The Place: Dhat Al-Hajj, a historically significant fort on the Shami Hajj Road in Tabuk

17/07/21

A prosperous village grew up around the fort, providing accommodation for pilgrims and a place to top up their stores of food and water
Dhat Al-Hajj fort lies between the Halat Ammar Center and Tabuk city on the ancient Shami Hajj Road, also known as Al-Tabukiya road, which was once a popular route for pilgrims from the Levant traveling to Makkah and Madinah.
Many of them would take the opportunity to rest at the fort during their long journey, and it was also a convenient meeting point for convoys of pilgrims — thus becoming a place where cultures would often mix, swap stories and trade goods.
Built in 1564 CE, Dhat Al-Hajj is a fine example of the regional architecture of the time and is one of the most historically significant forts on the Shami Hajj Road. Its name is reportedly derived from a plant that grew abundantly in the area.
The fort is a rectangular five-room building, with an entrance in the western wall through to the interior courtyard. Outside the fort stands a pool that is the source of the drinking areas used by passers-by.
A prosperous village grew up around the fort, providing accommodation for pilgrims and a place to top up their stores of food and water. The location became still more important when the Hijazi Railroad was established in the early 20th century.
Despite their names, both the fort and the road were used throughout the year by merchants, and not just by pilgrims during Hajj.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Shada Palace, one of the historical buildings in Saudi Arabia’s Abha

Time: 10 July 2021

Photo/Supplied

The residential quarters and living areas of the building are open to visitors and entry to the palace is free of charge, Saturday to Thursday
Shada Palace is located in Saudi Arabia’s city in the sky, Abha, and reflects the traditional architecture of the Asir region and the Kingdom as a whole.
It is one of the few historical buildings left standing in Abha and currently houses exhibits of handicrafts, old household items, antique coins, and early photographs depicting local life.
The palace, that stands prominently between modern buildings, was constructed in 1927 for the then-governor. The lack of windows and the high walls on the roof were designed to maintain privacy for female occupants. The residential quarters and living areas of the building are open to visitors and entry to the palace is free of charge, Saturday to Thursday.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Asir, Saudi Arabia’s summer destination for nature lovers

Time: 08 July 2021

Famous locations in the Asir region include Shada Palace, the mud-walled embodiment of traditional architecture
ABHA: In the high altitudes of Asir, green landscapes that stretch as far as the eye can see offer a unique connection with nature.
Asir topped the destinations announced by the Saudi Summer 2021 program launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority through the “Saudi Arabia Spirit” portal, under the slogan “Our Summer, Your Mood.”
The program began on June 24 and will last until the end of September. It includes 11 tourist destinations, with over 500 touristic experiences in cooperation with more than 250 partners from the private sector.
Famous locations in the Asir region, which can be accessed through roads paved between mountains and greenery, include Shada Palace, the mud-walled embodiment of traditional architecture, which has been turned into a museum.
As one explores the region, the archaeological village of Rijal Almaa appears from atop a hill with its immortal image that dates back over 350 years. The village retains its glory and beauty, illustrated by the white quartz that adorns its structures from the outside and merges into the rural scenery from afar, with the green terraces that extend along the mountains and on all edges.
Heritage is seen as an eternal symbol throughout the region, and this is reflected in its residents, who are proud of their deep-rooted sense of belonging to the land.
The small neighborhood of Al-Muftaha village is a distinct cultural center characterized by bright murals and narrow lanes with beautiful art.
Despite the ideal scenic landscape, the spirit of adventure remains the major motive for enjoying the trip.
Riding the cable car is one of the most enjoyable experiences in the Asir region, with panoramic views that will be remembered forever.
The cable car journeys between the mountains, traveling through four stations, the first based on the Abha Palace Hotel.
The new Abha cable car station, which heads toward the Green Mountain, is exciting in daylight and picturesque at night. The mountain is lit with green neon lights whose warm glow can be seen from all over the city.
The third station is the Al-Soudah cable car, which transports passengers from the Jabal Al-Soudah to the village of Rijal Almaa. The last station is the Habala cable car, which extends toward the old village of Habala, and is the only means of transportation since it can only be reached by cable car.
After experiencing the cable car, tourists can visit the high city linked to the summit of the mountain. Mountain rocks were carved into walls and sidewalks on which the city rests. The high city has recently flourished with cafes, restaurants, and various recreational activities that cater to everyone’s taste.
The Asir region offers a wide range of nature scenes every day depending on the light, wind or rain. The image of the earth changes from bright and glowing on clear days to refreshingly wet after rain, and the air tends to cool as people ascend the hanging roads that rotate around mountains.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Thank You, Jeddah! Thank you, Saudi Arabia! Until we meet again

