The Place: Kfar Mosque, Saudi Arabia’s Hail region

18/01/20

Kfar Mosque. (Photo/SPA)
  • Due to its strategic importance, the mosque has been renovated several times, with improvements and additions.

With space for 400 worshippers, it is one of the most prominent mosques in the Hail region.
Also known as Al-Hameed Mosque, it was built in 1915 and named Al-Hameed after its neighborhood location. Its architecture is similar to other buildings of the era with construction in mud and stone, and a ceiling made of wooden squares, timber and palm leaves.
Due to its strategic importance, the mosque has been renovated several times, with improvements and additions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s winter season welcomes tourists

18/01/20

Tourists from inside and outside the Kingdom can visit www.visitsaudi.com/ar/do/package/saudi-winters to learn about options and details. (SPA)
  • Activities range from sledding and camel rides to dune bashing and sand-boarding

RIYADH: The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has teamed up with travel firms to offer packages to people visiting the Kingdom during the winter season.
The packages feature transport, accommodation and tour guides, and cover a number of destinations including Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. Activities range from sledding and camel rides to dune bashing and sand-boarding.
Trips vary from a one-day tour to a full week, and they have been designed to take in archaeological, historical and tourist sites, as well as markets, events and meals out.
Tourists from inside and outside the Kingdom can check the Visit Saudi website to learn about options and details.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s visit puts Saudi Arabia’s AlUla treasures in focus

13/01/20

The ancient Nabataean city of Hegra in the AlUla Valley, a center of power at the core of the trade routes across the Arabian Peninsula, dates, like its famous twin city Petra, in Jordan, from around the fourth century BC. (Supplied)
  • Visit is Abe’s last stop in his visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman
  • Arab News has created an interactive titled “The Rebirth of AlUla” in both English and Japanese

RIYADH: The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tour of AlUla during his visit to Saudi Arabia casts a spotlight on the ancient Nabataean site as it prepares to open its doors to the public later this year.

AlUla, the last stop in Abe’s visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman, is full of archaeological treasures nestling amid beautiful desert landscapes.

Saudi Arabia’s move to open up Hegra city and the AlUla Valley is restoring a missing chapter in the history of the Arabian Peninsula and the entire world.

Bearing the name Mada’in Salih in the post- Islamic era, the lost city of Hegra was built by the Nabataeans, like its famous twin Petra in Jordan. They controlled the profitable trade routes that crossed the Arabian Peninsula from east to west and north to south from about the fourth century BC to 106 AD.

Arab News has created an interactive “The Rebirth of AlUla” — arabnews.com/alula — that dives deep into its history, blending compelling storytelling and journalism with stunning video footage, beautiful photography, animated graphics and rare footage and interviews – in both English and Japanese.

“The Rebirth of AlUla” throws light on the work of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), established in 2017, which is working with the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula) on “the transformation of the AlUla region into a worldwide cultural and touristic destination.”

The site is currently hosting the second Winter at Tantora festival, a spectacular celebration of art, music and heritage that is drawing the world once again to AlUla from Dec. 19 to March 7.

Over 12 weekends of festivities, visitors are being treated to an eclectic mix of performers, including the Gipsy Kings, Lionel Richie, Enrique Iglesias, Craig David and Jamiroquai.

Returning to Winter at Tantora will be Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Greek pianist Yanni and Egyptian composer Omar Khairat.

The festival is also showcasing the newly constructed Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla, which is surrounded by mountains, combining modernism and antiquity.

The concert hall was built as an architectural extension of the environment that surrounds it at its site in Ashar, situated in the volcanic foothills of Harrat ‘Uwayrid.

In 2007, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, under its Secretary-General Prince Sultan bin Salman, nominated AlUla for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The application was accepted, and Hegra became the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Leaders magazine in February 2019, the RCU’s CEO Amr Al-Madani said AlUla is “full of archaeological treasures from the Dadanite, Nabataean, Roman and Islamic civilizations, nestled amongst the staggeringly beautiful desert landscapes.”

A cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the nation’s sustainable development, the project aims to create opportunities for the community and boost the local economy in AlUla.

Afalula will support the growth of infrastructure, archaeology and tourism in the area, with the aim of attracting 2 million visitors per year to the site by 2035, in the process creating 35,000 jobs for the residents of AlUla.

The RCU’s task is to contribute SR120 billion ($32 billion) to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2035. It currently employs 374 people, of which 134 are based in AlUla.

