According to historians; the name of Yanbu comes from the over 99 wells (nabi’ is the Arabic word for well) in the port city that was the backbone of the economy 1,400 years ago.
At that time, it was a critical transitory point in the trade route between Syria and Egypt; and with the spread of Islam and pilgrims’ passage through Yanbu al-Nakhal (Arabic for palm), its prominence increased further.
Four major markets, along with the port of Yanbu, propelled the city’s economic rise and ensured its prosperity for centuries.
The city’s Souk Al-Layl (night market) in Yanbu Al-Bahr (Arabic for sea) is among the oldest along the Red Sea. Throughout its several hundred-year history; it had been operating at the nighttime because transactions would take place as seamen were departing to the port.
Suwaiq Market, one of the city’s most prominent, was known for its regulatory system that ensured the integrity of all incoming and outgoing sales of goods sold there, like ghee, honey and sheep brought from its surrounding areas.
The city’s port which now has a 250-meter-wide entrance and the capacity to receive various types of ships and more than 13 million tons annually. It is the site where the city’s charcoal, dates and other goods are sent to neighboring markets; and then to different countries in Africa and Asia.
Awad Al-Subhi, the head of the Friends of Heritage Committee in Yanbu and director of the branch of the Saudi Society for Heritage Preservation said that some markets in Yanbu al-Nakhal used to operate on select days; most notably the Friday Market and the Jabiria Market,.
Each would sell select products, but all markets nonetheless shared a unified aesthetic and very similar design, he added.
Their significance, however, differed. Souk Al-Layl, for example, was prominent and known for its specialty and maritime products. Besides, ghee, honey, and the “majlad” dates; only sold there and drew all kinds of merchants and sailors from abroad.