Time: 29 June 2021

Ryan M. Gliha

When I first arrived in Jeddah in 2002, Saudi Arabia was not the country we live and work in today. It was a different time, and our two countries were facing different challenges together.
Jeddah was my first assignment as a diplomat. Naturally, I felt very far from home in the beginning. I struggled with learning about Saudi history, customs, and the Arabic language. It did not take long, however, for the city and people of Jeddah to welcome me into their hearts and homes with warmth and kindness.
I grew to love this city. The desert, the mountains, and the sea; the architecture and art; grabbing mutabbag for breakfast, making a late-night stop at Al-Baik, or sampling different families’ sambousek recipes during Ramadan. It was with sadness that I departed in 2004, wondering if I would ever return.
When I was selected to return to Jeddah in 2018 as the consul general, I was deeply honored. I joined a talented team, dedicated to strengthening and expanding the important relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. As I complete my three-year tenure as US consul general in Jeddah, I am honored to have helped lead and extend the partnership between our two countries and our two peoples. Our partnership began more than 75 years ago with a meeting between King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin Roosevelt. It has grown now to encompass countless Americans and Saudis, extending far beyond the official relationship between our two governments. Tens of thousands of Americans call Saudi Arabia home; dozens of American companies have partnered with Saudi businesses to generate prosperity in both countries; more than 30,000 Saudis study in the US each year and American professors teach at top Saudi universities.
As part of my work, I have had the good fortune to travel all over western Saudi Arabia, from Madinah to Tabuk and from Abha to Yanbu. I am continuously amazed by the beautiful diversity of the Saudi people, of their local traditions, language, and food, which highlight the unique Saudi culture. I am deeply appreciative of the Saudi people’s hospitality and welcoming spirit. Those visits left many beautiful memories that I will carry with me forever.

I have also seen the remarkable changes at work in the Kingdom and the impact that Vision 2030 has had on the economy and society.

Ryan M. Gliha

On my travels, I have also seen the remarkable changes at work in the Kingdom and the impact that Vision 2030 has had on the economy and society. My colleagues and I at the consulate and throughout the US Mission to the Kingdom are committed to working with Saudi Arabia to advance the goals laid out in the vision. Leading US companies and institutions are uniquely positioned to serve as partners in developing sectors like infrastructure, transportation, film and television, education, tourism, digital services, and many more. American universities offer top-quality education and training to Saudi students, who can then return to help build and diversify the economy.
Over the past three years, my team and I have launched a series of initiatives designed to foster these connections to the benefit of both countries. I am confident that these important efforts with Saudi partners will continue to bear fruit and strengthen the relationship long after my departure.
As my family and I prepare for this second departure from Saudi Arabia, I have been honored to work with a talented team at the consulate, and I am deeply appreciative of the warm hospitality and welcoming engagement that my Saudi hosts have shown everywhere I have traveled. Working together, we have demonstrated that with shared goals, with communication, and with the exchange of ideas and people, we can build lasting bridges between our two countries.
I know I will leave a piece of myself here on the shores of the Red Sea. But I will take with me a heart full of friendships and memories and the sincere hope that we will meet again soon.
Thank you, Jeddah! Thank you, Saudi Arabia! Until we meet again.

