Hejaz or Hedjaz (both: hējăzˈ, hĕjäzˈ) [key], region, c.150,000 sq mi (388,500 sq km), NW Saudi Arabia, on the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. Mecca is the chief city. Extending S to Asir, Hejaz is mainly a dissected highland region lying between the narrow, long coastal strip and the interior desert. There are several oases and some wadis (watercourses) where livestock and crops, such as dates and wheat, are raised. Economically important cities include Taif and Yanbu. The junction of the main north-south and east-west highways of Saudi Arabia, Taif is an important mountain city and market. Yanbu on the Red Sea is a major petrochemical city, the terminus for two oil pipelines. Hejaz is, however, more important as a place of pilgrimage. Each year many thousands of Muslim pilgrims come into Hejaz, mainly through Jidda, the chief port, to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Following the fall (1258) of the caliphate of Baghdad, Hejaz came under Egyptian control. In 1517 it came under Turkish suzerainty, although nominal rule remained in the hands of the Hashemite sherifs of Mecca. In the early 19th cent. Hejaz was raided by the Wahhabis; peace was restored in 1817 by the governor of Egypt. After 1845, Hejaz came again under direct Turkish control. To improve communications, the Turks built the Hejaz railway (completed 1908) from Damascus to Medina; it was severely damaged during World War I and later abandoned. The Hejaz was in 1916 proclaimed independent by Husayn ibn Ali, the sherif of Mecca, who with the aid of T. E. Lawrence destroyed Turkish authority. Husayn was himself defeated in 1924 by Ibn Saud, ruler of Nejd and founder of Saudi Arabia, who annexed his domain. The formal union of Hejaz and Nejd into Saudi Arabia was proclaimed in 1932.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on Hejaz from Infoplease:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Arabian Peninsula Political Geography