Makers & Markets: AlUla's old town
Makers & Markets: AlUla's old town
Shop in a mercantile setting like no other, a world of local artisans, stalls, and cafés, amidst ancient structures and natural wonders
Saudi Arabia’s ancient desert landscapes are replete with breathtaking rock formations and centuries-old remnants of kingdoms and civilizations, and AlUla is arguably the country’s star destination for this genre of escape. The area, which once connected the prehistoric eastern and Mediterranean worlds and is now again on the world’s radar as a must-visit destination, is a unique gem thanks to its historical, cultural, and natural offerings.
Luckily for explorers, soaking in AlUla’s list-topping sites like Elephant Rock, Hegra, and Dadan, while also enjoying its many entertainment and culinary adventures, can be complemented by a stroll through its Old Town Market. The market, which is an ongoing ticketed event until April 2023, combines the region’s cultural and heritage aspects, and allows visitors to take home artisanal treasures that serve as mementos of a time spent in this magical and timeless place.
Approximately 900 properties and 400 shops have been discovered
in this town to date, amidst its original stone and mudbrick
houses marked by intricate patterns and archaeological remains.
AlUla’s old town is said to date back to the 12th century, when it was a key settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Mecca, and was inhabited until the 1980s, when its last residents departed.
A stroll down the Old Town Market road today reveals local artisans, traditional crafts, and shops with homegrown Saudi fashion, beauty products, jewelry, and art all on show. On the market’s Incense Road, visitors can find handmade crafts in shops like Madrasat AdDeera, Hekayat, Otta, Golden Hook, Ghossain Alban, and AlUla Premium Stones, while homemade natural essential oils and perfumes can be spotted at The Pure Village for Oil Press.
“We’re offering sustainable handmade crafts at House of Otta,” said Ghada Al-Anzi, who works at the boutique displaying beautifully hand-glazed cups, bowls, and mugs. “We make pottery and ceramics by using environmentally friendly materials that feature simple designs, some left unglazed while others are painted in stunning hues. We believe in the beauty and richness of simplicity.” She went on to explain that AlUla has a lot to offer because of its history and culture, and it is the perfect spot to have such a shop, as “it is a place that celebrates nature.”
Otta is not the only atelier in Old Town Market focused on the region’s heritage and offering a myriad of Saudi-made items. Desert Designs is filled with heritage pieces made from locally sourced materials and crafts by AlUla residents, such as handcrafted wooden furniture, Bedouin silver antiques, Najdi doors, and woven-palm items. There is also Aram Risin, named after the boutique’s owner who creates resin giftware reflective of AlUla’s identity, including local symbols such as dates, plates of citrus fruit, wheat, and stones, as well as calligraphy from the Lihyanite period. For those looking for images of the past, Abdul Majeed Saleh Al-Balawi’s shop is where you can find a selection of heritage, landscape, and aerial photography of the area, and on display are beautiful vintage cameras.
For culinary specialties from the region, a must-visit is Ghosn Alban Diaries for Honey Shop, which has a selection of honey varieties, including citrus, frankincense, and other plants that grow in AlUla’s many orchids. There’s also Danat AlMadayin Dates Shop, which shows how part of the region’s history was linked to date production. These special dates are locally grown, organic, and make ideal presents to take home after a journey to AlUla.
After exploring the many boutiques in AlUla’s Old Town Market, visitors can rest at one of several homegrown cafés. Dine under the stars at Alfa's Lounge nestled in the red canyon rocks, take a moment to sip a coffee Wacafe or relax with family at Acme, as Al-Anzi puts it, AlUla and AlUla Old Town “continues to marvel the visitor, no matter how many times they visit.”