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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ThePlace: Sky Bridge, Kingdom Tower in the Saudi capital Riyadh

Time: 27 March 2021

Photo/Supplied

The tower is 992 feet high and floor-to-ceiling windows provide adrenaline-pumping panoramas of the Riyadh skyline by day and the chance to take in its twinkling city lights by night

Standing tall in the center of the Saudi capital Riyadh is the Kingdom Tower.
The imposing glass building with its distinctive architecture reflecting the sky dominates the city horizon.
And visitors to the bustling mall on its lower floors can purchase a ticket for a breathtaking lift ride to the Sky Bridge at the top of the building, which offers spectacular views.
The tower is 992 feet high and floor-to-ceiling windows provide adrenaline-pumping panoramas of the Riyadh skyline by day and the chance to take in its twinkling city lights by night.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Al-Akhu Valley, located in Al-Hareeq governorate in Riyadh province

Time: 20 March 2021

Photo/Supplied
ThePlace: Al-Akhu Valley, located in Al-Hareeq governorate in Riyadh province


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Photo/Supplied

The climb is short but extremely technical as the route is embedded with unique sculpted edges and pockets
In April 2019, a crag was discovered by passionate rock climber Joau Miquel. Located in the Al-Akhu Valley (known as Wadi Al-Akhu) in the Al-Hareeq governorate of the Riyadh province, it has been further explored and developed by the local climbing community.
The climb is short but extremely technical as the route is embedded with unique sculpted edges and pockets.
The stone is a mix of marble and limestone. Many loose stones have been removed but the climb still remains dusty and risky.
Information about the exact location of the crag, climbing instructions, rules and regulations, along with extra tips can be found on climbing.sa. The website reminds people to exercise extra caution — this area is not for kids — as adults are advised to wear helmets at all times.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Haql, the perfect beach getaway at northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline

Time: 15 February 2021

Sparsely populated, the area is prime location for adventurers and those wanting to camp out on one of the charming beaches of the area. (SPA)

Residents of Haql like to head to the Palm Garden, a park area that offers wonderful views of the Gulf of Aqaba and its surroundings

JEDDAH: With more than 1,000 miles of Red Sea coastline, one of Saudi Arabia’s northern-most towns has the potential to be a diving hotspot for residents of the Kingdom and beyond.

Haql, a city at the northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, offers many natural destinations, from tumbling cliffs and clear waters brimming with a thriving marine ecosystem to colorful coral reefs and white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains such as Jabal Al-Tayeb.
Sparsely populated, the area is prime location for adventurers and those wanting to camp out on one of the charming beaches of the area.
Near the city lies Ras Al-Mashee bay, a little known area that has attracted divers who swim round the half-submerged Georgios G shipwreck, known as the “Saudi Titanic,” and enjoy the array of fish and coral. The British-made cargo ship, which ran aground on the coral reef in 1978, is home to moray eels, lion fish, barracudas, sand tiger sharks and garden eels.

HIGHLIGHT
Haql, a city at the northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, offers many natural destinations, from tumbling cliffs and clear waters brimming with a thriving marine ecosystem to colorful coral reefs and white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains such as Jabal Al-Tayeb.

Waleed Bakhraibah, 43, an advanced-level diver, has visited the site more than 20 times in the past decade, bringing along his wife and eldest son just a few months ago. Bakhraibah, a government sector worker, often thought his young children would enjoy the many pristine beaches of the area.
“I’m still in awe of the quiet beauty that surrounds the inside of the ship,” he told Arab News. “The last time I visited, I tried to stay still and take it all in and everything around me, from fish to eels, just swam freely. I was merely an observer.”
Al-Sultaniyyah beach, 42 km south of Haql, has attracted a small but steady flow of tourists over the past few months with its crystal-clear and pristine waters.
Residents of Haql like to head to the Palm Garden, a park area that offers wonderful views of the Gulf of Aqaba and its surroundings. The garden abounds with palm trees, and has many areas for families and children.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands, the place to beat the winter blues

Time: 02 February 2021

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From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds. (SPA)

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From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds. (SPA)

  • The bright turquoise waters are also home to dolphins, over 200 types of fish and if lucky, visitors can catch a glimpse of the dugongs that are native to the area

JEDDAH: With most of Saudi Arabia’s residents reeling from the cold, the Kingdom’s southwestern islands are basking in the warm sun, enticing many to head south.
The small archipelago, made up of 84 coral islands, are approximately 40 km off the coast of Jazan in the Red Sea and is considered one of the Kingdom’s most pristine areas.
It was chosen as one of the Saudi Tourism Authority’s (STA) 17 Saudi Winter Season destinations.
From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds.
Divers make their way around the bright colored corals and wanderers look for glimpses of history hidden in the villages’ old stone buildings that dot the islands, including the remains of an ancient Ottoman castle overlooking the coastline.
The bright turquoise waters are also home to dolphins, over 200 types of fish and if lucky, visitors can catch a glimpse of the dugongs that are native to the area.

