Cities and Regions

Taif lies at 1700m above sea level on al-Sarawat mountains. The name Taif means ‘‘encompassing” in Arabic.It has a population of 520,000. Its history dates back to pre-Islamic times. Some historians believe the area was settled over 5,000 years ago. The Banu Mihlahil, the Amalekites and the Thamud all tribes that no longer exisit, once inhabited this area. Other tribes, such as the Banu Thaqif, have survived. They engaged in trade, selling their produce to the caravans that passed through and making protection and other services available to these travelers.

In pre-Islamic times, Taif was home to the most famous annual fair on the Arabian Peninsula. The Suq Okaz took place on what is now a rolling desert plain north of Taif. This fair occurred during the first 20 days of Dhu Al-Qadah, the eleventh month of the year. During Dhu Al-Qadah, Dhu Al-Hajjah and Muharram — respectively the eleventh, twelfth and first months of the year — as well as Rajab, the seventh month of the year — all warfare and raiding was banned. This allowed the residents and merchants of the region the necessary security to travel. Traders brought goods via camel and donkey to the Suq Okaz. Bedouin crafts such as rugs, camel-hair tents, sheepskins, pottery, tools, jewelry, perfumes, produce and spices were sold. Poets and singers came to participate in contests. According to Saudi archaeologists who have studied the area, it is believed that the Suq Okaz lasted until sometime around 760 AD.

In 631 AD, the residents of Taif accepted Islam and became part of the emerging Islamic state. It was strongly influenced by Islam early on, due to its proximity to Mecca. Many of its residents traveled throughout the Peninsula spreading the new faith. The Holy Qur’an, (Sura 63, 31) refers to Mecca and Taif as “al-Qariyyatain” — the two cities — an expression that implies a close relationship between them.


The Prophet Muhammad also spent time in Taif: in 619 AD he left Mecca to Taif with the hope of converting the Banu Thaqif tribe to Islam and winning their support for his followers in Mecca. Muhammad was unsuccessful; seeing him in distress, a slave named Addas offered the Prophet a plate of grapes. After a brief conversation, Addas, a native of Nineveh, adopted Islam, the first person in Taif to embrace the faith. A small mosque in the area bears his name and still stands today.

The second and last time the Prophet was in Taif was in 630 AD. During this time, a skirmish took place between Muslim and local tribes. The battle lasted 20 days and twelve Muslims were killed before their warriors withdrew. Nevertheless, the Prophet prayed to God to grant His blessings to the inhabitants of Taif and to guide them to the right path. One year later, a six-member delegation of the Thaqif tribe came to Muhammad and announced their tribe’s adoption of Islam.

There are many mosques, both old and new, in the city. The Abdullah Ibn Al-Abbas Mosque in al-Mathnaah is the oldest of those built during the first century of Islam. It has been rebuilt several times, the last of which was during the Ottoman Empire. Its ruins are now an archaeological site. A graveyard near the mosque contains the remains of the twelve martyrs of the Prophet’s campaign in 630 AD.

Taif’s importance dimmed during the 18th and 19th centuries. Several fortresses were built there, but the city lost its stature as a seat of government and became more of a provincial outpost. The remains of several forts still stand among the mountain tops.
Located on a mountain, Taif is rich in underground water reserves. Numerous wells scattered throughout the city and its surrounding area tap extensive aquifers. Naturally agriculture is an economic mainstay. Historically, the tribes grew wheat and barley and fruits including limes, apricots, oranges, olives, figs, peaches, pomegranates, watermelons, quince, grapes, almonds and dates. Daily caravans took this produce down the steep, winding mountain road to Mecca, fostering a trade on which the citizens of Taif thrived.

In addition to producing high quality fruits and vegetables, Taif’s gardens are renowned for their exquisite roses, among them is a particularly sweet perfumed red rose that has for centuries been used to produce a valuable essence know as “attar” which can be used alone or as one of the ingredients in other perfumes.


Taif began to reemerge on the national scene during the first part of this century, when King Abdul Aziz unified the tribes to form the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. King Abdul Aziz enjoyed the natural setting of Taif and after the unification of the Kingdom in 1932, he was a frequent summer resident. He stayed at the Shubra Palace, later on he resided in an elaborate tent city lower down the mountain. He passed away in this city on November 9, 1953. Shubra Palace is today maintained by the Ministry of Defense and Aviation. The large white structure is the most famous historical building in the city. It has a lush garden, fed by a water channel from a nearby spring. The ornate windows and doors are carved with intricate motifs. Today more than 330,000 people make Taif their permanent home and thousands more visit over the summer months. It is a summer resort and the official summer seat of the Saudi government.

Agriculture and tourism are major components of the local economy. The tourism industry provides thousands of jobs to local residents who work to maintain the city’s more than 400 public gardens and parks, as well as in hotels and other facilities. The largest and most famous public garden is the King Fahd Park. In a suburb called Al-Radf, there is a zoo with a large variety of animals from around the world, in addition to exotic local varieties.

Taif is a modern city with an integrated network of services covering the fields of communications, agriculture, health, youth welfare, water, social assistance and education. There are more than 125 primary, intermediate and secondary schools for Taif’s boys and girls. Umm Al-Qura University has a branch campus in Taif. The city’s residents also have access to excellent medical care at the city’s numerous hospitals and clinics. Three main roads from Mecca, Riyadh and Abha facilitate transport of visitors to this town and Taif’s produce to the Kingdom’s markets.

Taif is also home to one of three centers established by the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) dedicated to the study of endangered animals and plants, and to their breeding in controlled conditions. The Taif Research Center is credited with the successful breeding of the Arabian Oryx and the Houbara bustard. Both animals, whose numbers were nearing extinction in the 1980s, have now been reintroduced in large numbers in various wildlife reserves throughout the Kingdom. Other endangered species the Taif facility has successfully bred and reintroduced into the wild include the Arabian helmeted guinea fowl, and the ostrich. The facility also maintains a seed bank that ensures the survival of threatened species by maintaining the genetic diversity of plants indigenous to Saudi Arabia, and produces seedlings that are planted in various region of Saudi.