Najd doors: An entrance to the region’s culture and heritage

02/01/21

There are 30 types of decorated doors that differ according to the place. Unaizah has its own identity, and so do Riyadh, Sudair, Buraidah, and the rest. (Supplied)
  • Inspired by nature, they were an essential part of family homes and a focal point for residents and their guests

MAKKAH: The old doors of Najd are known for their rich decoration. They are inspired by nature and represent the culture and deep roots of the central Saudi region. They were an essential part of family homes and a focal point for residents and their guests.

The decorations created by the people of Najd were inspired by the region’s plants and trees. They dyed them with the colors of acacia and its seeds, as well as pomegranate, to make them brighter.
This decor was a cultural treat for guests, who enjoyed the beauty of those doors, their engravings and colors.
Historian Mohammed Al-Suwaih said that Najdi decorations had been passed down from one generation to the next. “You find that the fathers and grandfathers were carpenters,” he told Arab News. “The builders also passed their profession down to the next generations.”
He said that Najdi decorations used to be inspired by the environment surrounding the community. The shapes were inspired by wild plants and flowers, palm fronds, as these were abundant, the sun and its rays, and mountains, which were depicted as triangles and carved onto the doors.
Some of the doors are lavishly and ornately decorated. These include the doors of the majlis (room to receive guests), main entrances, and the doors separating the majlis and the rest of the house.
Builders deployed their full artistic talents when working on the majlis as it was the cultural front that received guests. The more decorated the majlis, the wealthier and more influential the owner. There are not many decorated majlises, however.
Al-Suwaih said the average person had simple majlises that were built in the shape of a triangle as it was difficult for everyone to own lavish doors and majlises.
“There are over 30 types of decorated doors that differ according to the place. For example, Unaizah has its own identity, and so do Riyadh, Sudair, Buraidah, and the rest.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The decorations created by the people of Najd were inspired by the region’s plants and trees.

• They dyed them with the colors of acacia and its seeds, as well as pomegranate, to make them brighter.

He explained that every city had a grand master who specialized in this art. Those who were acquainted with this art knew the cultural background of a door from the first time they looked at it. Such doors used to get traded and are still in demand to this day.

Al-Suwaih said that the person who decorated walls was different from the one who decorated the doors. “Each has his own method, style, and colors. The doors of Najd were distinguished from those of other Saudi cities in that they included decoration and engraving as well as colors, an aesthetic flair.”
The decoration of Najdi doors is known for the intersection of lines, inner rings, and triangles. The front door of a house includes its name, date, some expressions of praise, thanks to God, and prayers for Prophet Muhammad. The date would be added to the door and the majlis, and some of these still exist today.
Among the decorated doors were “kamer” doors that were built in the form of two small doors. Some of them are decorated on one side only, while others are decorated on both sides.
Similarly the door separating the house from the majlis had two panels, and it was usually decorated on both sides for residents as well as guests.
He explained that there were types of decoration that spread in Najd, including the “hadaire.” This design comprises triangles as ornaments placed on the house’s exterior in a circular shape covering the entire house. The tops of these triangles point down and contribute to the flow of the water in a streamlined manner so it does not affect the wall’s durability.
Another type of decoration is the “lahj,” which comprises triangles engraved in the walls to create windows that are arranged in a way that controls the entry of light and the exit of smoke when wood is burned for heating and cooking. These were also used for storage.
Al-Suwaih added that a builder would repeat the triangles, squares, and lines, and the circles would overlap until there was an aesthetic decoration. “The builders preferred plant and geometric motifs and avoided human and animal ones due to religious beliefs. The most famous decorations are the intersection of the circle in the form of a flower. Stars were also used. The most preferred colors are green, purple, scarlet, and yellow, and the colors were bright and taken from trees – green from acacia and yellow from the fruit of acacia.”
Al-Suwaih explained that, with time, powders were imported from abroad, and these were mixed with some local substances, such as molasses, pomegranate peel, and sugar in order to protect the colors on the doors and make them brighter. Pomegranate was cooked for long hours until it was used as glue for these colors.
The decoration on the doors was a cultural element for guests to enjoy and avoid boredom. “It was as if the guests were listening to a song, reading a poem, or looking at a painting. Guests would feel welcome, enjoy the aesthetics, and feel relaxed.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Saudi Arabia’s Wadi Khitanand

02/01/21

(Photo: Supplied)

This large valley stretches from the Sirat mountains to Belad Al-Awamer in Saudi Arabia’s southwest Tihamah province.
Wadi Khitanand is known for its beauty and scenic attractions, but also holds archaeological value. Quaib Tomb, a fenced burial site with an abandoned well, adds to the haunting mystery of the place.
Remnants of a small village, Shibahand, can also be found in the area.
The valley was also the site of one of the strangest conflicts ever fought, according to historians. The War of Basus began over the killing of a camel and lasted 40 years before the two warring tribes, the Taghlib and Bakr, resolved the dispute, ending a cycle of violence and revenge.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Bait Sharbatly, a special place in the hearts of Jeddawis built in 1910