The RCU is also engaging the local community through programs such as Hammaya, in which 2,500 residents will train to be advocates for AlUla’s natural and human heritage.

The emphasis on local identity and heritage is unmistakable. About a 45-minute drive from Hegra is the Sharaan Nature Reserve, a territory of 925 sq. km within AlUla that features some of the region’s most striking rock formations and desert habitats, managed by local rangers trained by international specialists.

“We’ve reintroduced Idmi gazelles, Nubian ibexes and red-necked ostriches into the reserve, and they’re thriving and doing well,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Malki, head of the reserve.

The Arabian leopard may soon follow. In April this year, two cubs were born as part of a breeding program to preserve and eventually reintroduce the critically endangered species back into the wild in northwest Saudi Arabia.

Central to AlUla’s vision is the incorporation of art and cultural initiatives. The RCU’s cultural manifesto says: “AlUla will become known worldwide as a place to dream, where the greatest artists and thinkers of our time gather to stretch their creative capabilities and realize some of their most ambitious artworks and arts experiences — an evolving cultural crossroads for today and the future.”

Just as the caravans of antiquity once came to trade in this land, so AlUla, with an ancient Hegra reborn, will once again attract travelers from all corners of the world.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Abe will see a transformed Kingdom on historic visit

11/01/20

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Saudi Arabia this weekend comes at a time of both challenges and opportunities for the Kingdom and Japan.

The Japanese prime minister’s visit takes place against a backdrop of rising tensions in the Middle East. During Abe’s last visit, in 2013, our two countries agreed to strengthen defense and security cooperation. We welcome Japan’s commitment to supporting the freedom of navigation for commercial shipping in the region. Open and safe shipping routes are critical for both our economies. A stable and secure Middle East is a shared priority.

This year will see Saudi Arabia host the G20 for the first time. My first year as ambassador in Tokyo coincided with the Japanese presidency of the G20. As the many Saudi visitors to Japan in the last year will testify, Japan did a superb job and set a high standard for future presidencies. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said he wants to continue Japan’s good work, in particular by promoting multilateral consensus.

For the world’s media, the main G20 leaders’ meeting in November will be the focal point of our presidency. But the G20 program goes well beyond the leaders’ meeting and the year presents chances for us to strengthen our wider relationship. The many other G20 events, which will take place across the year in all four corners of the Kingdom — such as the C20 on culture, the Y20 on youth, and the B20 on business — will give Japanese visitors the chance to experience the breadth and depth of Saudi Arabia for the first time. People-to-people connections are vital as we deepen the relationship between our two countries.

It has never been easier for a Japanese business to enter the Saudi market, or for a Japanese tourist to visit the Kingdom.

Nayef Alfahadi

I am excited that Prime Minister Abe will this weekend have the chance to see for himself a Kingdom that has transformed since his last visit. Under the stewardship of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia is undergoing huge change, anchored in our ambitious Vision 2030 reform program. The Kingdom is becoming more economically diverse, more socially open, more culturally confident, and more welcoming to the world.

Traditionally, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Japan has been underpinned by energy, with Saudi Arabia supplying 40 percent of Japan’s energy needs. And Japan will always be able to rely on Saudi Arabia as a responsible and reliable energy exporter. But we have much bigger ambitions for the relationship. With the changes we have made over the past three years, it has never been easier for a Japanese business to enter the Saudi market, or for a Japanese tourist to visit the Kingdom. Whether Japanese businesspeople want to set up shop in our country or Japanese tourists want to see our incredible world heritage sites, our message is: Come to Saudi Arabia and make the most of the new opportunities. Japanese visitors can be sure of a warm welcome.

It has been my great honor to represent my country in Japan over the past year. I was privileged to witness the ascension to the throne of Emperor Naruhito and the beginning of the era of “Reiwa,” or “beautiful harmony.” In the coming year, Japan will host the Olympic Games and I know they will be a spectacular success.

The year 2020 also marks the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Japan. In the years since 1955, our relationship has grown in importance for both countries and it continues to do so.

There will be much to discuss during Abe’s historic visit. On the Saudi side, we are excited at the prospect of working with the prime minister to further strengthen our friendship with one of our oldest and most trusted allies.

  • Nayef Alfahadi is Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Japan
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

This article was first published in Arab News

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Zubaida Trail, located in Saudi Arabia’s Qassim region

11/01/20

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • Al-Jufinah Lake, which is an important archaeological site, can be found in the western section of the trail.

