Places of Light
With the Arabian Peninsula being primarily desert, we would be hard pressed to find a location that is not inundated with an abundance of natural light. However, let us take a look at a few different interpretations of light as our focus for this month's Bucket List.
Metaphorically, there is one location that is on everyone's lips when they consider somewhere related to light that is also historically and culturally significant: Jabal Noor (The Mountain of Light/Enlightenment).
Atop this mountain, in a small little cave known as Hira Cave, Prophet Muhammad would regularly spend long bouts of time (sometimes a month in length) in meditation. Around 610 CE during the month of Ramadan, Archangel Gabriel came to Muhammad and commanded him to recite the first verse of the Quran, "Read! In the name of your Lord who has created." From there, the course of history is forever changed.
The mountain is located a few kilometers northeast of the Grand Mosque in Makkah. It's a little over 600 meters tall, but climbing can still be a challenging couple of hours, leading you to Hira Cave that can just about fit five or so people in it.
Mashrabiyat are an incredible feat of architectural design, serving as window to the outside as well as privacy curtain, shade and rudimentary air conditioner and refrigerator all at once. Paired with porous clay pots of water, the open latticework allowed for a constant air current to cool people as well as the pots, while providing enough shade from the strong desert sun.
It's interesting to note that many Arabic countries each have their own term for this design element. Some refer to it as a Rashwan, while in Iraq it's called a shanasheel, and in Yemen it's a takrima.
While difficult to pinpoint the origins of this prototypically Arabic and Islamic architectural element, we know that mashrabiyat hit their popularity during the Abbasid and Ottoman eras. Jeddah, consequently, is our prime example of a city with beautiful representations of mashrabiyat.
Roaming around and exploring Jeddah's Balad District is the best way to get exposed to the varied details and workmanship of mashrabiyat, but if you needed to start somewhere, check out Nasseef House, a 140-year-old historical building that currently operates as a popular museum and cultural center.
Stars play a pivotal part throughout our cultural history, going back to pre-Islamic Bedouins who relied on our celestial spotlights to guide them both in time (as a calendar system) and space (as a navigation tool).
As a quick list of highlights, prime spots for stargazing include AlUla, Moon Mountain (an hour north of Jeddah), AlWahbah Crater (couple of hours drive north of Taif), and Nairyah (two hours and a half north of Khobar).
When in doubt, deserts and mountains are a stargazer's best friend for places with low light pollution and clear skies.