HIGHLIGHT

The small archipelago, made up of 84 coral islands, are approximately 40 km off the coast of Jazan in the Red Sea and is considered one of the Kingdom’s most pristine areas.

The weather is at its prime during the winter months. With a lower chance of rainfall and an abundance of sunshine, the temperature is perfect for a short trip over the weekend.
The STA has provided a wide variety of touristic activities within the Saudi Winter Season for citizens, residents and visitors of GCC countries, to create long-lasting memories and unforgettable family experiences especially during the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In its effort to promote local tourism, the season, which will run until the end of March, provides visitors with more than 300 experiences and packages by over 200 tour operators and tourism companies.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Al-Nawras Island in Saudi Arabia attracts thousands of visitors every year

30/01/21

Launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority, the slogan for this year’s season, which runs until the end of March, is “Winter Around You”

Al-Nawras Island Saudi Arabia is home to many majestic beaches and enchanting islands along its Red Sea coast and Al-Nawras Island is considered one of the Kingdom’s gems.
Located in the governorate of Yanbu and highlighted among the Saudi Winter Season tourist destinations, the tranquil isle attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Most travelers are drawn to the island in search of relaxation and recreation. Visitors can enjoy Red Sea fishing trips, delicious meals in one of the numerous restaurants, or can simply camp under the stars.
Spread over 11 km, Al-Nawras Island has been developed by the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu and boasts green spaces, fountains, and walking routes which are ideal for families. Paths are equipped with children’s games and also feature viewing areas offering panoramic photo opportunities.
Launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority, the slogan for this year’s season, which runs until the end of March, is “Winter Around You.” It has more than 17 locations throughout the Kingdom offering visitors in excess of 300 packages provided by 200 tour operators.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Exploring the hidden treasures of Saudi Arabia’s Mawan Valley

Time: 27 January 2021

The hidden Mawan Valley is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Saeed Al-Qarni and Tareq Mohammed)

  • Archaeological missions reveal human presence in the region dating back to the Paleolithic Age and the Upper Paleolithic Age

MAKKAH: The hidden Mawan Valley is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia.

Located near the city of Ad-Dilam, south of Riyadh, it is also an area of stunning natural beauty.

Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Ghazzi, a history professor and archaeologist, told Arab News: “There are two types of valleys: Ones that cannot be seen from a distance but only by standing at its head, such as Mawan Valley, and those that can be seen from a distance such as Wadi Al-Rummah, Al-Tiri and Al-Shawki.”

The majestic view of the valley consists of two stone structures on both sides. There are also remains of forts and castles and a pair of watchtowers reflect the strategic importance of the area due to its vegetation and water resources.

He said the valley cut west to east through a high plateau and was known for its depth and meanders.

“There are fortifications that are still standing at the main points of the valley. Along the valley there are flowing springs, crests, and bodies of water in solid lands that last for a long period of the year,” he added.

As well as Mawan, several other towns are dotted along the valley. Al-Ghazzi said: “We don’t know whether the town was named after the valley or the other way around. But, for sure, the valley existed before the town. However, the archaeological sites in the valley and on its sides have not yet been studied.”

Dr. Salma bint Mohammed Hawsawi, an associate professor of ancient history at King Saud University, told Arab News: “Archaeological missions revealed that human presence in the region dates back to the Paleolithic Age and the Upper Paleolithic Age — approximately 100,000 years ago.”

She said that Mawan, according to Arabic sources, meant place of shelter and pointed out that numerous Arab tribes, including the Hazzan and Rabi’ah, had lived in the area.

FASTFACTS

• The majestic view of the valley consists of two stone structures on both sides.

• There are also remains of forts and castles and a pair of watchtowers.

• The valley cut west to east through a high plateau and was known for its depth and meanders.

The valley was also mentioned in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry by writers such as Ibn Duraid, Imru’ Al-Qais, and Orwa ibn Al-Ward Al-Absi. “Poets wrote about it and the animals that were in the area, such as camels, zebras, and horses. The poets’ describing fresh water flowing in the area is evidence that humans inhabited it,” Hawsawi said.