26/12/20

Considered one of the oldest homes in Historical Jeddah’s neighborhoods, Bait Sharbatly holds a special place in the hearts of Jeddawis as it has withstood the sands of time.
Built by Al-Sharif Abdulilah Mihanna Al-Abdaly in 1910, it was later bought by Sheikh Abdullah Sharbatly years later and has since been associated with the family name. 
Similar to Historical Jeddah’s homes, the whitewashed four-story building is known for its beautiful mashrabiyya with its wooden lattice balconies spanning all floors with windows and balconies decorated by the Hijazi-style rawshan wood designs.
It was once the headquarters of the Egyptian mission to the Kingdom for 20 years and where leading Egyptian entrepreneur and founder of Banque Masr, Talat Harb Pasha, stayed while visiting the port city of Jeddah. The building went through a number of restoration projects with the latest in 2009 after torrential rainfall and flooding and has since featured a number of art exhibits and cultural events.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudis experience the magic of Wadi Hanifa in winter

Time: 22 December 2020

The valley has water channels, green corridors, walkways, and picnic spots for visitors to enjoy the scenic beauty that includes orchards and farms. (Supplied)
  • The popular location has ready-set tables and cushions available for rent in designated spots

RIYADH: With cooler winter weather sweeping Saudi Arabia, and with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) surges putting many countries back into lockdown, people in the Kingdom are heading to open spaces so they can have fun and relax in a safe yet socially distanced way.
Camping in the Kingdom, called kahsta, often involves activities that take place throughout the day and late into the night with locals enjoying different dances, cuisines, and games to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
One of the places becoming a major attraction for young people and families to enjoy the magic of wintertime is Wadi Hanifa, which is located on the outskirts of Riyadh.
It was known in the pre-Islamic era as Wadi Al-Irdh and was renamed Wadi Hanifa after the Bani Hanifa tribe that populated the area.
The valley, which runs for a length of 120 km from the northwest to southeast, was once a waste disposal site. Now it has water channels, green corridors, walkways, and picnic spots for visitors to enjoy the scenic beauty that includes orchards and farms.
Jerry Inzerillo, who is CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), told Arab News the wadi was famous because it had what humans needed: Water, food, shelter, and shade. He said it was a place where people told stories, raised their families, and prospered together, but then people began taking it for granted.
Inzerillo said that next year there would be several new attractions opening as part of the development of Wadi Hanifa.

BACKGROUND

Camping in the Kingdom, called kahsta, often involves activities that take place throughout the day and late into the night.

“We’re putting tens of thousands of new palm trees, big parks. We’re going to have pets and horses, walking and jogging trails, cafes and restaurants and petting zoos and activities. It’s going to be so much fun to be in the wadi that there will be plenty to do.”
Afnan Ahmed, who is a frequent visitor to Wadi Hanifa, said it was a place where people could enjoy themselves in big groups.
“Recently, my friends and I have been going to Wadi Hanifa, especially when the weather has become a little cooler. We wanted a place that we can all fit in, that can accommodate us, because we are many, a place where we don’t need to make any formal reservations, a place where we can relax and have fun. I think Wadi Hanifa gained popularity, especially after COVID-19 where people can’t travel abroad, and people need somewhere to breathe as it has amazing scenery.”
The popular location has ready-set tables and cushions available for rent in designated spots. The open area overlooking the valley, and with the Riyadh skyline in the distance, can be added as a newly favored evening getaway for all.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Shada mountain in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha region

19/12/20

  • Engravings and traces of early civilizations have been found in the caves, giving archeologists and researchers important and priceless information about the past.

The Shada mountain range is part of Al-Baha, which is one of the most beautiful cities in Saudi Arabia.
“Shada” means to “rise” or “soar”, so it is a meaning that fits the dense green mountains perfectly. They are the highest peaks in the Kingdom at 2,300 meters.
Jabal Shada, or the Shada mountain formation, dates beyond the Cambrian Period.
The giant granite rocks resting on the very top are what makes this place different from others. In Arabic they are given the name “Nadba,” almost appearing to touch the sky at an altitude of 200 meters.
Visitors may come across peculiar grottos and caves that are the result of erosion that has taken place over the course of centuries.
These caves were created by gases exiting igneous rocks and leaving apertures that coincidentally suited human civilizations and were used as dwellings.
Engravings and traces of early civilizations have been found in the caves, giving archeologists and researchers important and priceless information about the past.
Houses of Jabal Shada Al-Asfal are found at astounding altitudes. They are made of rocks that are extremely difficult to reach due to their location, and are a true piece of Saudi heritage and give valuable insight into the history of the land.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Dalagan Valley, home to a variety of birds

