The gateway to Mecca for pilgrims from around the world and a major port city on the coast of the Red Sea, Jeddah has long served as a crossroads connecting travelers and cultural influences from throughout the region and its surroundings. Indeed, local legend ties the city to perhaps the broadest shared origins story connecting humanity: tradition holds that Eve (Hawa in Arabic), the legendary first woman on Earth, died and was buried in Jeddah. This is the source of the city’s name: in Arabic, jeddah means grandmother, a reference to Eve as the progenitor of all humankind.
Historically, Jeddah has played a significant role in travel and commerce in the region at least since the era of the Nabataean spice trade. The city’s prominence drastically increased, however, in 647 CE, when the caliph Uthman officially declared Jeddah the gateway to Mecca for Muslim pilgrims and further developed its port infrastructure.
Today, Jeddah’s atmospheric old city – known for its distinctive coral architecture – and its bustling marketplaces still evoke the wayfaring, variegated charm and intrigue that have characterized the city for thousands of years.