Ibn Batuta took note of the valley's souq (market), where tradesmen from abroad as well as townspeople bought and sold goods.

Historical references to the city increased with the advent of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century. Travelers passing through Hail to visit Riyadh, the seat of the Saudi Kingdom to the southeast, described a settlement little changed over the centuries. A small number of mud-brick dwellings huddled around a large fort surrounded by orchards and farms. These writings show that Hail was unable to truly prosper due to the depredation of marauding robber bands that preyed on the town and the caravans that passed through it.

In 1932, Hail entered a new chapter in its history. After unifying the fractious tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and subsequent founding of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that year, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud moved swiftly to end the instability that prevailed in much of the peninsula. With travel and commerce made safe, and the introduction of programs to develop the region, Hail soon began to blossom as it had never done before.

Historic Fort in Hail

While preserving its old forts and historic structures, as well as its traditions and heritage, Hail has rapidly moved into the modern era. It is now a thriving center of agriculture, industry and commerce, one which its inhabitants of even a hundred years ago could not have imagined.

Hail's scenic countryside

Hail's scenic countryside and ancient landmarks (photos above and below) attract visitors from all across Saudi Arabia.

With the advent of stability and security in the region, the Kingdom took immediate steps to establish an infrastructure capable of bringing about the city's rapid development. A network of highways was built to connect the city to other major urban and commercial centers. A modern airport was built outside the city. These transportation facilities are no longer used as a conduit for pilgrims, but to integrate the city with the rest of the country to facilitate commerce and development.

Lacking any formal schools at the time of the unification of Saudi Arabia, Hail saw its first primary school set up in 1937. That was followed by the establishment of a modern educational system that now includes hundreds of kindergarten, primary, intermediate and secondary schools. There are now two colleges and several vocational training institutes in Hail. A new college set up by the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals will accept students in Hail in the coming academic year.

Similarly, there were no medical facilities in Hail some 60 years ago. Today, two large modern hospitals offer state-of-the-art services. These are complemented by more than 80 primary healthcare clinics in the city and its surrounding villages as well as several hundred dispensaries.

Landmarks in Hail

Having provided for the education and physical health of the city's inhabitants, Saudi Arabia also moved to provide for their recreational and cultural needs. As it has in other urban centers throughout the Kingdom, the General Presidency of Youth Welfare built a large modern sports complex in Hail, with outdoor soccer and track fields and indoor courts for basketball, volleyball, handball and other sports.

Landmarks in Hail

Electric power generation plants were established and lines extended to all major villages and farms that surround Hail. Modern water distribution and sewage lines were built and the city was connected to the national telecommunications system.

With the infrastructure in place, the city rapidly flourished. It now has a population estimated at 150,000, ten times larger than at any time before the modern era.

The principal economic activity in Hail remains agriculture. But the agriculture practiced in Hail today is a far cry from the primitive practices of the past. At the outset of the introduction of development plans in 1970, Saudi Arabia took steps to modernize and expand this sector in Hail. It began by providing billions of dollars in grants and interest-free loans through the Agricultural Bank to farmers and entrepreneurs for farming, land reclamation, irrigation, production of fertilizers and other enterprises that support agriculture.

Traditional and Modern Hail

Like most other cities in Saudi Arabia, Hail has preserved its traditional architecture while offering modern amenities (this photo and below).

In 1981, the Hail Company for Agricultural Development was established as a share company. Granted 86,000 acres of land by the government, the company soon thrived, increasing output annually and generating more than two billion Saudi riyals (533.3 million U.S. dollars) in profits, some of which has been disbursed to shareholders, and the remainder reinvested in the operation.

To support the exponential growth of agriculture, the government took similar steps, including the provision of interest-free loans, to encourage the establishment of peripheral companies that are required to service this sector. There are now several major private firms that provide seeds, farm machinery, spare parts, technical support and fertilizers to farmers.

The availability of all necessary services and facilities has resulted in the growth of land under cultivation to more than 350,000 acres. More importantly, Hail's farmers have managed to increase output and diversify their products. Dates and grains no longer dominate these farms. Today, Hail exports fruits, including citrus, apples, peaches, grapes and olives, as well as dates and grains. Also, Hail's farmers, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Water, have managed to develop new strains of wheat, barley and fruit trees that are better suited to the region's climate and produce higher-quality products at greater volumes.

Modern Hail

To accommodate the growing agricultural output of Hail, the government has established a vast grain silo and provided incentives for private companies to build warehouses, refrigerated containers and processing and packing facilities.

Whereas agriculture has traditionally been the only activity in Hail, the modern city now has a dynamic industrial and commercial sector. Today, there are more than 2,000 companies on the roster of the Hail Chamber of Commerce and Industry. With interest-free long-term loans provided by the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, private companies and individuals have established new factories to produce aluminum products, furniture, office equipment and a variety of construction materials and supplies.

The commercial sector also has grown immensely. Businessmen and companies are engaged in the transportation and sale of Hail's growing list of agricultural and industrial goods in other Saudi Arabian cities, as well as in Arabian Gulf countries and Europe. Also, there now are several modern shopping centers with more than 2,000 stores that offer all the consumer goods the residents of Hail need.

A park in Hail

Images of Hail's clean and expansive boulevards, its many parks, both in the city and in the surrounding mountains, numerous playgrounds, historic buildings and old souq, coupled with its refreshing climate are drawing large numbers of Saudi families to visit the city, feeding a fledgling tourism industry.

Like so many other parts of Saudi Arabia, Hail is building on its traditional strengths while looking for new areas in which to diversify and prosper.{short description of image}

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