Biet Nassif is an old house-turned-museum. It is a prime tourist attraction in Jeddah that reflects the past splendor of the city. Jeddah has a long history, about 2,500 years old beginning when the first Arab fishermen settled along the coast of the Red Sea.
Dating back to the mid-1800s, this 5-storey structure used to be the home of the Nassifs, which was a well-known clan of merchants. In the past, this mysterious looking house in Balad had hosted important personalities in Jeddah, including King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, who is no less than the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Today, the museum offers a chance for tourists to see traditional Saudi architecture blended with modern style.
Jeddah is the most well-loved city in Saudi Arabia among foreign tourists. It is very lenient and forgiving, allowing tourists to be more relaxed than they would be in other cities, including the capital city of Riyadh. Jeddah is also the most spiritually significant since it serves as the official gateway to the holy city of Mecca, which is the center of Islam. Millions of Muslims on Hajj pilgrimage travel to Mecca every year and pass by historic Jeddah.
Jeddah is truly one scenic and historic city that deserves international recognition as an important tourist destination. Fondly referred to by locals as the “Bride of the Red Sea”, Jeddah was able to thrive in ancient times due to its location along the coast. Before it became an oil-rich city, much of the city’s business activities and successes were concentrated on the Balad area, where Old Jeddah is now found.
In the 70s, Jeddah made a fortune when Saudi oil boomed in the international market; in the 80s, most residents, traders and merchants from Balad moved to the north where there were more opportunities to be rich, thanks to the blossoming oil industry; and in the 90s, the Jeddah Historical Preservation Society, as well as the Historical Area Preservation Department, was organized to preserve Balad and all the old houses and buildings therein. The most popular of these old houses, of course, is Biet Nassif. It is now the acknowledged center of cultural tourism in the city.
Meanwhile, Old Jeddah is not just about ancient homes and traditional buildings. Another important attraction in Balad is the local markets and street shops. Thousands of local shoppers, street hawkers and foreign tourists flock the local souqs (markets) and khans (street shops) in search of the best and cheapest items. This vibrant marketplace is teeming with specialized souqs, some of which sell exotic perfumes and textiles, while others glittering gold and silver ornaments. The most popular souqs are Souq Al Nada, Souq Al Alawi, Souq Al Jamia, and Gabel Street Souq.
There are other shopping centers in the city that are as lively and that offer items that are as unique and varied. The cosmopolitan city of Jeddah is home to the largest shopping centers in the Middle East, the newest of which is the Mall of Arabia. Equipped with modern facilities and amenities, Mall of Arabia has three floors and more than 300 stores.
Biet Nassif is located not far from Souq Al Alawi. The Nassif home is not difficult to find since everyone in Balad knows where it is and every tourist guide books to Jeddah point to this historic structure. This museum and historical center features unique items that speak much of the history of the city. Such items include a 15th-century cannon and a 700-year-old flag mast.