In 622 AD the prophet Muhammad left Mecca and was given sanctuary in the city of Yathrib, in the volcanic-hills 320 km (200 mi) to the north. The city became known as Madinat al-Nabi — ‘City of the Prophet of Allah’, shortened to al-Madina, or Medina — ‘The City’.
For the next 40 years, Medina Saudi Arabia was the capital of the Muslim world and, although the city gradually declined in political importance, as Islam spread across the Middle East to cities like Jerusalem and Damascus, it retained its spiritual significance — for it was here that Muhammad laid the foundation stone of the first mosque in the world, the Masjid al-Quba. When he died in 632, the Masjid al-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque) was built on the site of his house. The al-Nabawi contains his tomb and is second in importance only to the al-Haram in Mecca.
The original Masjid al-Nabawi was 30 x 35 m (100 x 115 ft) built of palm trunks and mud, with three entrances. Its basic plan was the one adopted by mosques everywhere. Over the centuries. Al-Nabawi has been rebuilt, embellished and enlarged many times; although smaller than the al-Haram, it is still a magnificent building, ten times its original size, with room for half a million worshippers.
Medina Saudi Arabia is enclosed by a huge 12th century wall, flanked by towers and a castle. Of the four entrance gates, the Bar al-Salaam, in particular, is renowned for its beauty. Outside the city walls there are suburbs of low houses, courtyards and gardens. The city is packed with religious monuments, shrines, and shops selling artifacts and holy trinkets.
Like Mecca, the holy part of Medina Saudi Arabia behind the city wall is haram (forbidden) to non-Muslims. However, many of the sights and facilities of the city are accessible to non-believers.
The most comfortable weather is November to February. The city is most crowded during Hajj (annual mass pilgrimage), when many pilgrims include a visit to Medina on their journey to Mecca.
Saudi Arabia is considered an unsafe country for non-Muslims, especially westerners. It is up to individuals to inform themselves of the current situation before they travel here and to keep up to date with official information and advice.