History of Jeddah, the port for Mecca and Medina

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Jeddah has a history more than ever linked to Mecca and Medina, but, not being “holy”, it was the protagonist of most of the clashes on the coasts of the Hijaz

The words of Ibn Battuta

“Jeddah’s Friday mosque, called al Abnus [of the Ebony] [dell’Ebano], is famous for its baraka and for the fact that pleas are answered.”

The origins of Jeddah and the arrival of Islam

Although there are no certain data regarding the foundation of this city, it certainly occurred in the pre-Islamic period and dates back to about 2500 years ago. According to some sources, it was born as a fishing village on the Red Sea and even Alexander the Great would have reached it. Traditionally the name of the city is traced back to the word “جدة / Jaddah” which means “grandmother”; this is because Jeddah would be the city where the body of Eve, “grandmother of” humanity “, was buried. The tomb was located in a particular mausoleum which was however destroyed in 1928 by the Saudi prince Faisal.

Jeddah
The “tomb of Eve”

With the arrival of Islam and the first caliphate, Jeddah became an increasingly important port both for the management of the pilgrimage and for the maritime trade with Mecca and Medina, becoming the de facto port of the Hijaz. Like the other two holy cities, the latter also found it extremely difficult to assert a real authority, always passing under the dominion of the most powerful dynasty. It is no coincidence that the first real urban change occurred only by the Mamluks around 1500 when, following a Portuguese attack on some pilgrim ships, new defenses were built to ensure maximum safety of the faithful.

From the Ottomans to the present day

The Lusitanians, however, had the precise objective of blocking any merchant route between Africa and Asia, so that the other European peoples would be forced to use their new routes, providing them with enormous advantages. Their attack then continued, but clashed with a new adversary at the height of its might: the Ottomans. The latter were about to annihilate Mamluks and were preparing to place their dominion over the Hijaz as well, consequently they could never tolerate the risks and violence generated by the actions of the Portuguese; the peak of tensions came in 1517, the year in which there was the great Siege of Jeddah. During this great battle, the Lusitanian commander Lopo Soares de Albergaria was defeated by the union of the Ottoman admiral Selman Reis and the Mamluk governor Amir Husain al Kurdi, putting an end to the threats in this stretch of sea forever. Once in possession of the city, the new rulers will strengthen the city defenses more than ever, making Jeddah truly impenetrable.

Jeddah

Starting from the First World War, the first attempts to revolt towards the Sublime Porte began, with the Hashemite dynasty of the Hijaz which in 1924 declared itself independent. Their dreams of glory, however, will be blocked soon after by the Al Saud who, winning the Siege of Jeddah in 1925, became the lords of Najd and Hijaz, later forming today’s Saudi Arabia.

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