• Ryan M. Gliha is the outgoing US consul general in Jeddah and the US representative to the OIC.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Bringing the beauty of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea to surface

26/06/2021

As a scuba diver Ali Bakhtaour was able to discover the secrets of the Red Sea, and sail for days to find new locations and witness the beauty of the coral reefs. (Supplied)

  • A passion for photography has led to a 49-year-old Saudi laboratory technician uncover striking images

MAKKAH: The vibrant rainbow hues of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coral reefs and surrounding habitats attract divers and photographers alike.

And for Ali Bakhtaour, a 49-year-old Saudi laboratory technician, a passion for photography and scuba diving has led to him uncover striking images from beneath the Red Sea.
Photography was already a hobby for Bakhtaour when he took up scuba diving in 2007.
Bakhtaour, a resident of Haql in the northwestern coast of the Kingdom, told Arab News that he had developed a special relationship with the sea over the years, heading to the water every day as a child with his friends or family.

As a scuba diver he was able to discover the secrets of the Red Sea, and sail for days to find new locations and witness the beauty of the coral reefs.
This love prompted him to take up underwater photography. “I love taking photos of the Red Sea environments as they’re among the most beautiful sea environments in the world. I’m talking about its biodiversity and coral reefs, and its importance for being far from the open oceans,” Bakhtaour said.
“We would meet with other scuba divers, go out to sea and head underwater for long photo shoots, which require accuracy, flexibility and tranquility,” he said.

“We photo-shoot with professional cameras worth more than $10,000, and we photograph every detail in the Red Sea, praising God Almighty for the beautiful colors, their homogeneity, the diversity of the species and their livelihood, whether big or small. It’s also a form of meditation.”
Some of Bakhtaour’ dives were as deep as 120 feet, however underwater shoots are not possible beyond 60 feet deep due to lighting requirements and the demands of photographing maritime wildlife, a delicate task that requires patience and care.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Ali Bakhtaour, a resident of Haql in the northwestern coast of the Kingdom, told Arab News that he had developed a special relationship with the sea over the years, heading to the water every day as a child with his friends or family.

• Some of Bakhtaour’ dives were as deep as 120 feet, however underwater shoots are not possible beyond 60 feet deep due to lighting requirements and the demands of photographing maritime wildlife, a delicate task that requires patience and care.

• Bakhtaour dreams of shooting a documentary about marine life in the Red Sea to serve as an academic reference and to help develop understanding of its many marvels.

And underwater photography is not without dangers, as Bakhtaour discovered while diving in a heavy current during a shoot.
“I was following this turtle and was very focused on the shoot and soon found myself so far offshore and farther than anticipated from the boat than I expected,” he said. “I forgot not to cross into a certain area, and was well deep into the sea, barely seeing my colleagues’ lights, so I rushed back to the beach while trying to track my friends. It was an exhilarating and scary experience.”

Bakhtaour experienced a different type of exhilaration during his participation in an underwater photo expedition in the Red Sea with a Polish team for seven consecutive days.
He says that there have been challenges, but beauty everywhere, during his underwater adventures. For example, for years he has been fascinated by a British ship, complete with full military hardware, deep in the Ras Mohammed Nature Reserve. This is one of the most important natural reserves, characterized by its pristine state and diversity of maritime environment and flora and fauna.

Bakhtaour dreams of shooting a documentary about marine life in the Red Sea to serve as an academic reference and to help develop understanding of its many marvels.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Asir’s Al-Majarda village is home to a wide range of wildlife and rare plants

26/06/21

Village residents rely on corn, millet, bananas and coffee beans for employment and income generation
Located in the Asir region, Al-Majarda village is home to a wide range of wildlife and rare plants. Visitors arrive in search of the sounds of nature as well as the sight of green growth and waterfalls.

Visitors to the villages in the northern Majarda governorate can enjoy spectacular sights from the mountainside of Tahawi, famous for its volcanic rock. Heavy rain in the areas since Ramadan has increased growth in valleys and on mountainsides, as well as pastures.

Temperatures in the area can change quickly, and visitors can look forward to both cool and warm conditions, thanks to roads that connect low-lying areas with high mountains.

