Historic Jeddah Festival

cultural adaptation Expat Life holidays Saudi Arabia

I’m on holiday! For the first time since coming back from Tunisia last summer, i’m off work. What a semester it’s been: between a heavy work schedule and a pretty difficult school run routine I found myself doing nothing but work, look after my kids and sleep and I couldn’t wait to be off. Anyway now is the prefect time to be off work in Jeddah because the 2016 edition of the Historic Jeddah Festival is on, it’s winter (temperatures are cool), I got family visiting and my kids are still studying every morning so i got to enjoy a few hours of 100% grown up time. Perfect!

What to expect at the Historic Jeddah Festival

So, the Historic Jeddah Festival. You can look up all the details online (official website in Arabic only) but basically it’s 10 days of festivities to celebrate Jeddah’s culture, history and traditions. It’s a pretty big event, with over 40,000 people showing up in the first 3 days. You need to head to the old city in Balad to find out what’s going on. From the 7th of January until the 16th, from 5pm to 11pm, the old madinah comes alive. There are shows, exhibitions, tours and visits of old houses, arts workshops, food stalls and much more.

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Arriving at the gate of the old city in Balad, Jeddah

So the whole family went to see what the fuss was all about. We really wanted to see the old houses but didn’t know what to expect beyond that. We started our tour at the main gate, and were welcome by a group a traditionally clothed men who sang songs in Arabic. According to my youngest son, that was the BEST part. Beyond the gate, an old neighborhood has been reconstructed so show how old houses looked like, and people were enacting old, traditional tasks and jobs. It was kinda nice but didn’t feel right, a bit too theatrical, not quite the authentic feel of the old Jeddah we were looking for.

After that we continued to walk the little alley ways, deeper into the old city and we finally hit gold. Real old houses that have been standing for ages, traditional buildings, beautiful mosques, some of them listed as UNESCO world heritage sites, food stalls selling hot-from-the-oven bread and other simple delicious food. We also found our way to the House of Traditional Arts where we tried our skills at making and coloring Islamic patterns. We stayed almost an hour; adults and kids had a lot of fun. If you want to try, they will hold a series of workshops from February to June 2016. Check out their website for more details (in English and Arabic language).

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We finished the evening wandering (and wondering too sometimes) in and around the souk with its hundreds of stalls, smells and noises. I’ve always loved getting lost in old souks, I don’t know what it is that I like but it’s kinda exhilarating to be among such a huge crowd, walking pretty much aimlessly from little street to even narrower lane, hopping from shops to stalls, and above all I love the mixtures of smells of food, incense, clothing, perfumes….

Enough about me, just check out some of the pictures I took:

Historic Jeddah Festival In pictures

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The entrance gate to the old city and the festival
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A recreated old town within the actual old city of Jeddah

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Old meets new
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One of the oldest buildings we have seen
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Photo exhibitions are held at various location within the old city
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These houses may look old but they are still in use (check out the electricity meters by the doors)

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It looks like I won’t have time to go back before the Historic Jeddah Festival ends but one thing is for sure: next year I’ll be there again inshallah. And I will be going back to Balad more often too from now on as I’ve discovered a part of the area I never knew existed and I’m looking forward to see more.

Have you been to the festival? Do you think they’re a great way to re-live the past or are they just tacky?


9 thoughts on “Historic Jeddah Festival

  1. thanks for this amazing post – it’s great to read about a place you dont see a lot written about. The pictures are brilliant. Love the wood work on the windows

    1. Thank you for your encouraging comment. I\’m not very good at taking pictures. I did try to leanr the ropes but it feels too hard for me. While I have a small digital camera I still prefer my phone to shoot. The wood work is quite typical of Jeddah and all the old house have them. It\’s beautifully intricate at times.
      Jameela Deen recently posted…Historic Jeddah Festival

  2. This looks great! Sometimes things like this can be a little tacky, but in some places this is the only way to see anything of the past – I think of some places in China that I’ve been to, where the past has been largely swept aside. So I don’t mind it! (of course, I’d much prefer the original!)
    Tim UrbanDuniya recently posted…The Departure Lounge

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