Saturday morning, after an uber heavy breakfast and some more photography sessions and lazy stretches, we set out for Tabuk just before noon. This time, we took the shorter route. The drive was only an hour and a half long and we reached there pretty quickly. We had our return flight in the evening. So we had planned to cover all the major points by then. I had marked some tourist attractions in Tabuk. One of which was the Hejazi Railway Museum.
It seems unbelievable to me that this train-less country had an actual train station which was converted since to a train museum – that too dating back to more than a 100 years old. This train route was built in 1908 from Damascus, Syria to Madinah, Saudi Arabia as a means to ease the Hajj journey for pilgrims. However, it had to be closed in 1920 due to severe damages during WWI. Unfortunately for us, the museum was undergoing renovation works, so we could not visit inside. Also, I could not take any pictures since they had sealed off all entrances.
On the other side of the street, was the Tabuk Fortress and Prophet’s Mosque. The roads are a bit confusing. Once you get there though, it becomes very easy since both the points are close to each other at a distance of around 100 meters. There is also a big car parking area in front of the mosque.
The Repentance Mosque/ Prophet’s Mosque
The Mosque is named “Masjid At-Tawbah” or the Mosque of Repentance. When Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) came for the ‘Battle of Tabuk’ with an army of 30,000 men, it is said that he built a mosque of mud and the roof with dried palm leaves and trunk and led the prayers there. That mosque has since then been reconstructed twice. Once, by Ottoman kings, who rebuilt it with stone and second, very recently, in 1992, by King Faisal
We got to pray the Asr prayers there after which we proceeded to the Tabuk Fortress.
The Tabuk Fortress
Just about a hundred metres away from the mosque, the fortress or the Tabuk Castle dates back to 3500 BC and has been restored many times, the most recent being in 1651 AD. It is also known as As-hab Al-Aykah and there is a mention of it in the Holy Quran as well. The fortress has three floors, the top floor however was sealed off but you can see the small slits in the walls that served as a watch tower for the guards. On the first floor was an open courtyard, a small well and many small rooms. On the second floor as well, there were a number of rooms. Some of the rooms had a wash area, some had a small kitchen, one or two had a fireplace and some were simple rooms. There was no light inside the rooms except the normal daylight, which was also minimal since there were no windows in any rooms except one on the corner overseeing Ayn Al-Sikr, the dried up srping. The fortress has been turned into a museum (sort-of) which contains details about the Prophet’s Mosque, its development through the ages, a little bit about the spring, and Tabuk city, according to the eyes of various ancient travelers and philosophers. It also houses ancient artefacts like leather bags for water, containers for food, knives and ammunition etc.
Just behind the fortress, was a spring of water, Ayn Al-Sikr or Ayn Al-Sukkar. This spring provided water to the Prophet’s army while they stayed there for 10 days. The water initially was just a small drip from the hole. However, when the Prophet’s army stayed there, one soldier kept poking it as a means to bide his time. As the hole got bigger, the water kept gushing out, so much so that later on, the citizens build a cistern around the stream to contain the water and the whole of Tabuk sustained on this water (I’m not a know-it-all! All these details are mentioned in the Tabuk Fortress). The water dried up very recently around 150 years ago. The gate to this ancient spring was right next to the entrance for the fortress. However, when we asked the guard there to show us the way, he informed us that it opens only on Fridays (we went on a Saturday).
So, we explained to him politely our predicament that we are simply tourists in Tabuk who have come specially to see this historic place and that we have a flight to catch in four hours. “Please” and “Thank You” can work wonders and people seriously under-use these words. We requested him to make an exception for us and let us in.
Needless to say, he opened the gates for us and we got ourselves a private visit in the spring of Ayn Al-Sikr.
After that, we took a quick break for a late lunch and proceeded to the airport to return to Jeddah with a promise to ourselves to return to this beautiful city and explore all the other places that we missed out on.