T.E.Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, lived in this house in old Yanbu, on the Red Sea. It is boarded up now, surrounded by rubble and the crumbling, graffiti-smeared ruins of other once elegant buildings, ornate woodwork peeling off the balconies. Only a small plaque acknowledges the house’s famous former resident.
In most other countries in the world, this building would be a major tourist attraction, but it’s not easy to be a tourist in Saudi Arabia. They don’t encourage it, let alone promote it, especially to westerners. But I was lucky enough to be invited there to talk to students about my children’s books and TV series (yes, the Bananas in Pyjamas made it to Saudi Arabia too). I filled in lots of forms and was allowed in for a few fascinating weeks.
On one of my weekends off, my hosts offered me a choice of excellent diving in the Red Sea, or an archaeological trip into the desert. I know I can dive in other places (and usually don’t), so the history tour was far too good to pass up. It turned out to be absolutely the right choice.
We set out from Yanbu in 4x4s driving in convoy, at first on excellent roads, then sometimes on rough rocky tracks with wild camels wandering across them. I always thought Arabian desert would be all sand dunes, but this terrain was rugged, rocky and mountainous. And hot enough for thirst to kill you very fast if you didn’t have an airconditioned 4×4 with an esky and a few cold (non-alcoholic) ones inside. I was reassured too to have a convoy – even on the good roads there was very little traffic, and a breakdown could have been disastrous.
In the course of a day we discovered abandoned mud villages 1000 years old, disused shepherd’s huts and the ruins of an Ottoman fort (maybe Lawrence and his chaps had a hand in ruining it). No effort was being made to preserve these relics, and I was even told plans were in train to bulldoze them since they were considered unslightly. Arabs want to see themselves as modern, progressive people and unfortunately that means neglecting their heritage. A great shame, I think.
Later, back in old England, I joined busloads of tourists visiting Lawrence’s grave in Moreton village, Dorset, outside the lovely St Nicholas Church, where his funeral was held. Moreton is very attractive, and makes a great play of its connection with Lawrence, but the dilapidated house in Yanbu was considerably more interesting.
STOP PRESS: The ‘Lawrence House’ has now been renovated.
Thank you to my correspondent who sent me the photo. To see more, I highly recommend a visit to the website almiskeenah.com
18 responses to “LAWRENCE WOZ HERE – in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia”
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Dear Richard…amazing! Found your great site while searching for T E Lawrence…amazed as I am an Ozzie living in Saudi and recently visited where you have been…you will be happy to know that restoration work is being done on the old village in Al Ula and I read that there are plans to restore the Yanbu Lawrence house too.
and you are the Bananas in Pyjamas author!!!…characters loved for so long by so many, my now grown son was a manic fan! I hope you do not mind but I intend to link to this page 🙂
Thanks, Umm Bilal, and greetings from Lithuania today – cyberspace is a wonderful place!
I’m indeed very pleased to hear about preservation/restoratiion projects in Saudi. Such a rich history should be lost in the quest to present the country as a part of the modern world. But from what I saw, fast action is needed before it all melts into the sand.
By all means link to the page and thanks for your kinds comments about those Bananas.
Hi my name is James, I’ve been living in Yanbu for about 3 months now. I just thought I’d let you know that I found the T.E. Lawrence house today (6/1/2012). It looks like they have started the restoration process along with most of the other structures in the area. I have taken many photos if you’d like to see them.
That is good news, James! It was sad to see the state of neglect there. And I’d love to see your photos. Do you have a Picasa/Dropbox link or such?
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Hi!i got interested in reading your articles..i’m planning to apply at a hospital in Yanbu,KSA..i’m completely unfamiliar of the place though..is the cost of living low?do you have an idea of a nurse’s basic salary?i really need some enlightenment..thanks!
I really have no idea on salaries and living costs in Yanbu. The teachers I worked with (for only a day or two) lived in a complex for westerners, in very comfortable houses with communal pool etc, but as you’d expect they were a bit starved for things to do outside their complex. There was some good diving in the Red Sea, I heard. But they were also very interested in archaeology, as was I.
Excellent to read about Yanbu. I lived there from 1998-2002, and taught YIS. I am trying to get some coordinates on that Turkish fort–might you have some latilongs or GPS numbers? Thanks, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for the visit Gary, but I’m sorry I can’t help you much with the Turkish fort location. Someone else was navigating, fortunately for all concerned! It was on our way back into Yanbu from memory, not too far out of town since we came on it later in the day. Hope that may help a bit.
Okay, thanks anyway. I remember at that time saying, “What the heck is a GPS? That gizmo will never catch on!”
Happy trails to you.
Hi Richard, thanks to your photo I have found Lawrence’s house and it’s been completely renovated and now looks fabulous. It’s locked up but I have a great contact who is going to let me in to have a look around it. I’ll grab some shots and forward them to you if you’re interested. Let me have your email and it’ll be done the moment I have them.
Could you share location details of the T E Lawrence house and other historical/recreational sites in Yanbu. Would be of great help. Thank you.
YANBO, the old name of the modern Yanbu township meaning “Spring by the sea.” I have spent over 45 years in the middle east, 13 of those years living in Yanbu on the Royal Commission. I had my own boat there and went fishing and diving in the Red Sea at weekends. Laurence’s house in Yanbu old town was well run down when I left Yanbu for Al-Jubail in .2003 so pleased it has been repaired. There are lots of good restaurant’s down town and on the Royal Commission. “The Talk Of The Town”, a back street eating place serves the most delicious food at a very low cost. Al-Nakhl is a deserted Village in the Radwa mountain range and really worth a visit. The hospitals are real good, commissaries to cater for every nationality and a good International school as well, Visit to Rabiq is also worth while and not as modernised as Yanbu so you can visit the old gold merchants there who just sit on the street pavements and have a ring made to your own design.
If you need to purchase a vehicle go for a 4×4, it’s safer on the roads in Saudi and allows you to travel off road. Make sure you obtain “INSURANCE” for your vehicle as an accident could mean Jail for you and very costly indeed.
There are many good beaches in the area with wind sailing clubs but most people go the the Sharm Beach where the waters are always calm and is safe for children.
The Red “O” beach is also good but beware of the “Stone Fish” in this area, stand on a stone fish in bare feet and you are dead!!! Thick soled trainers are worth while purchasing for all the beaches.
The Yanbu museum is worth a look and If you can get permission to visit the Prince’s palace on the commission it is also worth while. Its 4 hours travel to Jeddah across the desert, a unique and wonderful city,
Abba and Khamis Mushayat is in the southern region and very mountainous. The scenery is beautiful in this area and its where the Saudi families go for their vacations as it is cooler in the mountains and good hotels as well.
The Red Sea Divers shop is on the RC, anyone can book a Paddy diving course at the shop and also buy all your fishing tackle as well.
Baby clothing, women and men’s clothing is very cheap in Yanbu as in all other Saudi townships, so you can purchase anything you need cheaply.
If anyone wants to know anything about Saudi Arabia let me know, I love the country and the peoople.
Thanks very much for all this, Tel. I obviously didn’t have nearly enough time in Yanbu, or in Saudi for that matter. It was a work trip of just a few weeks.
Pleased to find out some good points about Yanbu and its historical places. Could you share details (location/GPS) of the various sites (historical and recreational) that are interesting to visit in Yanbu… Would be of great help.
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on a recent visit to Yanbu we saw the amazing restoration of the ‘Lawrence house’…thought you would be interested to see it…
Any more creative children’s songs? 🙂