Medina in Saudi Arabia is the second
holiest site in Islam, after Mecca.
It is located about 350 miles west of the capital city of Riyadh,
about 150 miles east of the Red Sea and Egypt. The
third holiest site in Islam is the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Islam's first
and oldest mosque, Masjid al-Quba, is also located in the city.
Medina (also spelled Medinah) is a Holy City in Saudi Arabia as it is the Burial Place of Mohammed (he died here in 632 AD) and the place where he attracted his first followers. Here is Masjid al Nabawi, the Mosque of the Prophet, built on the site of Mohammed's home and the site of his tomb. Its elegant minarets and stately domes dominate the skyline of the city. Today, you can see the outside of the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, or Mosque of the Prophet, but non-Muslims are not allowed inside. Notable for its towering minarets and signature green dome, it is the second largest mosque in the world.
The Prophet himself built the original Medina Prophet's Mosque next to the home where he settled when he was first driven out of Mecca. This resettlement is called his Hijra (or emigration), and occurred in 622 AD. This was an open-air building with a raised platform designed for reading the Qur'an. Its gibla (prayer direction) originally faced Jerusalem, but was later changed to be oriented towards Mecca. Ever since, Muslims, wherever they are in the world, face Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, to pray. Over the years, subsequent Islamic ruler continued to enlarge and beautify the mosque, and the Burial Place of Mohammed and his home were incorporated in 707.
The old Holy City in Saudi Arabia is almost completely surrounded by ancient, double stone walls with nine gates and several bastions. Medina also contains the tombs of the caliphs or Muslim leaders Abu Bakr, Umar, and Fatima, Mohammed's daughter.
With Mohammed as the ruler, Medina in Saudi Arabia became the capital of a new Islamic state, and remained the capital even though Mecca retained its religious importance. The Islamic Empire expanded beyond the Arabian Peninsula to include Jerusalem, Damascus, Mesopotamia, and Baghdad after the death of the prophet. Eventually, it included Egypt and most of North Africa, portions of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), and even India and Indonesia.
As a strict Islamic state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a very closed society. Tourism is not encouraged, and those who do visit—especially any Holy City in Saudi Arabia—will find that it is important to adhere to certain rules of modesty in dress (primarily for women), abstention from alcohol, and no nightclubs, movie theaters or similar entertainment. The religious sites, including Medina in Saudi Arabia and Mecca, are even further restricted, and non-Muslims are not allowed within the mosques or other holy Islamic sites. Visas for tourism are issued only for approved tour groups following organized itineraries. All visas require a sponsor, can take several months to process, and must be obtained prior to arrival. Women visitors are required to be met by their sponsor upon arrival. Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world, with several very deluxe five-star hotels. These also adhere to Islamic law (the gyms and fitness centers are for men only), alcohol is not available, and finding space during holy periods such as the hajj and Ramadan can be very difficult.