Dates in AlUla

Dates in AlUla

Exploring the timeless significance

The resilient, evergreen date palm has been cultivated for millennia, serving as a source of sustenance, building material, and commerce. In the ancient Saudi Arabian city of AlUla, a profound connection runs deep between the community and the date palms they have grown for generations.

A sanctuary for residents and travellers for thousands of years, AlUla’s oasis was also a central hub from where ancient civilisations built their kingdoms, with the date palm revered as a critical and much-cherished crop.
AlUla Dates
The story of dates in AlUla begins in the historic site of Dadan, an ancient city that thrived along the oasis. It was during the reign of the North Arabian Kingdom of Lihyan, from the 6th to the 3rd century BCE, that date palms were first introduced, along with sophisticated water management systems that facilitated agriculture. The palms, with their long feather-like fronds, provided the shade the Dadanites needed to cultivate an array of plants including olives, grapes, figs, barley, wheat, oats, and millet.

Date palms held such importance that inscriptions found at the open-air library of Jabal Ikmah detail people’s prayers for the health of their date palm trees. Recent excavations of Nabataean tombs in Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, have unearthed necklaces made from desiccated dates, further emphasising the fruit's significance.
Another indicator of the date palm’s long history in AlUla is the unique tradition of Al-Shannah – a more than 300-year-old method of preserving dates. This practice involves stuffing dried animal skins with washed and dried dates and storing them for periods ranging from four months to four years. Al-Shannah was essential, and its process is deeply ingrained in AlUla’s way of life. Today, the Al-Shannah ritual is celebrated as the finale of the dates season in AlUla.

Symbol of Arab culture

Transcending their role as mere sustenance, dates hold great religious significance. In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) considered dates as a superior fruit, with the date palm mentioned 22 times in the Quran.
The date palm’s tall trees have also influenced architectural designs and cultural symbolism and have been immortalised in art, poetry, and literature across the Arabian Peninsula.

In modern times, dates continue to play an important role in the cultures of the Middle East and South Asia, symbolising generosity and gratitude. Dates in various shapes, sizes and colours, some with special fillings, are served to guests in people's homes, at weddings, ceremonies and festivals.

Establishing its significance on a global scale, the date palm and its associated traditions were added to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2019, following a nomination submitted by 14 countries from the Gulf, the Levant and North Africa, including Saudi Arabia.

Advancing AlUla’s Date Legacy

Spread over 10,000 hectares, AlUla’s palm plantations grow 2.3 million date palms and produce more than
90,000 tonnes of date fruits each year. These sugary sweet morsels play a pivotal role in the local culture and economy, and AlUla has been steadfast in safeguarding dates as an integral part of its long-term strategy to revitalise the oasis, support the local population, and preserve its rich agricultural legacy.

An example of this dedication is the AlUla Dates Festival, which launched its fourth edition on 8 September under the slogan “Taste Our Pride.” The annual celebration offers a cultural experience for visitors, while also bolstering the local and national economies and creating a prosperous future for generations to come. The festival brings together local artisans, cuisine, and handicrafts with entertainment and activities to celebrate with family and friends, reinforcing the date palm as a symbol of life, culture and the bond between humanity and nature.
Dates Mystery

The Mystery of the Date

The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was one of the first plants in the world to be cultivated by farmers and has played a significant role in the roots of modern agriculture and civilisation. However, despite the tree being a ubiquitous presence in the Middle East – and across the globe – the exact origins of the date palm remain a mystery that is still being investigated.

Discoveries in Mesopotamia and Egypt’s Nile Valley show that these trees have been around as early as 4,000 BCE, while stone tools and rock carvings discovered in the Nefud Desert in Northern Arabia show humans have been eating dates since the Middle Stone Age, about 200,000 years ago. Based on archaeological findings, the plant was most likely first domesticated in the Arabian Gulf around 6,000 years ago.

Types of dates that AlUla is most famous for include:

• Barni dates, which comprise about 80 percent of the date fruit harvest each year • The plump but firm Mabroom date is sweet and sticky, with rich notes of toffee • Machrook dates are prized for their sugary aftertaste • Other popular varieties of the date fruit in AlUla include Halwa, Anbara and Majhool

AlUla Dates Festival fuses culture, agriculture and food

Held this year under the slogan 'Taste Our Pride', the 4th AlUla Dates Festival is underway and will host farmers, producers, artisans and more until it concludes on November 11.

For more information on AlUla's dates