Saudi Arabia’s Maraya Concert Hall: An architectural wonder of the world

Time: 18 March, 2020

A total of 9,740 square meters of mirrors cover the exterior walls of the cube-shaped structure reflecting the picturesque surroundings of AlUla. (Photos/ Supplied)
  • Located in Wadi Ashaar, the hall is equipped with the latest theatrical and operatic sound systems

RIYADH: The magnificent Maraya Concert Hall in the northwestern Saudi province of AlUla has set a Guinness record for the largest mirrored building in the world.

Maraya (meaning mirrors in Arabic) has been dubbed the “mirrored wonder” due to the giant sheets of glass attached to its structure, which reflect AlUla’s breathtaking landscape.
This includes Hegra, the first historical site in Saudi Arabia to be included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The building has been described as a “site-specific landmark” of true “land-art architecture,” and its extraordinary facade was unveiled at a special ceremony organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla during the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival.
The 500-seat venue has hosted leading international artists, including Egyptian musician Omar Khairat and Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli. The festival began its artistic journey with a performance by the renowned Moroccan singer Aziza Jalal, who surprised fans with a return after a 35-year hiatus.

Marvelous environment
Located in Wadi Ashaar, near the volcanic freeway, the hall is equipped with the latest theatrical and operatic sound systems. A total of 9,740 square meters of mirrors cover the exterior walls of the cube-shaped structure reflecting the picturesque surroundings of AlUla, a landscape that has captivated artists and architects from the Nabataean civilization through to the present day.

Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, said: “AlUla is a cultural heritage to the world, and this step comes in fulfillment of AlUla’s vision, to create a regional and global cultural center.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The building has been described as a ‘site-specific landmark’ of true ‘land-art architecture.’

• Its extraordinary facade was unveiled at a special ceremony organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla during the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival.

“We have developed Maraya Concert Hall as a hub for world events, concerts, celebrations, gatherings, and business conventions. The mirrored hall is a global platform where nature, culture, and human heritage coexist in harmony.
“We are proud to celebrate the opening of Maraya Concert Hall, and we thank our partners, experts, engineers, and architects, who worked day and night to create this astounding monument in the heart of the marvelous desert environment of AlUla,” he added.
Designer Florian Boje, of Gio Forma, said: “As evident in the architecture of the Nabataeans, Maraya Concert Hall was created utilizing segmentation and (by) sculpting the blocks.

“This unique edifice makes us think about the unique landscape of the geological saga, the radical abstraction of the enchanting environment of AlUla, and the uncommon incursions for man in the natural landscape.

Civilization
“The reflections give an overwhelming balance and a deep sense of the connection of human heritage with nature and its intertwining and harmonizing together, which provides us with the responsibility of protecting our human culture that is combined with the exceptional nature of AlUla.”
The development of the concert hall came within the framework of the cultural and heritage statement of AlUla, which was recently issued and published by the Royal Commission for AlUla, inviting global arts and business communities to join the commission in a new cultural chapter in the rich history of AlUla.
The vision for AlUla states that “the artistic mission of AlUla is clear, and (it) will remain the destination for artists to draw their inspiration from a site that highlights the monuments of historical civilizations.

AlUla is a cultural heritage to the world, and this step comes in fulfillment of AlUla’s vision, to create a regional and global cultural center.

Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla

“What remains of great cultures is art and architecture. Successive civilizations have formed the cultural scene with their knowledge and experience, and AlUla will remain the artistic destination for artists to enhance a spirit of imagination and inspiration in their being, and the expression that constitutes the infrastructure of AlUla and its structures and daily life to enrich the encounters of the visitors.”
The second Winter at Tantora festival witnessed a celebration of international events, including the first Hegra Conference of Nobel Laureates 2020, held in the city of AlUla from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1.

