In the oldest part of Jeddah, hundreds of its oldest buildings still exist, many times right alongside new modern skyscrapers. Jeddah’s history goes all the way back to the beginning of mankind and it is said that Eve lived and died here. Centuries ago, much thought and effort went into building structures that utilized the available materials in the best ways for longevity and practicality and took advantage of cool wind flows coming off the Red Sea. The city was designed to maximize the atmosphere which provided a natural air conditioning of sorts, long before modern air conditioning systems were ever invented. Buildings were constructed with narrow alleys running north-south and east-west to catch the cool sea breezes and also to create deep shadows that provided protection from the backlash of the brutal summer heat and humidity.
Most of the buildings are made of coral-stone slabs – many have seashells visible in the stone – and openings were covered in painted blue or brown wooden latticework designs creating a balcony called “roshan,” which stuck out from the building. This was the place where families would gather seated on soft cushions to enjoy the cool evening breezes. Smaller window openings which were covered in less elaborate wooden grills are called “sheesh.” These types of coverings provided privacy within, yet the ability to see out, shade from the sun, as well as allowing for great air circulation.
Unfortunately many of the old buildings have been destroyed to make way for new construction. About five hundred still remain, but many are in disrepair and abandoned. New regulations protect these old historic buildings from being torn down. Those buildings that are still inhabited are overcrowded, housing poor foreign workers who have attempted to modernize the old buildings with dangerous and shoddy makeshift electricity and plumbing. Because of this, some 60 of these historic buildings have been lost to fire.