Village residents rely on corn, millet, bananas and coffee beans for employment and income generation. They also trade and sell livestock and farm products in local and surrounding centers.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s holiday season full of ‘Summer Vibes’

26/6/2021

Tourists who are longing for outings but have to forgo foreign trips due to the pandemic are encouraged to explore the diversity of Saudi destinations — from the clear water beaches to rugged mountain tops to bustling cities. (Supplied)

  • Saudi Tourism Authority’s program, bringing 500 rich and fun experiences across 11 destinations, runs until September end

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s “Summer Vibes” is bringing 500 tourist experiences across 11 destinations to Saudi residents this summer in what promises to be a rich and fun experience for all.

The Saudi Tourism Authority has launched its Saudi Summer Program 2021, running from June 24 until the end of September, offering tourist experiences through the Visit Saudi platform alongside 250 private-sector partners.

The “Summer Vibes” program targets local and international tourists with some of the best destinations available — from the shores of Jeddah and Yanbu to Umluj and King Abdullah Economic City, to the cooler mountainous regions of Taif, Baha and Asir. Experiences can also be enjoyed across the historical and heritage areas of Tabuk, AlUla and Al-Ahsa, and the Kingdom’s beating heart, Riyadh.

Dania Al-Ali, a 33-year-old mother of two, decided to forgo any international trips with her family this summer due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news of the program excited her as the long summer will need to be filled with some sort of activities for her young children.

“We’ve made it a habit to travel every summer but things changed since last summer and we don’t really want to risk it this year,” she told Arab News. “It’s better to be closer to home and to experience something new, and there’s so much to see here. I think this is going to be a good one just like every other summer vacation.”

“The launch of the Saudi summer program this year highlights the determination of the tourism sector in the Kingdom, despite the ongoing challenges facing the global tourism sector, to edge closer to achieving our ambitious goals,” said Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Tourism Authority.

“In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which seeks to cement Saudi’s position as one of the most important tourist destinations in the region, the launch of the Saudi summer program is a key contributor to strengthening the efforts of the tourism sector, to develop our destinations, provide investment opportunities, create permanent and seasonal jobs for local communities, and contribute to advancing economic and social development in the Kingdom,” he said.

CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority Fahd Hamidaddin said: “Once again, we encourage tourists to explore the diversity of Saudi’s summer destinations, from the clear water beaches to rugged mountain tops to bustling cities. The efforts of the Saudi Tourism Authority are supported by our partners in the public and private sectors and are key to the creation, implementation and success of all programs,” he said.

Information is available on the Visit Saudi website and phone app (search “Visit Saudi” in the app store), with details available in several languages. Tourists can also contact the Tourist Care Center (930) and speak to the dedicated team working around the clock to answer all inquiries.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Sharm Al-Jizzi, a beautiful beach on the northern Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia

05/06/2021

The beach offers its visitors the opportunity to discover the splendor of its rocky and sandy terrains and picturesque seascapes
Located in the south of Duba, Saudi Arabia, the beach of Sharm Al-Jizzi is known for its purity and tranquility.

It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the northern Red Sea coast, where locals looking for calm and comfort go on weekends and public holidays.

The beach offers its visitors the opportunity to discover the splendor of its rocky and sandy terrains and picturesque seascapes.

The rich environmental wonders of the area contain a host of treasures and landmarks, just waiting to be discovered.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Historic Hima Well reveals the journeys of Arabia’s ancient caravans

Time: 10 April 2021

The site is made out of a series of seven fresh water wells, which includes more than 200 sites containing rock inscriptions, graves and stone circles. (Supplied)

Archaeological excavations carried out by SCTH discovered that the city of Najran is among the oldest inhabited places
The site contains numerous rock inscriptions and drawings that date back to before 3000 BC
MAKKAH: Hima Well, one of the most ancient and significant stops along the ancient trade routes of Arabia, untouched and unaltered, continues to fascinate researchers and archaeologists.

