pilgrimage road beginning at Kufah in Iraq and ending at Mecca (Makkah) in Saudi Arabia. According to the Qur'an, a “pilgrimage to the Ka῾bah (at Mecca) is a solemn duty to God, for all who are able to make this journey.” Thus roads from all Islamic countries converged at Mecca. The origin of the Darb Zubaydah may be traced in sections to the early sixth century CE as a trade route linking the Hijaz and central Arabia with al-Hira in Iraq. It was during the ῾Abbasid period, however, that its importance grew, and it developed into a full-fleged highway.
The transfer of the ῾Abbasid capital from Damascus to Baghdad In ah 132/750 CE necessitated establishment of direct communication between the political and religious centers. The Kufah–Mecca road, existing prior to the ῾Abbasid period was linked to Baghdad by extending it farther north. Several earlier ῾Abbasid caliphs, especially, Abu'l ῾Abbas as-Saffah, Abu Ja῾far al-Mansur, al-Maholi, and al-Rashid, took an interest in the establishment of the Kufah–Mecca road and made arrangements for the provisions and facilities essential for travelers.
The ῾Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (170–193/786–809) several times visited Mecca accompanied by his wife, Zubaydah. They realized the conditions on the route and lack of facilities available to the pilgrims. Queen Zubaydah took keen interest in the improvement of the Baghdad–Mecca road; she made an outstanding contribution in providing water facilities by digging wells and cisterns along the pilgrim route and by building rest houses and lodgings. Arab geographers such as al-Harbi and Yaqut and the travelers Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Batutah have recorded vivid details of the constructions, facilities, and provisions provided by Zubaydah along the Kufah–Mecca road. She acquired a great reputation for her work. Several places were named after her, that is, Zubaydiyah (known as Umm Ja῾far). Later, the road acquired the name Darb Zubaydah.
So far, about one hundred sites on the route have been recorded. Of these thirteen are located within Iraq, and the remaining are situated in Saudi Arabia. According to early geographers, there were twenty-seven main and as many secondary pilgrim stations on the road. There were several other rest places established along the main branches of the road. The most famous of these were al-῾Aqabah, Zubalah, Fayd, Samirah, an-Nuqrah, ar-Rabadhah, Ma'din Bani, Sulaym, and Dhat ῾Irq. The ῾Abbasid caliphs provided milestones, which had Kufic inscriptions giving distances between the stations. Historians such as al-Tabari and Ibn al-Athir furnish details of the erection of milestones and details of the distances along the road starting from Kufah. The road was also provided with road-signs (a'lam) and fire signals.
Along the road, Kufic inscriptions are found on rocks at places such as as-Suwargiyah, Hadha, and Samirah. The condition of the road was maintained regularly; it was cleaned and cleared from various obstacles. It was paved in the sandy areas; steep hills and mountains were cut; and smooth tracks were made with steps at some places.
Of archaeological interest are the ruins surviving on the Darb Zubaydah. These are the pilgrim stations, water tanks, wells, forts, rest houses, milestones, and inscriptions (al-Rashid, 1980). Early Islamic pottery, glass, and coins are the main finds along the Darb Zubaydah. The pottery sherds are of a great variety—luster-painted, tin-glazed, splashed, monochrome green-glazed, and unglazed ware with or without decoration. Fragments of soft stone vessels have also been recovered. Minted in different cities, gold dinars, silver dirhams, and bronze coins of the Umayyad and ῾Abbasid caliphates have been discovered along the route.
The most remarkable station is ar-Rabadhah about 200 km (124 mi.) southeast of the city of Medina (Madinah al-Munawwrah). At al-Rabadhah excavations under the direction of Sa῾ad al-Rashid since 1979 have produced fine architecture and numerous archaeological finds in great variety, such as masonry foundations of houses, mosques, cemeteries, tombstones, and reservoirs and wells. The architecture of the residential houses reveal typical Rabadhah style; independent units are surrounded by strong walls. The structure of the house are defended by towers built along the walls and on the corners. Remains of other buildings, public facilities, small streets between the houses, industrial units, washrooms, and sewage disposal channels have been found. Recent research and archaeological studies on the road has revealed abundant information about the archaeological sites and remains of facilities on the road. From Rabadhah come a variety of metal objects, such as an iron dagger, a spouted receptacle, kohl containers, a dagger sheath, an iron chain, a fragment of an instrument, and animal figures, glass, and jewelry in wood, bone, and ivory.
Two large limestone reservoirs, one circular and the other square at Rabadhah are unique features. The circular structure has a diameter of 64.5 m (211.6 ft.) and its walls rise up to 4.7 m (15.4 ft.) above a gypsum floor. Adjacent to it is filter tank of 55 × 17 × 3.15 m (180.4 × 55.8 × 10.3 ft.) through which the reservoir received flood water after filtering. The reservoir dates to the tenth century, is still in good condition, and had a capacity of 14,250 cu m. The square reservoir, which measures 26 × 26 m (85.3 × 85.3 ft.) has gypsum-plastered walls, strengthened by semicircular buttresses. It has two main inlets, one of them fed by a dam. These reservoirs along with about one hundred tanks of different dimensions and capacity are suggestive of water engineering that existed at Rabadhah and the importance attached to a water supply.
Caliph Harun al-Rashid and his wife Zubaydah not only took keen interest in the establishment of the road but spent large sums for its maintenance and protection. They appointed regular officials for its upkeep and provision of facilities essential for the comfort of travelers. When the road was threatened soldiers were despatched. The traffic on the road was constant and considerable. Caravans by the thousands occasionally traveled at the same time. The road declined from the ninth century CE because of the incursions of various tribes and later by the raids of the Qarmatians. The fall of Baghadad In 1258 to the Mongols was catastrophic for the road. From an archaeological point of view, the Darb Zubayadah is an excellent example of early road systems in Arabia. The excavations along the road, especially at al Rabadhah attest to the flourishing of and advanced civilization and to the mingling of different Islamic countries along the road.
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Sa῾ad Abdul Aziz al-Rashid