Al-Ola lies at the end of the Wadi al-Qura, 240 miles (380 km) north of the Holy City of Madinah to which it is administratively affiliated.
Al-Ola is a small city with relatively few citizens but it is a location of special interest to archaeologists and historians because it contains many antiquities, some of which date back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and some to even earlier periods. The area contains much evidence of earlier civilizations, including Minean, Lihyanite and Dedanite inscriptions. At Al-Khuraybah, carved in to the mountain rocks, are tombs dating back to pre-Islamic civilizations.
The old name of Al-Ola was Dedan. Dedan was one of the largest and most important centers of ancient civilization, lying on the main incense and perfume trade route from India and the Yemen in the south to Egypt, Iraq and Syria in the north. Caravans from as far away as the south east of Africa and the south west of Asia made their way to and through Dedan. The town of Dedan reached its highest point during the Nabataean period when it was elevated to the position of the Nabataeans’ second capital.
It was in the early Islamic period that the name Al-Ola became more common.
The major antiquities of the area consist of tombs and ruins of old settlements, rock art and inscriptions:
KHURAYBAT AL-OLA: This area is located about 4km north east of the present town of Al-Ola. Khuraybat Al-Ola is an important archaeological site which contains several tombs and inscriptions on the rock and tombs, dating back to Minean, Dedanite and Lihyanite periods. The site also contains the foundations of several temples and other ancient buildings.
MAHALAB AL NAQA (SHE-CAMEL’S CISTERN): North west of Al-Khuraybah lies Mahalab Al Naqa, a cistern carved in a large rock. (There is a local legend that this cistern has some connection with the she-camel of the Prophet Saleh – peace be upon him.)
INSCRIPTIONS OF JEBEL AL-AKMA: Jebel al-Akma is located about 2.5 km north west of Al-Khuraybah. This archaeological site contains a wide variety of rock inscriptions (Minean, Lihyanite, Dedanite and Thamudic) which reveal not only the names of individuals and tribes but also the religious, social and cultural character of the people who inscribed them.
Al-Ola contains the Rock Mosque where the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, prayed when he passed through the town.
History records that one year, in the month of Jumadi Al Thani, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, took over the Wadi Al Qura. (Al-Ola lies at the end of the Wadi al-Qura.) It also records that the Prophet passed through Al-Ola on his way to Tabouk and made a mosque there for prayer.