Pottery vessels, bracelets, and soapstone (steatite) pots have been found in the area in addition to forts and watchtowers on the valley sides.

“There are two forts built of rocks and mud, and it is clear that the mud was brought from the floor of the valley, and the rocks were cut from the surface of the edge which extends to the south.”

She noted that the fort located in the southern part of the valley was a wall that resembled the Arabic letter “Baa.”

“The foundations of the wall were supported by stone slabs that are 60 to 80 centimeters high cut from the adjacent land. The wall is 6 meters high or even more. The towers are conical in shape, with their centers open to the bottom, and they seemed to be without a roof.

“As for the tower located in the eastern corner, it consists of two floors, each with its own function,” she added.

The building on the northern side consists of a yard surrounded by four connected but irregular walls, which also include a number of towers, she said, adding that some may date back to the first Saudi state.

Hawsawi said the watchtowers were used as observation posts to monitor the area and send military signals to the forts. The defensive fortifications were built to protect the region from foreign invaders.

Arabs used to move from one region to another in search of water, pasture, and stability. The apparent difference in the geographical nature of the Arab countries is the reason for the existence of two types of population: The Bedouins (nomads) lived in the desert, while the Hadaris preferred cities and worked in agriculture, trade, and industry, she added.

“We must preserve these relics to introduce future generations to the cultural heritage of our ancestors,” Hawsawi said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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From white sand beaches to orange groves, Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk has it all

Time: 25 January 2021

Tabuk is one of the most important tourist destinations in the Kingdom, home to major heritage sites. (SPA)

  • Tabuk has much to explore, such as the ancient Tabuk Castle, one of the many archaeological sites, the old buildings of Hijaz Railway Station and Ain Sukkar, which is one of the city’s oldest water springs

JEDDAH: From the dark, deep blue waters off the coast to the surrounding valleys and orange farms, the city of Tabuk has it all.
The city has enjoyed a surge of tourists recently as many Saudis have opted to visit new regions and cities across the nation due to the restrictions on foreign travel.
Families and groups can explore Tabuk’s attractions either on their own or as part of a tour group through the Saudi Winter season website, which is registered with the Saudi Tour Guides Association.
Tabuk is one of the most important tourist destinations in the Kingdom, home to major heritage sites. Visitors driving to the city are engulfed by mesmerising mountains with glimpses of the Red Sea to the west until they finally enter the city limits.
Manar Al-Harthi, a private sector worker in Jeddah, traveled with her husband and family recently and was in awe of the city’s varied landscapes and beauty.
“The city’s amenities were really amazing. You had a variety of restaurants if you’d want to eat out, lots of fresh local produce for picnics, great beaches to relax and enjoy an outdoor excursion, and so much more,” she told Arab News. “This is our first time to the area. The people are so welcoming and we’ll be back for a second visit soon.”
What attracted her is not only the diversity of the geographical features of the city but how unspoilt it is.

HIGHLIGHT

Families and groups can explore Tabuk’s attractions either on their own or as part of a tour group through the Saudi Winter season website, which is registered with the Saudi Tour Guides Association.

It is said that Tabuk is the “gateway to the north,” and the relics it houses reflect the successive civilizations that inhabited it. It is also called “Tabuk Al-Ward” (Tabuk of roses) because its vast rose farms export their produce to the world.
“Not only did we visit the rose farms, but we also went to the orange groves and discovered that we have kumquats. They were absolutely delicious and I’ve never seen them grown here in Saudi Arabia before. You can see how fertile the soil is as we passed by the many farms to get here,” she said.
Tabuk has much to explore, such as the ancient Tabuk Castle, one of the many archaeological sites, the old buildings of Hijaz Railway Station and Ain Sukkar, which is one of the city’s oldest water springs.
Tour operators often include the most beautiful tourist oases on the Tabuk Mountains in their packages. One of those is Tayyib Asim, which is a few hours from the city, 314 meters above sea level, and overlooks the Gulf of Aqaba. It is known for its many palm trees, reeds, and clean water springs, making it more like a very beautiful nature reserve.
Tucked between towering red sandstone escarpments and canyon peaks, the valley of Wadi Al-Disa is known for its abundance of crystal-clear stream and palm trees. Lying approximately 2 hours away from the city and secluded from any kind of pollution, the area is ideal for hiking and camping out in the canyon and provides some of the best views of the heavens, a dream for stargazers.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Al-Ahsa spirit welcoming tourists with open arms

24/01/21

This article was first published in Arab News

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