Madain Saleh named first UNESCO World Heritage site in Saudi Arabia

July 7, 2008

The ancient Nabatean city of Madain Saleh has been inscribed as the first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in Saudi Arabia.

The decision to inscribe Madain Saleh was made at the 21-member World Heritage Committee meeting in Quebec City currently underway, according to a July 5 press release on the UNESCO website.

Formerly known as Al-Hijr, Madain Saleh is the largest conserved Nabatean site south of Petra. It features well-preserved tombs dating from the first century BC, cave drawings and some 50 inscriptions from the pre-Nabatean period.

“With its 111 monumental tombs, 94 of which are decorated, and water wells, the site is an outstanding example of the Nabataeans’ architectural accomplishment and hydraulic expertise,” UNESCO said in the press release.

Other sites added to the list at the Quebec City meeting included the Le Morne mountain in Mauritius that served as a hideout for runaway slaves and earthen houses in China’s Fujian Province.

Through its World Heritage program, UNESCO seeks to preserve cultural and natural sites worldwide in cooperation with experts and governments. Placement on the UNESCO list paves the way for greater international collaboration in preserving the sites.

The application process begins with a country’s submission of a tentative list for nomination. Then, UNESCO committees review each site to determine its universal value. The sites must meet at least one of ten criteria listed in UNESCO’s guidelines.