Al-Fouta’s facelift: Riyadh’s historical district slated for renovation

14/09/20

The buildings are sorely in need of repair to restore them to their former glory, experts say, adding that the project will contribute significantly to the preservation of Saudi culture. (Supplied)

  • Prince Badr said that the restoration process will meet international standards for the restoration of historic buildings

RIYADH: A major project is set to bring back the glory of 15 old palaces in the Kingdom’s capital.

The work is part of broader restoration work in the historical districts of central Riyadh, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, Minister of Culture and Chairman of the Heritage Authority, announced on Sunday.
Managed by the Ministry of Culture, represented by the Heritage Authority, in partnership with the Royal Commission for Riyadh and the Riyadh municipality, the project comes as part of King Salman’s keenness to preserve Saudi heritage and falls under the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
From 15 palaces, seven in the western district of Al-Fouta date back to 1944, while three in eastern Al-Fouta date back to 1935. The project will also restore five royal palaces: King Fahd Palace, King Abdullah Palace, Princess Haya bint Abdulrahman Palace, Prince Sultan Palace, and Princess Al-Anoud Palace in Dhahira, Al-Fouta, and Umm Salim districts.

The district of Al-Fouta has a charming, antiquated atmosphere that transports the visitor into another era. Here you’ll find the oldest park in Riyadh, Al-Fouta Park, and the historic Red Palace, which was a gift to King Saud from the Kingdom’s founding father, King Abdul Aziz, which opened its doors as a museum in March of last year, as well as mosques and government offices.

FASTFACTS

• The district of Al-Fouta has a charming, antiquated atmosphere that transports the visitor into another era. Here you’ll find the oldest park in Riyadh, Al-Fouta Park, and the historic Red Palace, which was a gift to King Saud from the Kingdom’s founding father, King Abdul Aziz, which opened its doors as a museum in March of last year, as well as mosques and government offices.

• The work, which envisages the comprehensive restoration of the buildings in two phases over 24 months, starting in January 2021, will commence by conducting a complete study of all heritage buildings of importance in the center of Riyadh.

The buildings are sorely in need of repair to restore them to their former glory, experts say. Rana Alkadi, a specialist in heritage architecture, said that the project will contribute significantly to the preservation of Saudi culture.
“Reviving the heart of Riyadh city heritage will preserve its identity and enhance its historical cultural bonds to the past,” she said.
Saudi historian Majed Al-Ahdal called the renovation “an important step forward,” emphasizing the importance of respecting and understanding one’s past to fully appreciate the future.
“I would argue that the future is open to those who know their past well and use the insights the past provides to move forward with confidence. Though renovating the buildings may seem like a purely aesthetic endeavor on the surface, architecture is one of the most fundamental ways of measuring urban progress,” he said.
“These palaces oversaw countless important events and dates, and thus fully deserve to be restored to their former glory.”
Prince Badr expressed his gratitude for the support provided by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the culture and heritage sector.
In a press statement issued today, the minister said that the restoration process will meet international standards for the restoration of historic buildings.
The work, which envisages the comprehensive restoration of the buildings in two phases over 24 months, starting in January 2021, will commence by conducting a complete study of all heritage buildings of importance in the center of Riyadh.
The project aims to preserve the heritage buildings of architectural and historical importance and transform them into an economic, social, cultural, and tourism resource, reasserting their cultural identity in the context of the history of Riyadh.
The ministry’s efforts to preserve Saudi architectural heritage have increased significantly over the past year.
On Thursday, Prince Badr announced in a tweet that: “Having previously won membership on both UNESCO’s Executive Board and the World Heritage Committee, Member States have now elected KSA for membership of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee.”
In 2019, Arab News reported that SR50 million ($13.33 million) had been pledged by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to support the restoration of Jeddah’s historic Al-Balad district, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabian Voyagers Association launched

12/09/20

  • Al-Mutairi called on all travelers in the Kingdom to participate in the association’s work, and to benefit from the services provided to its members

