Leon McCarron

Ibn Battuta Senior Fellow

Leon McCarron Headshot

Leon McCarron | Photo Credit: Emily Garthwaite

From Damascus to Medina

Leon McCarron embarks on an epic journey from Damascus to Medina, following the route of the famed Hejaz Railway

Opened in 1908, the Hejaz was a 1,300 km (800 miles) narrow-gauge railway optimistically referred to as the “Iron Silk Road”. Envisioned primarily as a means of transport for pilgrims traveling to the city of Mecca, the railway also held political and economic importance to the Ottoman Empire. The glory of the Hejaz was short-lived - the outbreak of World War I resulted in significant damage to large sections of the railway and in 1920, the project was effectively abandoned.

More than a century later, Leon is following in the footsteps of generations past as he looks back at the legacy of the Hejaz, traveling from Turkey to Syria, south through Jordan, and finally into Saudi Arabia. He's tracing the centuries-old pilgrimage route while hearing the stories of the 21st-century communities who live along the ruins of the railway. 

This project reflects on the millennia of walking in the region, hospitality to strangers, and the purpose of pilgrimage, while exploring what lies ahead. 

Leon is sharing his journey on social media as he travels from Damascus to Medina. Follow along for an unforgettable experience!

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The Hejaz: Often Forgotted but Imprinted on the Landscape

A rusting train lays on its side in the desert

Tabuk - Al-Ula - Medina (Saudi Arabia)

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A Million Miles from Anywhere

A man on a camel in the Arabian Desert

Saudi Arabia

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Hunting for Treasure Along the Hejaz

A partial building wall in the desert in Jordan with a man walking towards it

Southern Jordan

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"The Hejaz is Our History"

A man walks outside a train station with a sign reading "AMMAN" in English and Arabic

Amman - Jiza (Jordan)

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Following the Hejaz into Northern Jordan

A man stands outside a train station with a sign that reads "MAFRAQ" in English and Arabic

Mafraq - Khirtbet Samra (Jordan)

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Damascus - Cultural, Cosmopolitan, and Slightly Chaotic

Visitors stand outside a domed shrine within a larger mosque

Damascus, Syria

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A Relic of a Bygone Era

The interior of the Hejaz Railway Station in Damascus, Syria

Damascus, Syria

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150km South - Past Squat Olive and Pistachio Trees

A teenager jumps from a medieval waterwheel into the Orontes River in Hama, Syria

Hama, Syria

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The Famous Souks of Aleppo: 13km of Covered Markets

Two men stand outside a shop in the famed souks of Aleppo, Syria

Aleppo, Syria

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'I Listen to these Stories of the Past'

Aleppo, Syria as seen through a window at the citadel

Aleppo, Syria

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Morning Light in Aleppo

Syrian tourists enter the citadel in Aleppo, Syria


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Following the Train Line Into Syria

An aerial view of Aleppo, Syria from the top of the citadel


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'This Was Always a Crossroads'

Train tracks leaving Turkey and heading towards Syria

Adana - Osmaniye - Fevzipaşa - Nurdağı - Syrian Border (Turkey - Syria)

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Contemporary Invocations of Old Projects

A night view of the entrance to the Adana train station in Adana, Turkey

Adana - Eastward towards Syria, Turkey

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From Pendik Station to Rumi's Shrine

A courtyard and building next to the tomb of the poet Rumi in Konya, Turkey

Istanbul - Konya, Turkey

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Agatha Christie, Overland Journeys, and Prospects for Reconnection

The interior of the Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul

The Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel - Istanbul, Turkey

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Why was the Hejaz Railway Built?

Visitors examine objects on display at the Chamber of Holy Relics at Topkapı Palace

Hagia Sofia - Topkapı Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

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Following the Route of the Hejaz Railway

Leon McCarron poses next to a train car outside the Hejaz Railway Station in Damascus, Syria

From Istanbul to Damascus, and on to Amman and Medina

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