The Hejaz Railway was constructed by the Ottomans between 1900 and 1908, primarily to facilitate pilgrimages to the Muslim Holy places in Arabia. It also served to strengthen Ottoman control over the far flung provinces of their empire. The main line linked Damascus to Medina, over a distance of 1,320km, passing through Transjordan via Az-Zarqa’, Al-Qatranah and Ma’an and into northwestern Arabia to the region of Hejaz where Medina and Mecca are located.
The railway replaced the ancient caravan route, which was formerly used to transport goods to and from Damascus and Arabia, a round trip that would have taken approximately four months to complete. The caravan traders were far from happy with this new form of transport as it posed a serious threat to their livelihoods, and many attempts were made by them to disrupt its construction.
Within four years of its completion in September 1908, the Hejaz Railway was transporting around 300,000 passengers a year. But these were not only pilgrims – the Turks had started using the railway to transport troops and supplies and, during the World War I (1914-1918), many attempts were made to disrupt it so as to impede the advance of the Turkish Army.
Pro-Tip: The railway is currently only for display, but if you’re in Amman and close to the Roman Theatre, you can go squeeze your tush into the elegant Royal Carriage.