Medina Station was built less than a kilometre from the Prophet's Mosque, the second most holy place for Muslims (after the Haram Mosque in Mecca), and a key destination for pilgrimage. One of the largest depots on the Hejaz Railway, the station's imposing main building has a facade of 17 decorative arches. Situated next to the Al Anbaria Mosque (constructed at the same time as the station), the site includes an operations centre, passenger and employee rest houses, residences for the station master and maintenance supervisor, washrooms, an engine shed, repair yards, a goods office, a storehouse, sidings, a turntable and a four-tank water tower.
German-built Hartmann 2-8-0
View of the Prophet's Mosque from the roof of Medina Station
Medina Station following restoration
The inauguration ceremony for Medina Station was held on 1st September 1908 to coincide with the anniversary of Sultan Abdulhamid II’s accession. The official delegation from Damascus and Constantinople was accompanied by a host of well-wishers and newspaper correspondents, paying 7 Turkish lira for a 3rd class ticket and 14 lira for 1st class. At the time, everyone believed that the construction of the track was going to be continued southwards as far as Mecca, and for this reason the ceremonies were not as extravagant as might have been expected. However, a crowd of more than 30,000 attended the official ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the adjoining Hamidia (now Al Anbaria) Mosque.
Chief Eng. Mokhtar Bey making a speech at the 1908 ceremony
At the time of the inauguration, the main station building had only one storey
The line between AlUla and Medina was completed in just one year. In addition to 2,000 workers drafted in from the Turkish 6th Army in Baghdad, 1,800 men from the garrison at Medina took part in the construction work from the southern end. The pressure to complete the section of track in time for the anniversary of the Sultan's accession was to have some negative consequences. Temporary detours, instead of bridges and culverts, were sometimes used to traverse the beds of watercourses. In the absence of the German Chief Engineer, Heinrich Meissner, who as a European Christian was unable to work south of AlUla, basic procedures such as the fixing of rails and the laying of ballast were often carried out in a careless way. A.J. Wavell, who travelled to Medina as a pilgrim shortly after the completion of the project 'passed several wrecked engines that had run off the track owing to it not having been properly laid.'
Hartmann 2-8-0 locomotive at Medina Station
Medina Station looking west towards the mountains
A wartime extension into the city from Medina Station
A.J. Wavell arrived in Medina at a time when the Bedouin, who relied on the hiring and guiding of pilgrimage caravans for their livelihood, saw the 'iron donkey' as a grave threat. In January 1908, the Al Harb, the paramount tribe in the region, rose up in revolt. Before boarding his train, Wavell had received the disconcerting advice that 'If you are attacked in the train by overwhelming numbers, do not try to fight, give up your things quietly, and no harm will befall you.' When he arrived in Medina, gunfire could be heard from the other side of the city and he learned that the station had been attacked earlier the same day.
The Hejaz Railway was originally intended to run to Mecca, Islam's holiest city. When Medina was reached in September 1908, it was hoped that the extension to Mecca would be completed the following year. However, strong opposition from local tribes, secretly supported by the new Amir of Mecca, Sherif Hussein ibn Ali, prevented the line from ever being constructed.
Medina Station from the west
Work being carried out to construct the second storey of the main station building in 1914
The ceremony to inaugurate the second storey
Residential street leading from the station into the city through Al Anbaria Gate
During the First World War, Medina Station would play a critical role in maintaining the running of the railway, vital both for the defence of the city and the wider Hejaz region. When the Arabs rose up against their Ottoman overlords in 1916, some of the first engagements took place outside the city walls. Even after British and French forces joined the Arabs, Medina's strong fortifications and an experienced and well-equipped garrison of 14,000 under Fakhri Pasha, enabled it to hold out until the end of the war.
Sketch map showing the deployment of Ottoman defence forces in Medina and the surrounding area in March 1917
In June 1916, at the outset of the Arab Revolt, Prince Faisal, the third son of Sherif Hussein, the Emir of Mecca, attempted to overrun the city's defences with a full-frontal charge of his forces. This engagement was to give the prince his first insight into the futility of attacking entrenched and well-armed Turkish regulars with Bedouin on camels. Unaccustomed to the noise of heavy guns, an artillery bombardment threw the tribesmen into disarray and they were cut down by machine-gun fire. Despite Faisal's attempts to rally them, they fell back to their watering holes.
Aerial photo of Medina Station, taken by Major Ross, 14 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps
Trains at Medina Station during the war - 1916
Medina, with its well-trained garrison under the redoutable leadership of General Fahkri Pasha, was able to hold out against Allied attack for the duration of the First World War. Most of the civilian population was evacuated (at times just driven into the desert) in order to preserve scarce supplies of food. A shortage of fuel to maintain railway services, the city's lifeline, resulted in private houses being stripped of furniture and even their structural timber, so that the precious locomotives could be kept in operation.
In the spring of 1918, Ottoman reverses in Palestine and Jordan resulted in a plan to abandon Medina completely and move its large garrison north to participate in the main theatre of operations. However, a series of devastating Allied raids carried out against the railway in southern Jordan resulted in the cutting of the line, preventing a withdrawal from the city.
1914 plan of Medina showing the railway line and station (bahnhof) outside Al Anbaria Gate on the west side of the city
When the Armistice of Mudros ended hostilities in the Middle East at the end of October 1918, it was expected that Fakhri Pasha would surrender his forces. The veteran commander however, considered it his solemn duty to maintain his defence of the Prophet's tomb until a personal order from the Sultan relieved him of the responsibility. He also considered it dishonourable to have to surrender to Bimbashi (Major) Garland, whom he did not regard as a genuine Allied 'commander'. He held the city for a further two months, and only on the 10th January 1919, when a group of his less determined fellow officers mutinied and handed him over to the enemy, did the city finally fall.
Fakhri Pasha surrendering Medina to Prince Abdullah over two months after the official ending of the war
Arab forces pass Medina Station on their ceremonial entry into the city after its surrender in January 1919
Following the war, the line was patched up and a few services were able to run through to Medina. Owing to the poor condition of the track however, the journey could take almost two weeks, rather than the four days prior to hostilities. In 1925, the city was surrounded by the forces of Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the rising power in the region. Three trains arriving with supplies from Ma’an in southern Jordan were the last through services ever to run to Medina. In the winter of that year, torrential rain caused extensive damage to the track, and the Saudi section finally became permanently impassable.
The track leading into the city was still in place long after railway services were discontinued
A project for the restoration of Medina Station was completed in 2004. The renovation work included the main station building, the engine workshop, the water tower, the station master's residence, the operations centre, the staff and passenger rest-houses, the washrooms, the storehouse, the maintenance supervisor's residence, the goods office and the Suqia Mosque. Six locomotives and a number of carriages, wagons and flatbed trucks were included in the renovation work. As part of the same project, the main station building was refurbished to house an Islamic Museum, opened in 2006, where archaeological and ethnographic items relating to the history of Medina are currently exhibited.
German-built Hartmann 2-6-0 locomotive in the Medina Station engine shed in 2002
Restored Hartmann 2-6-0 locomotive and Baume et Marpent 3rd class carriage in the engine shed in 2004