JEDDAH: The Saudi Arabian Voyagers Association was launched on Friday in Riyadh. The association is intended to be the main resource in the country for travel and tourism locally, regionally and globally.
It is an independent travel organization — in accordance with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 — and will serve as an official “umbrella” for travelers in all regions of the Kingdom.
Members will include a group of “highly qualified experts,” according to a press statement, which added that the association aims to “unify efforts and establish new standards for the concept of travel and tourism.” It will also be responsible for the promotion of the Kingdom’s tourist attractions, including archaeological sites.
The newly formed association will provide services and logistical support to travelers, and — according to the press statement — will include training for Saudi travelers to be “the best ambassadors for the ‘Kingdom of Humanity.’”
The association’s chairman, seasoned traveler Ibrahim Al-Mutairi, said the association’s official inauguration is a turning point for Saudi travelers.
“Among the goals of the association is to work on organizing the current work of travelers and those interested in the field —which in most cases is nothing more than individual diligence — and to change it into an institutional and more firmly controlled work, in a way that achieves the common goals of individuals and society,” he said.
Al-Mutairi said that the association’s mission includes setting new standards for tourism through a highly qualified group of experts in the field, in addition to providing consultation, courses and lectures aimed at increasing community awareness.
He explained that the objectives of the association have been set in line with the national aspirations of the travel and tourism sector in the Kingdom. He added that the association hopes to establish several strategic partnerships with relevant organizations from the public and private sectors.
Al-Mutairi called on all travelers in the Kingdom to participate in the association’s work, and to benefit from the services provided to its members.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s ‘natural sculptures’ with a 15,000-year-old secret

12/09/20

The artistic sculptures have been formed by erosion factors over the years, giving the viewer a magical sight. They act as wonderful tourist attractions where visitors can marvel at the beauty, says an archaeology expert. (Supplied)

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Saudi director’s journey with drones yields amazing shots of ancient sites

Time: 09 September 2020

Nezar Tashkandi has worked with the Saudi Ministry of Tourism shooting aerial photos and videos of top tourist destinations, covering historical places such as AlUla and areas unknown to many such as Dee Ain. (Supplied)
  • Tashkandi bought his first drone in 2017, had a rough start, not knowing it would be his ticket to stardom

JEDDAH: Drone technology has come on leaps and bounds in the past decade, bridging the gap from niche and military use to business and personal.

In 2010, a French company released the first ready-to-fly drone fully controlled using a smartphone, and the world has never been the same since.

Its commercial success was immediate and since then, drones have developed in many ways, from size to quality and function, from use a delivery tools to mobile cameras.

The idea of working amidst the clouds appealed to Nezar Tashkandi, a native of Jeddah, ever since he worked as a flight paramedic in Omaha, Nebraska, responding to emergency rescues while working as an assistant director at a media production company on the side.

“Most of my work was in the helicopter responding to a lot of cases. I saw that the vision from the sky is different from the ground. So I thought there should be some way I could make a film from the air,” Tashkandi told Arab News.

“I realized that drones were an opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and my vision,” he added.

He started as an assistant director then headed straight for the drone industry. “My first job was a reporter drone pilot to respond to crime scenes and film them with the drone, and I started doing that for news companies.”

He bought his first drone in 2017, and had a rough start, not knowing it would be his ticket to stardom.

“As soon as I flew it, I crashed it, and I was so devastated that I wouldn’t be able to continue. But the curiosity and the vision I had, it was all through the drones, and I had to learn the basics,” he said.

Throughout his journey, he has crashed many drones and faced many financial challenges to purchase more.

As soon as I flew it, I crashed it, and I was so devastated that I wouldn’t be able to continue. But the curiosity and the vision I had, it was all through the drones, and I had to learn the basics.

Nezar Tashkandi, Drone director

“None of my friends supported my idea, not even my family,” he said. “No one knew what I was going through with the drones. I was so ambitious to learn a lot about drones, it was so difficult to learn as well as there weren’t many people that had knowledge on them at that time. And I knew it was the opportunity for me to expand my vision and career in the media production field.”