12/12/20

Photo/Supplied

Benches and swings in the valley are made from wood or stone to blend with the natural surroundings
Visitors to the Dalagan Valley, 30 km outside Abha in the Kingdom’s southwest, can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature in full bloom.
The scenic valley is home to a wide variety of bird species, plants and trees, and offers the ideal escape from the stresses of city life.
One of the most eye-catching plants is the cacti, with bright orange fruit called barshoom. The fruit is carefully picked by local vendors, peeled and packed, and sold in nearby markets.
Benches and swings in the valley are made from wood or stone to blend with the natural surroundings.
During winter fog is a frequent occurrence, limiting visibility and adding to the valley’s ethereal atmosphere.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s caves reveal hidden treasures

Time: 10 December 2020

The western and northwestern regions of the Kingdom were home to caves and basalt tunnels between layers of lava rock near the craters of volcanoes. (Photo/ Supplied)
  • Research project opens door to tourist, scientific adventure

MAKKAH: They are among the region’s most striking natural wonders, formed over millions of years by ancient rivers — and still home to mysterious secrets.
Now Saudi Arabia’s caves, sinkholes and caverns are becoming hidden gems for the adventurous or merely curious to seek out and explore.
More than 230 caves — deep and shallow, and formed of limestone, gypsum and other minerals — have been discovered in the Kingdom’s deserts.
As the mysteries of Saudi Arabia gain wider recognition, these natural treasures are the subject of growing interest.
Mahmoud Ahmed Al-Shanti, a specialist in caves and dunes at the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), told Arab News that caves are a valuable natural asset, and attract explorers, researchers and others interested in the field.
The SGS has launched an exploration project to determine the location, types and origins of the Kingdom’s caves.
In a study titled “Caves and Sinkholes in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Shanti said that caves or sinkholes vary in size from small, where a person can barely access the main entrance, to vast, with tunnels extending for hundreds of kilometers.
The Mammoth cave in the US state of Kentucky is more than 500-km long, for example.
Caves are a rare geological, tourist and environmental asset that must be preserved and protected, he said.
“Not only are they beautiful, but some caves can be used for academic studies and scientific research,” he said.

More than 230 caves — deep and shallow, and formed of limestone, gypsum and other minerals — have been discovered in the Kingdom’s deserts.

“Countries also can benefit from them economically through financial income, career opportunities in various fields of education and research.” Al-Shanti said the western and northwestern regions of the Kingdom were home to caves and basalt tunnels between layers of lava rock near the craters of volcanoes. Examples include the Habashi cave in Harrat Al-Buqum and the Umm Jarsan cave in Harrat Khyber, about 200 km northeast of Madinah.
Caves also form in sandstone exposed to a variety of environmental factors. Examples include Qarah cave in the Kingdom’s eastern region; Al-Doudah cave, east of AlUla; and Janine cave, near Hail.
Al-Shanti said there are also sinkholes and caves in limestone rock near Saudi Arabia’s northern border, and in the central and eastern regions.
A variety of plants is known to grow in the soil surrounding these natural wonders, with roots breaking up the limestone rock over millions of years, forming long, deep corridors that branch out in different directions.
In the depths of the cave, green plants give way to organisms that can survive without sunlight. Bacteria and algae utilize waste from animals that live inside, while some use minerals in the cave as a source of food and energy.
Al-Shanti said that caves often provide shelter for mammals, including wild cats and various types of rodents.
In desert caves, carnivores, such as foxes, hyenas and wolves, live and reproduce, emerging at night to hunt before returning to the safety of the cave.
With time and effort, more hidden wonders are being discovered beneath Saudi Arabia’s sandy dunes and rocky mountains, opening the door for adventure and discovery for all.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Wadi Al-Disah, in Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk region

06/12/20

Wadi Al-Disah in the Tabuk region is one of the most famous valleys in the Kingdom and one of the region’s most prominent natural tourist attractions. It is also known as Wadi Al-Habak, Tamar Al-Nabq, Wadi Damah, and Wadi Qarar. Visitors to this beautiful valley will be struck by its tranquility and fresh air.
The valley is located about 220 km south of Tabuk city. It penetrates the pillar-shaped mountains, under which a wide variety of trees are found, including palms, edamas, and basil and citrus trees.
On the edges of the valley are striking red mountains. The valley also features an area known as the Blue Eye, into which water from different springs pours. One of the springs in the center of the valley has an unknown source and flows from a rocky spot. The water is renowned for its clarity and freshness.
The weather in the valley is mild throughout the year, making it an ideal place to grow crops, including buckthorn — from which people make buckthorn jam and buckthorn molasses, vegetables, citrus fruits, banana, mango, tomato, and mint.
The valley’s Nabataean façade and rock-carved tombs add to its beauty, in addition to other archaeological sites that include the remains of residential settlements, such as Al-Mushairef, Al-Sukhnah, and Al-Maskounah.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Judaya Fortress, in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Rass governorate