Eighteen Nobel laureates of peace, economics, literature, physics, chemistry, physiology, and medicine took part in the event along with an elite group of intellectuals, politicians and social leaders from 32 countries around the world.
They presented theses to meet the challenges affecting humanity and the world. The conference aimed to make a significant impact on, and offer solutions to, urgent global dilemmas, with discussions putting forward ways to tackle future issues related to education, health, agriculture, and the world’s economy.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Maraya Concert Hall: The ‘mirrored wonder’ of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla creates Guinness World Record

Time: 18 March, 2020

  • It holds the record for the largest mirrored building in the world

RIYADH: The magnificent mirrored Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla has astonished everyone who sees it — a list that now includes assessors from Guinness World Records.

The cube-shaped structure, covered in 9,740 square meters of mirrors that reflect the breathtaking landscape around it, has set a record for the largest mirrored building in the world.

The building and its extraordinary facade were unveiled at a special ceremony staged by the Royal Commission for AlUla during the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival. The 500-seat venue has since hosted leading international artists, including Egyptian musician Omar Khairat and Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli.

“AlUla is a cultural heritage to the world, and this step comes in fulfillment of AlUla’s vision, to create a regional and global cultural center,” said commission chief executive Amr Al-Madani

“We have developed Maraya Concert Hall as a hub for world events, concerts, celebrations, gatherings, and business conventions. The mirrored hall is a global platform where nature, culture, and human heritage coexist in harmony.

“We are proud to celebrate the opening of Maraya Concert Hall, and we thank our partners, experts, engineers, and architects, who worked day and night to create this astounding monument in the heart of the marvelous desert environment of AlUla.”

Florian Boje of designers Gio Forma said: “This unique edifice makes us think about the unique landscape of the geological saga, the radical abstraction of the enchanting environment of AlUla, and the uncommon incursions for man in the natural landscape.

“The reflections give an overwhelming balance and a deep sense of the connection of human heritage with nature.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Al-Okhdood, a historic site in Saudi Arabia’s Najran

14/03/20

Photo/Saudi Tourism

Al-Okhdood and the story of its people are mentioned in the Buruj chapter of the Holy Qur’an
The archaeological gem of Al-Okhdood in southwestern Saudi Arabia dates back more than 2,000 years. The historic site in Najran is rich with artifacts and remnants of ancient drawings and engravings on stones, which include depictions of a human hand, a horse, a camel and snakes. The remains of a mosque can also be seen.

Al-Okhdood and the story of its people are mentioned in the Buruj chapter of the Holy Qur’an, which refers to a Jewish Himyarite king burning alive thousands of his citizens for converting to Christianity.
This photograph was taken by Abdul Aziz Alarify as part of the Colors of Saudi Competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Qaryat Al-Faw, one of the ancient cities of the pre-Islamic era in Saudi Arabia

29/02/20

  • Qaryat Al-Faw intersects the ancient trade route Najran–Jerhae at a strategic point

The ancient city of Qaryat Al-Faw is located in the foothills of the Tuwaiq mountains, where it intersects with Wadi Al-Dawasir, overlooking the northwestern edge of the Empty Quarter.
Qaryat Al-Faw, which is 700 km southwest of Riyadh, is considered one of the most important ancient cities of the pre-Islamic era in Saudi Arabia.
It was the capital of the Kinda Kingdom from the first century B.C. to the fourth century, one of the ancient kingdoms in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula. It also intersects the ancient trade route Najran–Jerhae at a strategic point.
The discovery of Qaryat Al-Faw is one of the most important international archaeological finds as it captures a pre-Islamic Arab city with all its components still intact. Houses, wells, roads, market places, temples and graves were all found at this site.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Gem of history, Diriyah is ‘gateway’ to future of Saudi Arabia

22/02/20

Behind the scenes: The ladies taking a commemorative photo in Diriyah. Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s employees feel a sense of pride, nurturing their county and showcasing its history. (AN photo)

  • Danielle Atkins: ‘If you want to see Vision 2030 in 2020 just come to my office. DGDA really does embody Vision 2030 in 2020’

One of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects and most beloved sites is the home of the founding fathers, Diriyah.

In one year, it has played host to Russian President Vladimir Putin, numerous delegates and was the prime location for Formula E, but behind all the glitz and glamour, a team of Saudis are working hard to make it a major tourist destination.

Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), is going local with its employees — 278 out of 355 are Saudi, with 45 from Diriyah. The employees feel a sense of pride, nurturing their county and showcasing its history.

Established in July 2017, the DGDA aims to preserve the culture of Diriyah, celebrate its community, and make it a landmark that celebrates Saudi Arabia.

Considered one of the Kingdom’s most important historical sites and the capital of the first Saudi state, Diriyah is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif, a mud-brick city that stands as the birthplace of the first Saudi state.

“Diriyah has a special place in my heart because it’s the home of my forefathers. It’s an honor for me to add to their legacy and to improve upon this cartel of history that is so full of meaning,” said Princess Al-Johara Al-Saud, the DGDA’s branded content and collaboration officer, to Arab News. “I am privileged to be part of a team that’s sole focus is to give Diriyah its proper place as the jewel of the Kingdom.”

FASTFACTS

  • Diriyah Gate Development Authority was established in July 2017 to preserve Diriyah’s culture, celebrate its community and make Diriyah known globally as a landmark that celebrates Saudi culture and history.
  • Diriyah highlights the architectural, diplomatic and artistic legacy of Saudi Arabia.
  • Diriyah is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif, a mud-brick city that stands as the birthplace of the first Saudi state.

Merging past, present, and future, “Diriyah is the gateway of the future of Saudi Arabia,” said Danielle Atkins, chief of marketing and communications officer at the DGDA. She said that the team were all young and Saudi, and “if you want to see vision 2030 in 2020 just come to my office. The DGDA really does embody Vision 2030 in 2020.”

Al-Johara was one of Atkins’ first hires. “I feel empowered and supported, working alongside so many prominent women in the marketing team,” she said. “We all feel so proud to be contributing to the preservation and promotion of Diriyah, under the umbrella of Vision 2030 and the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. His mission to enable women in Saudi Arabia has driven us to push forward and to play an instrumental role in making the vision a reality in 2020.”

The marketing team at DGDA, headed by Atkins, is composed of 31 employees, 18 of whom are women. Atkins’ goal is to empower Saudi women and to have them as confident leaders taking the reins.

One of the DGDA’s initiatives is its graduate program. Launched in November 2019, 19 people enrolled, 79 percent of whom were females. The students are expected to complete the program by November 2020, with the possibility of joining the DGDA as full-time team members.

Haifa Al-Ruwaished is currently in the graduate program, and being from Diriyah, she says it was an honor to be able to work alongside passionate and enthusiastic members serving both her county and country.

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the DGDA, said: “This is such an inspiring time for Saudi youth, especially women, and we are proud to play our part. We are passionate about giving back to the communities of Diriyah and knew that we needed to start with the talent of tomorrow. The graduates from Diriyah that have become part of the DGDA are already stars and I’m confident they will take important roles in shaping the future of the Kingdom. We are especially proud that a majority of the graduates who have joined are women.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Centuries-old Ibrahim Palace in Hofuf an Islamic architectural gem

Time: 15 February, 2020

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • The palace, which was built on commercial route with links to the rest of the world, has come to symbolize the wealth of the region

Built almost 500 years ago, Ibrahim Palace in Hofuf is one of Al-Ahsa region’s most significant landmarks.
The palace includes several military watchtowers. It was said to have been renamed after Ibrahim bin Afysan, an architect who renovated the structure in 1801.
Covering more than 16,500 square meters, the palace combines modern and Islamic architectural styles typical of the time.
Inside is Al-Quba Mosque, which has a single dome resting on top of the entire building, a unique style in Saudi Arabia at the time.
The palace, which was built on commercial route with links to the rest of the world, has come to symbolize the wealth of the region.
King Abdul Aziz added a new dimension to the palace when he ruled Al-Ahsa in 1913, fortifying the structure with Islamic domes and huge, military-style towers, as well as soldiers’ barracks in the palace’s eastern wing.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s AlUla to be developed into world’s largest living museum