The site, about 140 km north of the city of Najran, is well preserved, and with its largely intact rock art depicting humans, animals, hunting tools, bows and spears and more, shows a picture of what was once an ancient route for caravans traveling from the southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula to its north.

Saleh Al-Muraih, a historical researcher specializing in the tourism and archaeology of Najran, told Arab News: “Hima Well is one of the most important historical sites in the Kingdom and contains numerous rock inscriptions and drawings that date back to before 3000 BC.”

“The site is made out of a series of seven fresh water wells covering an area of 30 km, which includes more than 200 sites containing rock inscriptions and drawings, graves, stone circles and historical wells,” he said.

Al-Muraih added: “Hima was the starting point for commercial caravans that gathered at the wells before taking one of two main roads. The firsts of these roads used to lead to Mesopotamia after passing through Al-Faw (also known as Qariah, an ancient city on the outskirts of the Empty Quarter), which is the archaeological site of the Kindah and Al-Yamama regions, known today as Najd. The second road used to lead to the Levant and Egypt after passing through the Hijaz region.”

FASTFACT
To date, 1,293 human drawings, 5,121 animal drawings, 3,616 Thamudic inscriptions, 2,775 Ancient South Arabian script inscriptions and three Nabataean inscriptions have been found in the region, while search and excavation operations are continuing in the Kingdom in general, and the region in particular, to uncover more monuments and historical cultural heritage.

Its dense rock art engravings are the legacy of the hundreds of caravans, departing from Al-Okhdood in the south, that passed by the well over the years. Ancient South Arabian script (Musnad), the South Arabian language or the Thamudic language can be found on these engravings alongside depictions of flora and fauna.

“The Saudi government took care of Hima Well, and there are fantastic fencing works taking place. This is coupled with continuous scientific research that has studied the site and we hope for the completion of the procedures that would see the addition of the site to UNESCO’s World Heritage List,” Al-Muraih said.

“There has been numerous land surveys and protection efforts exerted in the area. Fortunately, Hima does not have any violations or anything that could harm these monuments, while the people of the region are highly cultured when it comes to protecting these sites and therefore preserving these significant historical monuments,” he said.

As one of Najran’s 86 historical sites, Hima Well combines heritage and tourism in one area. Tour guides, a cooperative local community and cooperative government bodies are all on hand to speak about the historic significance of the well.

Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University, told Arab News: “The Kingdom has a great deal of archaeological sites and historical cities that have witnessed construction works over the course of thousands of years. They are truly worthy of preservation and development so that they can cope with the current requirements.”

She added: “Historical cities, regardless of their history and origins, are many. Among those worth mentioning is the southwestern city of Najran, which was mentioned by numerous classical historians such as Strabo, in his book ‘Geography,’ where he called it Negrana, as he talked about the Roman campaigns in the Arabian Peninsula in the years 24-25 BC, and Ptolemy, who referred to it as Negara Metropolis.”

“In his book, Yaqut Al-Hamawi, a Muslim historian, said that the city was named after the first person that inhabited it, Najran bin Zaydan bin Sabaa. What also confirms how old this city was is the mention of its name in the inscriptions of Sabaean rulers such as Karib’il, Samah Ali Yanuf and Yitha’amar Bayyin,” she said.

According to Dr. Hawsawi, the geographical importance of the Kingdom’s southwestern region stems from its location between Africa and Asia. This is coupled with the importance of the coastal region in terms of migration, and some settlements are found to date back from the first century BC to the Islamic era.

“Archaeological excavations carried out by SCTH discovered that the city of Najran is among the oldest inhabited places. It did so through archaeological evidence found at various sites belonging to different periods in history, starting with the ancient Stone Age to the Islamic era,” she said.

Hawsawi said: “Rock art and inscriptions are the elements that most distinguish the region’s monuments, as they provided us with a lot of information regarding clothes, accessories, weapons, stone stoves, rectangular and conical structures and tanks, especially around the Hima Well area.”

Most of the region’s rock drawings showcase camels, cows, goats and geese, along with some predatory animals such as lions and wolves, Dr. Hawsawi said. “Ostriches were given special attention in terms of their decoration and size, in addition to them being drawn in various positions, highlighting the significance of this animal.”