He took his drone piloting career to the next level when he photographed the Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

“I didn’t realize that this kind of career was so beautiful, but at the same time I took it to the next level when I made my first Rocky Mountain National Park aerial footage. I received some support from the park in Colorado, where they gave me access to the whole community.”

He added: “After a while, my friends and family started to notice and thought: ‘You know what? You actually might have a career in this thing, but stick to plan A as a flight paramedic because it has more income and a better life.’”

After working in the US as a drone pilot for two years, he came back to the Kingdom and worked as a paramedic at the Saudi Red Crescent Authority for a while. “The moment I came back to the country, I made connections to shoot films,” he added.

Through his knowledge and skill in the drone industry, he created an exceptional portfolio and showreel, which later gained him profound recognition as the first Saudi aerial director in August of 2019.

He’s worked with the Ministry of Tourism shooting aerial photos and videos of top tourist destinations since then, covering historical and ancient sites such as AlUla and areas unknown to many such as Dee Ain.

The ancient 600-year-old village in Al-Baha is surrounded by magnificent mountains with homes climbing upwards to resemble a high fortress. Tashkandi’s 360 degree view of the fortress has placed the village in the spotlight as a depiction of what ancient history the Kingdom can truly offer to its visitors.

This article was first published in Arab News

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New book features landscapes, ancient sites, illustrations of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Time: 08 September 2020

Photo/Supplied
  • AlUla is home to many relics, archeological wonders, and contemporary sites to see, including Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, dating back to the Nabataean Kingdom

JEDDAH: The destination of AlUla, in collaboration with publisher Assouline, announced the September 2020 release of a luxury immersive book of photography and illustrations titled, “AlUla.”
With stunning images taken by renowned photographer Robert Polidori and interpretive illustrations by multidisciplinary artist Ignasi Monreal, “AlUla” virtually transports readers to the city, giving them a glimpse into its rich history and local culture.
Available in Assouline’s exclusive Ultimate and XXL formats, this oversized luxury volume is a celebration of human milestones and natural wonders. The Ultimate format is available in blue and beige covers, and the XXL format is available in blue and black boxes.
Nestled deep within the vast desert of northwestern Saudi Arabia, AlUla is known as a cultural oasis and living museum with more than 200,000 years of human history — from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers; civilizations such as the Nabataeans, Dadanites, and Romans; Muslim pilgrims on their way to Makkah and Madinah, and trade caravans traveling the Incense Route; to present-day communities who mingle and exchange cultural ideas with global travelers.

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

Enter

AlUla is home to many relics, archeological wonders, and contemporary sites to see, including Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, dating back to the Nabataean Kingdom. Modern landmarks include the Maraya Hall, an award-winning, multi-purpose concert and entertainment venue that is also the Guinness Book of Records’ largest mirrored venue in the world.
Each page of this luxurious book delves into the destination’s ancient mystique, where innovators and artists lived and journeyed through its exceptional landscapes, leaving traces of their language, culture and way of life.
Images and illustrations captured in the book feature the monumental tombs carved into the outcrops of Hegra, Elephant Rock, and the many petroglyphs (or rock art) showcasing the animals that inhabited AlUla thousands of years ago.

I try to render what I call an emblematic image usually showing its entirety through its details and vice versa. I tried to give a timeless image.

Robert Polidori

Polidori began his career in the mid-1980s, when he photographed the Restoration of Versailles, and has since documented sites across the globe.
He has twice won the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography and has published over a dozen photo books. He has held major solo exhibitions in important galleries, and his work is featured in the collections of many prominent museums around the world.
“AlUla is just amazing and unparalleled,” said Polidori. “I try to render what I call an emblematic image usually showing its entirety through its details and vice versa. I tried to give a timeless image.”
Monreal is a multidisciplinary artist born in Barcelona and currently based in Rome. He works in various media including painting, design, creative direction, and film.
He created Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2018 campaign — the first of its kind to be fully digitally painted — for which he was short-listed for a Beazley Designs of the Year award. Since then, he has worked with brands such as Bulgari, Four Seasons and Airbnb, among others.
Polidori and Monreal share more of their experiences in AlUla in a video, which provides a look inside the book through select photos and illustrations.
For more information and to purchase, visit Assouline.com.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Young Saudis help restore and preserve ancient stone castles in Jazan

