Saudi Arabia

One of the monumental tombs in Mada'in Saleh (© Éveha International)

Éveha International participates in research on the site of Mada'in Saleh, Saudi Arabia. This project is directed by L.Nehmé (CNRS - UMR 8167 Orient & Méditerranée), D. Al-Tahli (University of Hail, Saudi Arabia) and F. Villeneuve (University of Paris 1-Panthéon-Sorbonne) and takes place under the auspices of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

The excavation campaigns
(by years)


Laïla Nehmé (CNRS – UMR 8167 Orient & Méditerranée)

Daifallah Al-Tahli (University of Hail, Saudi Arabia)

François Villeneuve (University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne- UMR 7041 ArScAn)

Location and historical summary


The archaeological site of Mada’in Saleh (known as Hegra in ancient times), is situated in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, in an arid region punctuated by several oases. Occupation in the urban part of the site began in the 5th century BC, when the oasis may have belonged to the kingdom of Lihyan, whose capital was Dedan (modern-day Al-‘Ula), located approximately 20km further south. However, it was during the Nabataean period that the town flourished. Along with Petra, in Jordan, it was one of the most important towns of the Nabataean kingdom, guarding its southern border. Many Nabataean merchants made their fortunes as intermediaries between the south of the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean world. The impressive rock-cut tombs, which have many features in common with those at Petra, are the most visible surviving evidence of this wealth. They were carved into the rock in the 1st century AD.

In 106 AD the town became part of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea, created by Trajan from the Nabataean kingdom. The town walls were repaired at this time, but the Roman settlement does not appear to have lasted beyond the 3rd century and the town is then gradually abandoned over a long period. However, Arabic inscriptions from the first two centuries after the Hijrah indicate the presence of people in the early Islamic period.

During the Middle Ages, the town, emptied of its inhabitants, served predominantly as a camp site, populated by ruins. Ibn Battuta, travelling towards Mecca in the 14th century, mentions “…the home of the Thamud, cut into the mountains of red sandstone, with sculpted thresholds and which look as though they were built recently. The decayed bones are inside these houses”. Some scholars interpret this as a reference to the Mada’in Saleh tombs. In the mid-18th century, a small Ottoman fort was constructed on the site, to protect the route of the Hajj.


Research history


The site was visited by travellers interested in Antiquity from the 19th century onwards, and some epigraphical and archaeological research was carried out in the early 20th century, in particular the remarkable and substantial work by Antonin Jaussen and Raphaël Savignac, Dominicans from the École Biblique of Jerusalem. Only the remains visible on the surface were described, however. The site was listed by the Saudi authorities in the 1970s and a fence constructed to protect it. In 2002, the Mission archéologique de Mada’in Salih (Mada’in Saleh archaeological project) was set up by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the Saudi authorities and in 2008, the site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two research programmes followed, from 2002 to 2006 and then from 2008 to 2013. A third programme has been under way since 2014. These have involved field survey and excavation of many features, epigraphical and archaeological, with a particular focus on the tombs, sanctuaries, rampart, houses etc.

How Eveha International Participates

Participation in archaeological excavations


French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development

Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH)

CNRS, UMR 8167 and UMR 7041

University of Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne


Institut français du Proche-Orient