Time: 14 February, 2020

Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans to develop AlUla into the world’s largest living museum and a major heritage, cultural, arts and adventure tourism destination. (File/AFP)
  • Kingdom wants 2m visitors to county by 2035
  • The development plans were announced during the 10th UN World Urban Forum in Abu Dhab

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans to develop AlUla into the world’s largest living museum and a major heritage, cultural, arts and adventure tourism destination.
AlUla is known for its natural beauty and archaeological diversity. It has hosted major cultural events, including a site-responsive outdoor art installation featuring the work of Saudi and international artists.
The development plans were announced during the 10th UN World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi.
“The balanced development strategy places people first as part of a broader commitment to become an open living museum for the world and a global center for culture, heritage, arts and eco-tourism projects,” the CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), Amr Al-Madani, said. “We chose the World Urban Forum as a credible global platform to engage with the world’s leading developers and sustainability experts and share our plans for the long-term, responsible development of AlUla as the world’s largest living museum. By combining heritage with nature, we are transforming the cultural landscape of AlUla and establishing the county as a global tourism destination with a thriving economy and local community.”
Saudi Arabia aims to host two million visitors a year in AlUla by 2035. The RCU, the authority responsible for protecting and promoting the area, estimates the project will create more than 67,000 new jobs, almost half of them in the tourism sector.
“We invite experts from around the world to join us on our journey which means we learn and innovate together. We see a clear road ahead as we attract investment and continue to protect, preserve, share and celebrate our heritage and nature with the world. Not only have we opened our doors to travelers benefiting from Saudi Arabia’s new tourist visas, we’ve also delivered the infrastructure that is central to growth,” Al-Madani added.
He said that a new airport had been launched and that it had the potential to become a transport and logistics hub for northwest Saudi Arabia. There was also a distinctive concert hall with a 500-seat capacity, he added.
The RCU’s Francesca Arici, who is responsible for coordinating development of the masterplans, briefed organizations and agencies at the forum about the commission’s future strategy.
“This is a unique and once-in-a-lifetime development program that requires drawing together international best practice in numerous and diverse fields and sectors,” she said. “We must balance light-touch tourism with sensitive development designed to benefit the local community while still protecting rare ecosystems and archaeology. We are moving at pace but ensuring we embrace the needs and demands of the local community as we work together for a common goal.  A number of major infrastructure plans have already been realized and it is anticipated that we will introduce new building permits and design guidelines to AlUla in March, boosting local economic growth and prosperity.”
Around 80 percent of AlUla county will be protected, including cultural and natural heritage sites.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s most romantic gem Previous

Time: 12 February, 2020

Offering a rich plethora of cultural, historical and adventurous experiences, AlUla is a great new place for die-hard romantics, one that is literally on the doorsteps of all Saudis. (Shutterstock)
  • Rich with historic culture, mystery and romantic landscapes, AlUla is the perfect getaway

JEDDAH: As far as romantic destinations go, there’s nothing more romantic than the beautiful landscape of AlUla; with its mesmerizing mountain carvings and rock tombs, the mystical ancient land is an experience on its own.

Offering a rich plethora of cultural, historical and adventurous experiences, it is a great new place for die-hard romantics, one that is literally on the doorsteps of all Saudis.

Though it will officially open in October 2020, couples can still enjoy the wonders of the area by attending this year’s Winter at Tantora festival.

Hundreds of thousands of years of history serve as a backdrop to pop up restaurants, luxury hotels, excursions and desert adventures.

Resorts in AlUla are surrounded by mountains and vast deserts — the perfect place for a couple to enjoy a quiet and unique experience for Valentine’s Day.

This weekend, the world-renowned theater company, Caracalla, will perform “Jamil and Buthainah — A Love Legend from the Oasis of AlUla” at the Maraya Concert Hall. It is a story of love and loss penned by classical local AlUla poet, Jamil Buthainah.

The performance is fitting for the weekend as the storyline will come alive through music, dance and theater.

