Preliminary analyses of vernacular earthen architecture in the gardens of al-‘Ūla oasis (Saudi Arabia)


  • Pascale Clauss-Balty Archaïos
  • Yasmin Kanhoush Archaïos
  • Sarra Ben Bader Archaïos
  • Julien Charbonnier Archaïos


Vernacular architecture, household, adobe, oasis, Arabia


The palm grove of al-‘Ūla oasis (KSA) contains, beside plots solely dedicated to agriculture, hundreds of complexes, called “farms”, spatially divided into two groups and established, for at least for one of them, after the early twentieth century AD. These farms and their components are subject to an in-depth study conducted within the AlUla Cultural Oasis Project (UCOP) led by Archaïos, funded and steered by the French Agency for AlUla Development (AFALULA) on behalf of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU).

All built with local materials, mainly earth, these farms reflect the ingenuity of Arabian vernacular architecture and its evolution. In this present paper, construction techniques used within the oasis farms will first be discussed. Secondly, focus will be on farm dwellings: al-‘Ūla oasis houses present a range of possibilities, from single-cell to multi-cell buildings, with interior and exterior courtyards, terraces and upper floors. The examination of a large number of these dwellings allowed us to identify the function of certain spaces and to consider the daily life and the societal structuring of the inhabitants of al-‘Ūla oasis who settled in their palm grove until the 1980s. This research aims to fill a major gap: at the scale of Saudi Arabia, rural buildings have never been subject to comprehensive studies while they are currently threatened by development in many places.


Brunner U. 1983. Die Erforschung der antiken Oase von Mārib mit Hilfe geomorphologischer Untersuchungsmethoden. (Archäologische Berichte aus dem Yemen II). Mayence: Verlag Philipp von Zabern.

Charbonnier J., Kanhoush y., Devaux E., Gravier J., Bernollin V., Hofstetter T., & Giraud J. submitted (a). AlUla Old Town and Oasis – Oasis Farms: preliminary study and first results from the AlUla Cultural Oasis Project (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Proceedings of Terra 2022 conference.

Charbonnier J., Kanhoush y., Gravier J., Gourret G., Achouche I., Bernollin V., Boudia S., Bucci W., Chiti B., Clauss-Balty P., Colard V., Devaux E., Dupont-Delaleuf A., De Smet A., Furstos C., Goy J., Haze M., Hofstetter T., Housse R., Huet T., Marquaire C., Pellegrino M.P., Raad Ch., Ricart J.-D., Rosak A., Saïd A.F., Serres D., Siméon P., Tourtet F. & Giraud J. submitted (b). Mapping an Arabian oasis: first results of UCOP systematic survey of al-‘Ūla Valley (2019-2021). Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies.

Cleuziou S. & Costantini L. 1980. Premiers éléments sur l’agriculture protohistorique de l’Arabie orientale. Paléorient 6/1: 245–251.

Coenen-Huther J. 2006. Compréhension sociologique et démarches typologiques. Revue européenne des sciences sociales, 44(135): 195–205

Doughty C.M. 1888. Travels in Arabia Deserta. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University


Jaussen A. & Savignac R. 1914. Mission archéologique en Arabie II El-‘Ela, d’Hegra à

Teima, Harrah de Tebouk. Paris: Paul Geuthner.

Marquaire C., Charbonnier J., Gourret G., Said A.F., Bernollin V. & Kanhoush Y. 2022. Study and mapping of wells in the oasis of al-‘Ūla (poster). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 51: 221-229.

Nasif, A.A. 1988. Al-’Ula. An historical and Archaeological Survey With Special Reference to Its Irrigation System. Riyadh: King Saud University Press.

Power T. & Sheehan P. 2012. The origin and development of the oasis landscape of al-‘Ain (UAE). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 42: 291–308.

Purdue L., Charbonnier J., Régagnon E., Calastrenc C., Sagory T. Virmoux C., Crépy M., Costa S. & Benoist A. 2019. Geoarchaeology of Holocene oasis formation, hydro-agricultural management and climate change in Masafi, southeast Arabia (UAE). Quaternary Research, 92/1: 109–132.

Purdue L., Kennet D., Garnier A., Parton A., Djerbi H., Botan S., Herveux L., Davtian G., Carré A., Moger D. & al-Jahwari N. 2021. Ancient agriculture in Southeast Arabia: A three thousand year record of runoff farming from central Oman (Rustaq). Catena 204.

Al-Suhaibani, A. & Nehmé L. 2019. Alula, merveille d’Arabie. Paris: Gallimard/Institut du monde arabe.

Sheehan P., Power T. & al-Kaabi O.S. 2018. Al-‘Ayn Oases Mapping Project: al-Hīlī Oasis 2017. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 48: 327–338.



How to Cite

Clauss-Balty, P., Kanhoush, Y., Ben Bader, S., & Charbonnier, J. (2023). Preliminary analyses of vernacular earthen architecture in the gardens of al-‘Ūla oasis (Saudi Arabia). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 52, 87–107. Retrieved from

Most read articles by the same author(s)

Similar Articles

<< < 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.