Time: 08 September 2020

The 40-strong restoration team includes engineers, architecture enthusiasts and others. The youngsters were motivated to restore the castles due to a huge influx of Saudi and foreign tourists who visit the area each year to enjoy its architectural and artistic beauty. (Photos/Supplied)
  • Al-Dayer is a mountainous governorate that is home to a great number of stone palaces

MAKKAH: Forty young Saudis from Al-Dayer governorate in the south of the Kingdom have started restoration and preservation work on historical stone castles in the region, to help protect them from damage caused by heavy rain and floods.

Under the guidance of experts in the field, they began by repairing damaged canals.
“Al-Dayer is a mountainous governorate in Jazan that is home to a great number of stone palaces and castles, to the point where some people see it as the largest archaeological concentration of historical castles in the world,” said Yehya Sharif Al-Maliki, an adviser to the restoration team.
Almost every part of the region has forts and castles, he added. Al-Yehya area alone is home to a large number, along with five small villages.
“After noticing the effects of climate factors and manmade practices, the team fenced off the sites and began to restore the castles, in line with technical consultations, to preserve their very old, historical value,” he said.
The castles date back as far as 4,000 years and are renowned for their strength and outstanding durability, Al-Maliki added. In 1940, for example, an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 struck the area and the castles were not damaged at all.
He said the restoration team includes engineers, architecture enthusiasts and others. They were motivated to restore the castles by the large numbers of Saudi and foreign tourists attracted each year by their architectural and artistic beauty.

FASTFACTS

• Dating back as far as 4,000 years, these castles are renowned for their strength.

• The historical castles of Al-Dayer feature ancient inscriptions and engravings.

• Al-Yehya is on the slopes of Al-Areef mountains, surrounded by virgin forests to the east and water-rich valleys.

“The historical castles of Al-Dayer feature ancient inscriptions and engravings, reflecting the religious culture of the Himyarite and Sabaean civilizations,” said Al-Maliki. “Linarite, a type of stone known for being abnormally strong, was used in building these castles, thus preserving these inscriptions for thousands of years.”

The leader of the restoration team, Jaber Ali Al-Maliki, said some villages in the region have experienced natural disasters, which motivated the team to take the initiative to protect the castles from the effects of strong winds and heavy rainfall.
“The team has repaired the canals and fenced off the sites, especially the castles that are located in residential neighborhoods, which increases the chance of their collapse,” he said.
Local residents interested in preserving heritage and culture have joined the preservation efforts and a “plan of action has been developed to study the restoration priorities” he added
Al-Yehya is on the slopes of Al-Areef mountains, surrounded by virgin forests to the east and water-rich valleys, including a manmade valley to the west, created long ago, with lavish architecture that showcases the rich history of the area and its peoples.
Although the geographical location of the area provided it with some protection from invasion and conquest by the armies and nations that have ruled the region since ancient times, such as the Sabaeans and Himyarites, the influence of these eras and cultures can be seen in the architecture.
“These castles reflect the architectural advancement of the successive civilizations,” said Jaber Ali Al-Maliki. “Built with beautiful stones, some of these castles are higher than four floors, with wooden doors and geometric patterns.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s Fayfa, land of hanging gardens, offers tourists unique experience

06/09/20

Cylindrical mountain homes are unique to this region where the locals used to give each house a nickname, by which the owners of the house would be known. (SPA)

  • The fertile land is perfect for growing cereals, fruits and aromatic plants and the agricultural terraces on the mountain sides are a magnificent sight

