Jeddah is the Kingdom's second largest and most cosmopolitan city. It is fairly modern, most of it dating only from the 1950s. The population is a nice mix of nationalities, and the local religious culture is less restrictive than in most other parts of the Kingdom. Ample shopping and restaurants, including many continental, seafood, Asian and fast food types, are available.
Jeddah is located on the Red Sea, which boasts some of the most spectacular scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. A day trip to the nearby mountains of Taif and Asir brings welcome hot weather relief. Jeddah's role as port-of-entry for more than two million Moslem pilgrims a year has forged excellent air travel links with cities around the globe.
Jeddah, the commercial center, has a tropical climate - mild in winter and hot and very humid in summer. Summer lasts 8 to 10 months, with temperatures moderating in November. Relief from the heat often comes at sunset when sea breezes arrive. Except on the few occasions when it rains, the sun shines daily. Winter is comparable to the spring and summer seasons of resorts on the Mediterranean Sea.
The city's charm, its recreational offerings, and its excellent airline connections abroad make it, according to many, the best place to live in Saudi Arabia. Known locally as "The Bride of the Red Sea," Jeddah lies at about the same latitude as Honolulu and Hong Kong, and it shares their hot, humid climate. Tradition has it that the city derives its name (meaning grandmother, in Arabic) from the legend that the biblical Eve was buried here. It has, since nearly the inception of Islam, been the main point of entry for foreign pilgrims intending to perform the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. Caliph Othman personally selected it as the ideal locale over rivals to the north and south. Jeddah's advantage was that it already was an established port with a history of facilitating the pre-Islamic pilgrimage and spice trades in the Hejaz, the western region of what is now Saudi Arabia.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 consolidated Jeddah's position as a major center of trade. Following the success of the Arab Revolt fomented by T.E. Lawrence against the Ottoman Turks during the First World War, the city became the commercial capital of the short-lived Kingdom of the Hejaz, which was annexed by Saudi King Abd al-Aziz in 1925. Throughout its history, Jeddah has played host to explorers and adventurers such as Carsten Niebuhr, Charles Huber, and Johann Lewis Burckhardt.
From a traditional town of one square kilometer and 10,000 souls in 1948, Jeddah has mushroomed into a modern metropolis of more than 1,000 square kilometers and 2.25 million inhabitants. The city walls were demolished in the late 1940's as oil wealth fueled rapid growth, but a substantial portion of the historic old city has been preserved. Nearly half of the population are foreign workers and their families, who supply the labor for the city's retail-, service-, and manufacturing-based economy. Many of these workers are non-Arabs from East and Southwest Asia. The Hajj, which brings more than 1.5 million foreigners into the Kingdom annually, mostly through Jeddah, remains an important source of revenue for the city.
Jeddah is a mix of modern art, early architecture and shopping malls, where you can find many upscale designer shops. Whether you have a taste for T.G.I.Fridays, Appleby's, Chilis, McDonalds, Burger King, Dunkin Doughnuts, or Starbucks, most western restaurants and fast food options are available. You can sample "old Jeddah" with the many spice, chocolate and nut shops, fabric, jewelry and, of course, gold shops. There are entire markets that sell only gold jewelry, rugs or custom built furniture. The Red Sea is another gem; or you can travel to Taif and the Asir mountains for some cool air. Winter months in Jeddah are very comfortable and greatly anticipated. If you are a land-lover, try the camel races or hikes in the desert. There is something for everyone.
Saudi water and sewage infrastructure has not kept up with the country's rapidly growing population in recent decades. As a result, cities like Jeddah have experienced serious problems with pollution of underground aquifers by sewage seepage. In 2001, the governor of Mecca province, Prince Abdul-Magid Bin Abdul-Aziz, acknowledged that only 10% of Jeddah residents were "connected to the sewerage network," and that in general the problem was caused by "time-worn and outdated sewage pipelines."
King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah is a large and modern facility, with a special terminal with facilities to accommodate hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. However, due to the extremely large number of people arriving, waiting time at the airport upon arrival during the Hajj may be as long as ten hours. Pilgrims should plan on a lengthy wait before leaving the airport on their way to Makkah or Medina. Travelers with only carry-on bags will find baggage transfer at the airport much easier than will those with checked baggage.
A series of arrests of Christians in Jeddah in the summer of 2001 further called into question official Saudi policy on private worship. Between June and September 2001, 14 Christians were arrested for worshipping privately, and all were deported by the end of March 2002. At least nine more Christians have been detained and some of them deported since May.
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