The drawings show horse battles, where knights used spears, and limited hunting scenes, where dogs were used to hunt goats, she said, noting that “there are drawings of humans that are larger than the normal size, while some of them had their heads covered. Men’s beards were shown clearly. Humans wore necklaces and collars, while some men wore anklets to produce sounds that suit the dance moves and music. Outfits were made out of short gowns that were wrapped around the middle. Other drawings showed people dancing with musical instruments that resemble the rebab.”

Dr. Hawsawi said: “Thamudic writings were found in the region in large quantities, followed by the Ancient South Arabian script and the Kufic script, which dates back to the Islamic era. The multiplicity of scripts found in the region sheds light on the succession of civilizations. In addition, Ancient South Arabian script inscriptions found engraved on top of Thamudic inscriptions highlights how old the Thamudic script really is.”

“Most of the inscriptions consist of names such as ‘Saad,’ ‘Awathat’ and ‘Rafadat,’ and of deities such as ‘Al’ and ‘Kahl,’ while inscriptions were usually found next to drawings of animals,” she said.

Dr. Hawsawi said that “among the long inscriptions is a 12-line one belonging to King ‘Dhu Nuwas,’ in which he described his victory over the Ethiopians in 512.”

To date, 1,293 human drawings, 5,121 animal drawings, 3,616 Thamudic inscriptions, 2,775 Ancient South Arabian script inscriptions and three Nabataean inscriptions have been found in the region, while search and excavation operations are continuing in the Kingdom in general, and the region in particular, to uncover more monuments and historical cultural heritage.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Crown Prince launches ‘Journey Through Time’ vision for AlUla development

Time: 07 April 2021

The Journey Through Time master plan was developed under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (AFP/File Photo)

Project aims to “responsibly and sustainably” restore and rehabilitate the main archaeological area in AlUla
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday launched a new design vision for AlUla to turn it into a leading global destination for arts, heritage, culture and nature.

The project, entitled “A Journey Through Time,” is a major milestone and aims to “responsibly and sustainably” restore and rehabilitate the main archaeological area in AlUla that has a unique cultural and natural environment in the northwest of the Kingdom, as part of the goals of the Vision 2030.

The project is being led by the crown prince, who is also chairman of the board of directors of the Royal Commission for AlUla Governorate, and followed up by the Minister of Culture, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, also governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla.

“Today, we embark on a journey to preserve the world’s largest cultural oasis and advance our understanding of 200,000 years of heritage,” the crown prince said. “The Journey Through Time master plan is a leap forward to sustainably and responsibly develop AlUla, and share our cultural legacy with the world.”

READ MORE
Over the next 15 years, AlUla valley, home to Hegra and a multitude of other historical sites, will be transformed into a living museum designed to immerse visitors in 200,000 years of natural and human history. Read more here.

It consists of three main stages, and the first stages are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023 and is part of a comprehensive development program for AlUla supervised by the royal commission.

It will also include establishing five centers that extend along 20 kilometers from the heart of AlUla and in inspiring and essential stops along the “Journey Through Time” route inspired by the nature and heritage of the old historic city. The centers start from the old town center to the south, through the Dadan and Jabal Ikma Nabataean oasis trails, and the ancient city of Hajjar in the north.

Each of these centers will be a cultural landmark in its own right, and reflect the nature and terrain unique to this geographical region, with cultural centers and facilities to provide a unique experience for visitors to explore the ancient history of the region.

The development strategy, upon completion in 2035, aims to provide 38,000 new job opportunities, in addition to contributing SR120 billion ($32 billion) to the Kingdom’s GDP.

The program will provide a distinctive historical map of the civilizations that settled in the various oases of AlUla over more than 7,000 years of human history, a Saudi Press Agency statement said.

The plan involves investing in the heritage, cultural, natural and geological richness of the region, through community participation in the development process, to preserve AlUla’s legacy, and open new possibilities “to discover its undiscovered history and build a future to be proud of.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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