In the arid desert landscape of northern Saudi Arabia, an ancient tomb carved from a single rock rises to a height of about four to five stories. Erected thousands of years ago by the builders of the Stone City of Petra, Qasr al-Farid is one of the most impressive ancient stone structures on the surface of the planet.
Abandoned in the middle of the desert, the ancient tomb carved out of a single rock is known as Qasr al-Farid—or the solitary castle.
The unfinished structure is believed to date back to the first century AD, specifically to the reign of the Nabataeans. Located near the pre-Islamic site of Madain Saleh (also known as Hegra) some 1,400 kilometers north of the capital, Riyadh, Qasr al-Farid is one of the 131 monumental tombs that were carved centuries ago in the area.
Although many refer to Qasr al-Farid as the lonely castle, rather than being a castle it’s a tomb. Out of the 131 tombs in the area, Qasr al-Farid is one of the most famous tombs in Madain Salih, named lonely castle because it was completely isolated from other monuments in the area.
While researchers know that was never finished, we still have no idea for who this magnificent tomb was actually built.
Qasr al-Farid is one of those magical ancient places where time has stopped to evoke in those contemplating, memories of nomadic tribes, desert men, and the majesty and silence of the mythical cities of stone.
The ‘Lonely Castle’ is considered as the most emblematic symbol of Madain Saleh. Its impressive façade, trimmed by a solitary sandstone outcrop, allows anyone to witness how the Nabataeans chiseled their buildings from top to bottom.
Although the tomb was never finished, it has remained in very good condition thanks to the arid climate. The “solitary castle”, as well as the surrounding monuments, have enjoyed renewed fame after UNESCO proclaimed Madain Saleh a World Heritage Site in 2008, becoming the first World Heritage Site of Saudi Arabia.
Qasr Al Farid—a stone tomb located on an arid plain in northern Saudi Arabia and close to the center of the ancient Nabataean pre-Islamic city of Hegra—now Madain Saleh—some 1,400 kilometers from Riyadh is filled with incredible stories, backed by the incredible yet mysterious history of the ancient Nabataeans.
The Nabataeans were a nomadic people who achieved prosperity in the period between the first and second centuries BC and the first century AC.
Experts point out that the Nabataeans were a village of nomadic traders who may have originated from an area near Yemen, or from present-day Saudi Arabia.
Jane Taylor points out in her book Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabataeans that the Nabataeans were one among several nomadic tribes that roamed the Arabian Desert, moving with their herds to wherever they could find pasture and water. These nomads became familiar with their area as seasons passed, and they struggled to survive during bad years when seasonal rainfall diminished.
2,500 years ago, the Nabataeans started building incredible cities—among them the magnificent city of Petra in Jordan—and developed agricultural activities, politics, art, engineering, and astronomy.