Zubaida Trail was once an important route for Hajj pilgrims traveling through the Qassim region on their journey from Kufa in Iraq to Makkah.
Also known as Al-Kufi pilgrimage route, it stretches for more than 1,400 kilometers in the Kingdom and passes through the Northern Borders Region, Hail, Qassim, Madinah and Makkah.
The trail was named after Zubaydah bin Jafar, wife of Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, in recognition of her charitable work, including the number of rest stations she ordered to be established along the route.
Al-Jufinah Lake, which is an important archaeological site, can be found in the western section of the trail.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi visa on arrival for tourists with UK, US, EU visas

04/01/20

The Kingdom is opening up to tourism for the first time. (SPA)

RIYADH: The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) announced that visitors with entry visas to the US, the UK and EU can enter Saudi Arabia.

A source in the SCTH said that this development is a continuation of the launch of the tourist visa, and the Kingdom opening its doors to the world.

The source added that there is an existing committee chaired by the chairman of the board of directors of the SCTH, Ahmed Al-Khatib, working to define the goals and the mechanism for applying the structure of the visitor visas.

The source said that those who obtain a tourist or commercial visa to these countries can now enter the Kingdom via tourist visa upon arrival only.

The source said that the visitor to the Kingdom must have used his visa to visit the US, Britain, or any of the Schengen countries, before entering Saudi Arabia.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Saudi Arabia’s Tarout Island

04/01/20

Tarout Island, off the coast near Qatif in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, is believed to be one of the oldest sites inhabited by humans on the Arabian Peninsula.

The island is linked to the mainland by a narrow natural bridge up to 4 km long. Antiquities dating back more than 4,000 years to the early Mesopotamian civilization have been found in historic Tarout town in the center of the island.

Other discoveries are related to the ancient Elam civilization, Indus Valley civilizations, and the Fire civilization that once dominated southern areas of the Gulf.

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘A different world’: Meet the vloggers sharing their adventures in a fast-changing Saudi Arabia

Time: 02 January, 2020

On one of his explorations, American vlogger Peter Santenello tried on a traditional Saudi thobe. (Photo/Supplied)
  • Tourist visas give travel bloggers a chance to marvel at the Kingdom’s landscapes and meet its ‘friendly, open’ people

JEDDAH: Video bloggers, or vloggers, sharing their travel adventures in Saudi Arabia are drawing attention to the changing face of the Kingdom — and helping to shatter some misconceptions along the way.

Since the introduction of tourist visas in September last year, more than 77,000 tourists have visited the Kingdom, Ministry of Foreign Affairs statistics show.

American vlogger Peter Santenello has created a series detailing his journey in Saudi Arabia, with the first video attracting more than 1.7 million views on YouTube.

Stepping outside his hotel room on his first day in Riyadh, he said: “It is hot, it’s a different world, and I’m super pumped.”

Santenello soon became aware of changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, catching sight of the Kingdom Tower and seeing women driving in the capital.

“After two hours on the street, I’m seeing tons of development, a lot of new businesses,” he said.

Seeing the Kingdom firsthand was “smashing a lot of preconceptions,” the vlogger added.

Santenello said that he is comfortable in Saudi company, and no longer surprised by the wide-ranging social reforms visible in the country.

On one of his explorations, he tried on a traditional Saudi thobe. “Very stately, I like it. A new look I’m gonna rock throughout Saudi,” he said as he showed off his new purchase.

Walking around in his new outfit, the American vlogger met individuals from different countries who tried to guess his nationality. “It’s super diverse; many nationalities in the region are working here in Saudi,” he said.

Santenello said that excitement at the rapid changes is obvious among young people he met on his travels.

“Even before I was a travel vlogger, I’ve always wanted to go to Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. “Anyone from the West going in is a bit nervous at first, just because of what’s presented on the news, but it completely surprised me. Overall, it was a wonderful trip.”

The vlogger described his trip as “excellent,” and said he was surprised by both the country and its people. “Meeting locals, I found them to be very open, curious and friendly,” he said.

Before I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was a little afraid of coming here. But from what I’ve experienced today, I’m already anticipating tomorrow. — Cho Won Kim aka Chomad, South Korean vlogger

Tourism is a fairly recent phenomenon in the country, but the people were welcoming and accepting.

“I realized it is many nations in one and there are many different ideologies,” he added. “It was surprising to hear different opinions on the country.”

Saudi Arabia’s varied landscapes, especially in southwestern areas such as Fayfa, were “different and beautiful,” he said.

