city located in the Hijaz region of Saudi Arabia (24°28' N, 39°36' E), lying about 350 km (217 mi.) north of Mecca (Makkah) and about 425 km (263.5 mi.) from Jeddah.
Before Islam, Medina was known as Yathrib and was famous for its oasis on the trade routes from southern and northern Arabia and its commercial contacts with important trading centers. Around it are mountains and it is famous for its numerous wadis or water coarses across the oasis. According to Arabic sources, it was known by ninety-five names. Apart from Yathrib, the following were the most popular: Ṭaiba, Manzil al-Waḥyi, and ῾Ush al-Fuqaha'. The prophet Muhammad named the city Ṭaiba and Medina.
The settlement is spread out in four main areas—Al-῾Awali, Quba, al-῾Uṣba, and ancient Yathrib. At the time of the prophet Muhammad's Hijrah (pilgrimage) in 622 CE, it was divided into nine independent quarters, which were described as neighboring states like villages. After the Hijrah the quarters expanded, linked to each other. Thus the city of Medina evolved, acquiring political and socioeconomic importance as the capital of the first Islamic city-state.
For this new city-state, Muhammad provided all amenities for the welfare of the people. New commercial specialized markets for different commodities were established. These centers included markets for livestock, grain, fruit, oil, vegetables, meat, perfume, cloth, and second-hand items. There were also auction places. Mosques (including the Prophet's Mosque), residential houses, forts, and rest-houses were constructed. This building activity continued in all directions, involving every aspect of life during the times of the caliphs. It reached its zenith during the Umayyad and ῾Abbasid periods, when palatial palaces were built in Medina.
After the assassination of Caliph ῾Uthman, ῾Ali succeeded him, and to counter the political moves of the opposition he shifted the capital in 651 from Medina to Kufah. Subsequently, the caliph Mu῾awiyah made Damascus the capital in 661. Thus Medina lost all its splendor, retaining, however, its importance as a religious and cultural center as well as commercial hub for the trade coming from Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.
The city was protected by the erection of a defensive wall, with seven entrances in 876, which was later rebuilt. Under the Ottomans the wall was raised to a height of 25 m (82 ft.). It had forty towers overlooking the outskirts of the city. However, to facilitate the free movement of traffic the wall was demolished in 1948.
During the Hijrah to Medina, the Prophet built the first mosque at Qubba, south of the city. After entering the city, a suitable larger site near al-Baki῾ was selected and the Prophet's mosque was built.
Since the Prophet's time, his mosque has been expanded from time to time to meet the growing needs of the ever-increasing number of visitors. Consequently the residential and commercial areas in the vicinity of the mosque were absorbed into its complex.
The number of mosques in Medina multiplied; forty were built during the Prophet's lifetime. Some of the mosques that were built by ῾Umar ibn ῾Abdul ῾Aziz, ruler of Medina during the time of Caliph al-Walid ibn ῾Abdul Malik, (AH 86–96/ 705–715 CE) on spots in which the Prophet prayed survive to this day.
Despite the expansion and rebuilding of the ancient mosques, their distinctive characteristic features have been preserved. The Ottoman additions to the Prophet's mosque are outstanding in their architecture, porcelain arabesque decoration, and Qur'anic inscriptions. One of the most outstanding features surviving is the miḥrab (niche) erected by Mehrab al-Suleimany in 948/1541. One of the oldest inscriptions on the wall of the inner miḥrab of the Prophet's mosque is dated to 888/1483 in the reign of Sultan Gaitabi. It consists of five sentences written in Mamluk Thuluth script.
Medina was famous for numerous splendid Umayyad and Ottoman palaces, which are located near the Wadi al-῾Aqiq. Literary sources mention that there were seventy palaces built of stones and bricks. They were spacious and had high walls. Some of the surviving palaces belonged to the following rulers: Hisham ibn ῾Abdul Malik, ῾Urwa ibn Zubair, ῾Asim ibn ῾Umar, Sa῾id ibn al-῾Aṣ, and al-Marajel. Portions of these palaces are in private collections. ῾Abdul Quddas al-Anṣary has described the two-story palace of Sa῾id ibn al-῾Aṣ as magnificent. Its architectural features resembled the classic Islamic style of Umayyad palaces in Syria, especially the Geran palace of Damascus.
Medina is famous for its many forts. During the Prophet's time they numbered 199. Of these, 127 belonged to Medinite Anṣars (helpers); 11 to the Mahajirs (immigrants from Mecca); and 159 to other tribes of Medina. Remains of many forts survive in good condition. One such example is the fort of Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf in the southeastern part of the city.
Numerous Arabic rock inscriptions, primarily graffiti, are found in and around Medina (al-Rashid, 1993). Some of these texts reveal the urban life and settlement of the people during the early Islamic periods. The most ancient inscription is found on Jabal Sal, northwest of the Prophet's mosque. Inscriptions of the early Umayyad period are located in the vicinity of the palaces. At Ruwawa about 50 km (31 mi.) south of the Prophet's mosque, fifty-five inscriptions have been discovered (al-Rashid, 1993). They are dated to first three centuries of the Hijrah and furnish family details about Caliph ῾Umar and others. Five are dated to the Umayyad period and four to the ῾Abbasid period.
[See also Inscriptions, article on Inscriptions of the Islamic Period; and Mecca.]
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Sa῾ad Abdul Aziz al-Rashid