Mada'in Saleh also called Al-Hijr, el Hijr, and Hegra (so in Greek and Latin, e.g. by Pliny ), is an ancient pre-Islamic archaeological site located in the Al-Ula sector, within the Al Madinah Region of Saudi Arabia. A majority of the vestiges date from the Thamud civilization and Nabatean kingdom (1st century CE). The site constitutes the kingdom's southernmost and largest settlement after Petra, its capital. Remains of the native Lihyan civilization has been found. Traces of the Roman occupation before and after the Nabatean rule, respectively, can also be found in situ.
Mada'in Saleh was home of the Thamud civilization. Accounts from the Qur’an place the settlement of the area by the Thamud people after Noah but before Moses, which can be interpreted as the 3rd millennium BC. According to the Islamic text, the Thamudis, who would carve out homes in the mountains, were punished by Allah for their persistent practice of idol worship, the non-believers being struck by a sound wave. Thus, the site has earned a reputation down to contemporary times as a cursed place— an image which the national government is attempting to overcome as it seeks to develop Mada'in Saleh, officially protected as an archaeological site since 1972, for its tourism potential.In 2008 UNESCO proclaimed Mada'in Saleh as a site of patrimony, becoming Saudi Arabia's first World Heritage Site. It was chosen for its well-preserved remains from late antiquity, especially the 131 rock-cut monumental tombs, with their elaborately ornamented façades, of the Nabatean kingdom
The long history of the place and the multitude of cultures to have occupied the site have led to the several names that are still in use to refer to the area. The place is currently known as Mada'in Saleh, Arabic for "Cities of Saleh," which was coined by an Andalusian traveler in 1336 AD. The name "Al-Hijr," Arabic for "rocky place," has also been used to allude to its topography. Both names have been mentioned in the Qur’an when referring to the settlements found in the locality. The ancient inhabitants of the area, the Thamudis and Nabateans, referred to the place as "Hegra".
The archaeological site of Mada'in Saleh is situated 20 km (12.4 mi) north of the Al-`Ula town, 400 km (248.5 mi) north-west of Medina, and 500 km (310.7 mi) south-east of Petra, Jordan. The site is on a plain, at the foot of a basalt plateau, which forms the south-east portion of the Hijaz mountains. The western and north-western portions of the site contain a water table that can be reached at a depth of 20 m (65.6 ft). The setting is notable for its desert landscape, marked by sandstone outcrops of various sizes and heights.