28/11/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency
  • Judaya Fortress was built from more than 13,000 mud bricks and a range of hard rocks, a construction method that was to become widely adopted

Qassim province is characterized by its numerous heritage sites, some of which have been transformed by citizens into private museums.
These independent museums have contributed to preserving and showcasing the region’s history and culture, often with the support of the former Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), now the Ministry of Tourism.
Al-Rass governorate is home to the Judaya Fortress which has become a popular destination for history buffs.
Covering an area of 70,000 square kilometers, the governorate is situated 350 km northwest of the capital Riyadh and for centuries the area has been a key trade corridor for convoys headed between the north and east of the Arabian Peninsula.
Judaya Fortress was built from more than 13,000 mud bricks and a range of hard rocks, a construction method that was to become widely adopted. It contains a number of buildings, heritage rooms, a popular market, and residential houses.
Its exhibits and antiquities reveal the way of life and customs of the citizens of Qassim and Al-Rass down through the ages with a particular emphasis on professions and clothes.
The fortress covers an area of 6,250 square meters and houses more than 30,000 heritage objects gathered by Khaled bin Mohammed Al-Jedai, a resident of Al-Rass who since his childhood had dreamt of running a private museum.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi aerial photographer reveals secrets of AlUla Old Town to global audience

Time: 25 November 2020

Ali Al-Suhaimi’s eye-in-the-sky portrayal of the famous Islamic city has helped to provide a fresh insight into the past lives of the inhabitants of the now deserted settlement.
  • Use of drones by cameraman brings history to life in one of KSA’s most famous archaeological sites

MAKKAH: A Saudi aerial photographer’s passion for history has won him global acclaim for images revealing the secrets of AlUla Old Town.

Ali Al-Suhaimi’s eye-in-the-sky portrayal of the famous Islamic city has helped to provide a fresh insight into the past lives of the inhabitants of the now deserted settlement.

AlUla Old Town, located in the north of the Kingdom about 20 km from the archaeological site of Mada’in Salih, is seven centuries old and filled with mosques and markets that reflect its beauty and heritage.

Rich in history, the region was an ancient trade station linking the north and south of the peninsula and one of the main stopping-off points for pilgrims traveling between Syria and Makkah.

Al-Suhaimi told Arab News that his inspiration to photograph the area from the air came from his deep-rooted desire to find out more about the country’s ancient civilizations.

“The idea from the onset revolved around simulating the history of AlUla region, which has become one of the most important heritage attractions on a local and international level.

“The location includes stone landmarks and high mountains which set a breathtaking rocky harmony depicted by the drones of aerial photographers.

“It was the place of people who set the link with us on architectural and human levels.

The region is one of the great forgotten treasures of antiquity. (Social media)

They built a town which bears witness to the magnificence and cultural depth and momentum of its human legacy,” he said. Studies of AlUla’s castles have proved that the site was once a thriving community, Al-Suhaimi added. “Photographing these places in all their detail only adds to my enthusiasm for transmitting images to a world craving for the secrets of these places of old times to be unveiled.”

The high-flying lensman has snapped all of AlUla Old Town’s castles and villages, as well as the castle of Musa bin Nusayr, and the Aja and Salma mountains which rise to 1,000 meters.

By using drones, Al-Suhaimi has been able to get close-up pictures of the houses and buildings that occupy the site. “There are monolithic houses that reflect the depth of relationships that linked those people who fused with each other as if they were one family.”

HIGHLIGHT

AlUla Old Town, located in the north of the Kingdom about 20 km from the archaeological site of Mada’in Salih, is seven centuries old and filled with mosques and markets that reflect its beauty and heritage.

He pointed out that although the houses seemed to be randomly clustered together, they were actually “architectural enigmas” which had been cleverly designed to ensure a smooth flow of air in and around them.

Aerial photographs of the town had also raised questions about how its people had been able to move around from building to building in such a close-knit environment.

Al-Suhaimi said he had gained all the necessary licenses to operate drones in the area. “We were keen on taking pictures and transmitting them to the whole world, as internationally it is one of the most outstanding Islamic cities. Its mud houses are living witnesses that resisted time.”

He added that he had been astonished by the positive global feedback from his photographs of the region. One notable feature of AlUla Old Town is the Tantora sundial. The shadow that it cast was used to mark the beginning of the winter planting season.

“They set stones atop one another so that the shadow would be projected on the tip of the stone once per year, which is evidence of the astronomy legacy of the people of the region,” said Al-Suhaimi.

This article was first published in Arab News

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