Santenello’s visit began and ended in Riyadh, and included Jazan, Jeddah, Abha, Fayfa and Farsan Island. His series will include about 12 videos detailing his explorations.

South Korean vlogger Cho Won Kim, known by his YouTube channel name Chomad, visited Saudi Arabia during a tour of the Middle East.

Since there are no direct flights from South Korea to the Kingdom, Chomad spent his transit hours in Abu Dhabi learning Arabic words such as “Marhaba” (“Hello“) and “Shukran” (“Thank you“) to help him when he arrived.

For his first meal in Jeddah he went to a local favorite, Albaik, which specializes in fried chicken.

The vlogger ordered deep-fried shrimp and a chicken burger. “It’s so delicious,” he said.

“Before I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was a little afraid of coming here. But from what I’ve experienced today, I’m already anticipating tomorrow,” he said before wishing viewers a good night.

During his trip, Chomad was fascinated by Saudi people’s discipline in maintaining their five prayers. Every time he was out, he would stop by the nearest mosque when he heard the call to prayer.

In an attempt to learn about the country and explore its religion, Chomad visited Al-Rahma, Jeddah’s floating mosque. He couldn’t believe he was finally seeing the Red Sea.

After viewing the interior of the mosque’s dome, with its beautiful chandelier and walls inscribed with intricately detailed Qur’anic verses, he said: “I honestly think the mosque is prettier than the mall.”

On his second vlog, the South Korean’s entry covers his journey through old Jeddah, shooting clips of his drive into the ancient sections of the city.

“Since I was the only Asian, I could feel all the attention on me,” Chomad said — but what he couldn’t understand was how people showered him with welcoming words.

Strolling in historic Al-Balad felt just like any other market as he checked out local produce before settling in to try a traditional beef stew at a restaurant.

“The splendid present and historical past coexist,” Chomad said when he visited Jeddah’s Urth Cafe. “I thought I could get only typical halal food in Saudi Arabia, but there are so many beautiful cafes — the vibe is entirely European,” he said.

“Saudi people are so kind,” the vlogger added. “The country is not scary at all.”

Ending his trip, Chomad stopped by the hip cafe Cup & Couch, where he met a new group of Saudi friends, some of whom even spoke a little bit of Korean.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Kheraibah, an archaeological treasure trove

28/12/19

  • Various isolated mud walls with stone foundations, as well as a large collection of beads and pots, were found in this area

It is an archeological area located within Madain Saleh. Thomedians lived in this area before the advent of the Nabataeans.
Various isolated mud walls with stone foundations, as well as a large collection of beads and pots, were found in this area.
Stone basins for watering sheep and keeping waterfowl were used. Some small clay figurines in human forms were also found. Copious material made of wood, various metals and ivory, as well as ancient coins and various kinds of potteries were also found.

This article was first published in Arab News

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4 historical graves discovered in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Maala cemetery in Makkah

28/12/19

  • One of the tombs is attributed to a person who died in 1288

MAKKAH: The Holy Makkah Municipality announced the discovery of four historical tombs, one of which that dates back to the second century of Islam and the rest dating back to more than 700 years. The tombs were discovered during the excavation and processing of a new smart parking project located at the northeast of the historic Al-Maala cemetery.
One of these graves is historically attributed to a person named Jamaluddine Al-Jilani who died in 1288.
The municipality explained that while the contractor was conducting the excavation works for the new project, the tombs were found.
A source at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) told Arab News that four historical graves were found near Al-Ashraf Awqaf, northeast of the historical cemetery, one of which dates back to the second century of the Islamic calendar. He stressed that the SCTH would receive the tombs officially next Sunday.
He also pointed out that 50 historical graves had been discovered 10 years ago during the expansion of the cemetery.

FASTFACT

The graves were discovered during the excavation and processing of a new smart parking project located at the northeast of the historic Al-Maala cemetery.

Dr. Fawaz Al-Dahas, director of the Makkah History Center, told Arab News that the discovery of such historical tombs was a natural occurrence so close to the old cemetery.
According to Al-Dahas, there were a number of tombstones from similar finds in Al-Zaher Museum, which is supervised by the SCTH.
Al-Dahas explained the naming behind the cemetery was due to its location in Makkah.
It is the place where the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) wife, grandfather, and other ancestors are buried.
Historically, when a deceased person was buried, a sign would be placed on the grave to leave a mark, most probably an uneven, engraved rectangular stone.

This article was first published in Arab News

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