Umm Daraj Sanctuary

Umm Daraj ("mother of the stairs"): modern name of an ancient mountain sanctuary opposite Dedan.

Dedanite dedication to Dhu Ghaybah from the Umm Daraj sanctuary

Built on a rock opposite Dedan, Umm Daraj ("mother of the stairs") was a high place of worship of the inhabitants of the Al-‘Ula oasis. It is named after the ancient flight of stairs leading to the summit. The sanctuary dates back to the fourth century BCE and was dedicated to the god of water and fertility Dhu Ghaybah, the main deity of the Lihyanite Arabs living in this area.

The rituals are unknown, but archaeologists have found incense burners (often in the shape of animals) and altars, and have also identified two large cisterns, which must have been used to collect rainwater. This must have been important for ritual cleansing the visitors before they entered the principal building. It may have served funerary ceremonies too.

Many pilgrims came to visit the shrine, leaving graffiti on the rocks of Mount Ikmah (just to the north of Umm Daraj) and inscriptions on stelae, composed in several languages (Dedanite, Minaean, Aramaic). Among the dedications are inscriptions and statues with inscriptions left by visitors all the way from Arabia Felix, modern Yemen, in the far south, who must have traveled along the Incense Route. Typically, they refer to the zll sacrifice. The prayers for protection of the palm trees must have been left by local visitors.