There are a number of restaurants in AlUla such as Sass Cafe that serves Italian, French and Mediterranean dishes, burgers from Salt, Michelin-starred chefs at Annabel’s, La Cantine du Faubourg and, and more for visitors to enjoy different tastes throughout a romantic weekend getaway.

For a unique hiking experience, there are two trails. The Arabian Leopard trail and the Lost Knight trail are between 2-3 hours that will take visitors to locations where they can discover the region’s natural heritage, flora and geological formations as well as sites where they can view historical inscriptions and more.

Looking for a little more adventure, nothing gets the heart beating like a zip line adventure. Measuring at 880 meters long and standing over 1200 meters above sea level over the Harrat — dormant volcanic fields located nearby — you can fly over the region at over 90 kilometers an hour reaching the landing area in less than a minute. Short and exhilarating, it is a fun and entertaining way to add thrill to the romantic weekend.

A journey to AlUla is not complete without a visit to Jabal Ikmah rock art, the site for the Lihyanite civilization. At Hegra, the capital of the Nabataean civilization, visitors will be transported in time to a golden age of a flourishing city with the large carved rock tombs of their kings as a backdrop.

Rich with historic culture, mystery and romantic landscapes, AlUla is the perfect getaway for a quick and once in a lifetime experience.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Saudi Arabia’s historic Uqair seaport

08/02/20

The port has seen the launch of Islamic armies that conquered Persia, India and reached the borders of China. (Photo/Saudi Tourism)

Uqair was the first seaport in the Arabian Gulf and is located in Al-Ahsa governorate on the east coast of Saudi Arabia. It is an archaeological site that connects with many adjacent historic features in the area.

When the Kingdom was established, Uqair was its economic gateway, and the main port through which to access the east and the middle of the country. Its historic position was strengthened due to the political agreements established during the reign of King Abdul Aziz. There are old buildings such as the governorate center, customs building and the mosque.

The port has seen the launch of Islamic armies that conquered Persia, India and reached the borders of China.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Jabal Tallan Museum in Jazan — a witness to authenticity and legacy

Time: 01 February, 2020

  • The Jazan Mountains are host to more than 54,000 coffee trees farmed by 600 farmers, annually producing 300 tons of their beans
  • Al-Dayer province is a major tourist destination in Jazan

AL-DAYER: Owned by Gebran Al-Alaili Al-Maliki, Jabal Tallan Museum is a milestone in the cultural and tourism movement sweeping the mountainous provinces of Jazan region.
Although it is a private museum, it contains 8,000 rare artifacts, showcasing the legacy of the past.
The one-story, round-shaped museum features a number of coffee tools, cooking utensils, some leather goods, women’s clothing, a collection of ancient weapons used in wars and some stone tools.
During the coffee festival annually held by the province, a large turnout of visitors flock to the pavilion eager to learn about the artifacts, which include many pots and agricultural tools, as well as daggers and household mattresses used by past inhabitants of the mountain.
The owner of the museum said that it took him 32 years to collect his artifacts in an attempt to preserve the relics of the mountain sector of Jazan, which nearly disappeared.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Dayer Bani Malek province in the Jazan region is characterized by its stone castles and fortresses and agricultural terraces that produce the finest coffee.
It is also home for the first football field carved from the rock, making the province an important touristic and economic hub.
Castles and stone forts housing artifacts and rock inscriptions are spread across the peaks and in the flanks of the mountains of the province.
These installations were built in a unique design and rare geometric form, some of which date back to the pre-Islamic era.
Al-Dayer province is also specialized in cultivating coffee trees that produce high quality Khoulani coffee, one of the world’s finest varieties.
The Jazan Mountains are host to more than 54,000 coffee trees farmed by 600 farmers, annually producing 300 tons of their delicious beans.
The province celebrates its coffee trees by holding a festival attended by the governor of the region, some officials and people interested in coffee from around the world.
Al-Dayer province is a major tourist destination in Jazan thanks to its wonderful views, charming nature and appealing high-peaked green mountains.
It is the largest mountain province of Jazan, with a population of about 100,000 spread across 420 villages.

This article was first published in Arab News

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