If there is one Western figure who has marked by his interest in the Arab world and his travels in the East, it is certainly Lawrence of Arabia. The British intelligence officer Thomas Edward Lawrence experienced his main feats of arms during the great Arab revolt between 1916 and 1918. His Saudi residence has just been restored and will soon be open to the public.
In the coastal town of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, the bright white rendering and dark wooden screens of a recently restored house stand out against a row of dilapidated destroyed buildings.
It is a house made famous by its former resident : Lawrence of Arabia. The English officer who, through his tales of arms and travel, inspired a whole generation of travel and adventure enthusiasts, notably through David Lean’s film released in 1962, which was a huge success and won no less than seven Oscars.
An emblematic figure, therefore, of travel in the East for Westerners, initially left for Lebanon in 1910 on an archaeological mission (it was in this context that he learned Arabic) and returned to the region in 1914 on behalf of the British army. It was in June 1916 that he was sent to the desert to report on the activity of Arab nationalist movements. During the war, he fought with Arab troops under the command of Faisal ibn Hussein, a son of Hussein ibn Ali (Sheriff of Mecca) who led a guerrilla war against the troops of the Ottoman Empire.
An Abandoned House
During the last century, the elegant two-story house he lived in Yanbu became a ruin, collapsing despite calls from historians to protect the site, restore the house and open it to the public.
“We have just completed the first phase of restoration and hope that by the end of the year it will be ready to welcome visitors,” local mayor Ahmed Al Mahtout told The National. “The residence derives its value from its history and many foreign tourists would like to be in the home of the British intelligence officer.
But the long-abandoned house is also the focus of a persistent local rumour that after Lawrence’s departure, the building was inhabited by ghosts that haunted anyone who approached. The ghosts are a delight for fans of the genre, who are sure to shiver with every squeak and draught.
A little known but not negligible city
The city of Yanbu is known in the region for its rich history, dating back at least 2,500 years. Its oldest history places Yanbu as a stop on the spice and incense route from Yemen to Egypt and the Mediterranean. During the revolt, the city served as a supply and operations base for Arab and British forces fighting the Ottoman Empire.
Today, Yanbu is a major industrial center with three oil refineries. But the city’s white sandy shores and the breathtaking blue waters of the Red Sea also make it a popular destination for beach lovers, swimmers and divers.