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s stunning Fayfa Mountains — rising more than 2,000 meters above sea level and also known as “The Neighbors of the Moon” — are an ideal tourist destination.
The road to the mountains rises above the clouds, with steep slopes that are a dream for hikers and lovers of adventure.
The mountains’ highest point is Al-Absiyya, which is surrounded by the valleys of Dhamd and Jawra from the north and the west.
From here, visitors can enjoy a beautiful panorama of almost all the mountains in the region, towering over green spaces and farms, as well as the amazing scent of flowers carried on the breeze.
Al-Sima’a is another of the region’s most famous sites, overlooking the neighboring valleys and mountains, and the towns of Jazan, Sabia and Abu Arish, as well as the Jazan Valley Dam and other attractions.
The region enjoys a mild climate all year round, and its inhabitants rely mainly on agriculture as a source of income.
The fertile land is perfect for growing cereals, fruits and aromatic plants and the agricultural terraces on the mountain sides are a magnificent sight. Fayfa is also renowned for its coffee. The local farmers follow traditional practices handed down from their ancestors, based on the astrological cycle, using relative location of the sun — and which “house” it is in — to plan the planting and harvesting of their crops.
Their cylindrical mountain homes are unique to this region of Saudi Arabia, and the local inhabitants used to give each house a nickname, by which the owners of the house would also be known.
Often, these names were related to specific events, or simply a descriptive term.
Fayfa’s residents also have their own unique dialect, which researchers believe originated from ancient literary Arabic, but was later influenced by the Himyarite language creating a vocabulary that is only used in this region.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Rock inscriptions of Al-Shuwaymis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia’s Hail

05/09/20

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • The inscriptions feature art characterized by images of humans, animals, and plant life including camels, horses, goats, and palm trees

The rock art of Al- Shuwaymis, 250 kilometers southeast of Hail, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest open stone inscription museum in the Arabian Peninsula and one of the largest open natural history museums in the world, with an area of more than 50 square kilometers.
Al-Shuwaymis is located on the edge of Hurrat Annar, near Al-Makhit Valley, which separates Hurrat Laila from Hurrat Annar. It is also near Al-Sabaq, the area that witnessed the longest battle in Arab history, “Sa’es and Al-Ghabra.”
The history of the petroglyphs dates back to the Neolithic period. The inscriptions feature art characterized by images of humans, animals, and plant life including camels, horses, goats, and palm trees. There are also sculptures of men riding camels, in reference to the trade caravan activity, and sculptures of life-sized humans and animals.

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Photographer uses drones to capture tourist treasures

05/09/20

Saudi photographer Hassan Al-Hresi says many of his followers from around the world are convinced that the Kingdom is a first-class tourist destination with pristine landscapes and magnificent sceneries. (Supplied)
  • Hassan Al-Hresi showcases sites such as Wahidah Waterfalls, Ghiyeh and Al-Qahar

MAKKAH: Saudi photographer Hassan Al-Hresi looks for opportunities day and night to venture upwards into the skies and shed light on the archaeological and tourist treasures of the Kingdom’s south.

He takes his audience on journeys during all seasons of the year so that they can experience and witness the southern landscapes that he captures through his lens.
The professional photographer, who is in his thirties, has documented distinctive destinations such as the Wahidah Waterfalls, Ghiyeh, Al-Qahar villages and other locations.
And he offers an exceptional experience, as he seeks to showcase the undiscovered despite the danger that these sites pose.
“These trips spark my passion like a high that has been there since my childhood,” Al-Hresi told Arab News.
“It is a dangerous profession due to the need to move across steep mountains and stay there for days with the necessary equipment to capture moments that immortalize the sites’ beauty and magnificence. These moments shed light on the beauty of the Kingdom’s southern region.”

He said that many of his followers from around the world were convinced that Saudi Arabia was not just defined by camels and the desert, that it was a first-class tourist destination with pristine landscapes that were unimaginable by both locals and foreigners.
“Something fascinates you and takes your breath away as you film. It is the clouds covering the mountains and villages, the people living their lives amid continuous rainfall, Sarawat’s cold weather and Tihama’s moderate weather during winter, and how Saudis go about their daily lives in all their details according to a village life full of love.”

It is a dangerous profession due to the need to move across steep mountains and stay there for days with the necessary equipment to capture moments that immortalize the sites’ beauty and magnificence.

Hassan Al-Hresi, Saudi photographer

Al-Hresi said that photographing Al-Qahar mountains — a massif located 80 km northwest of Jazan with peaks rising 2,000 meters above sea level — was a fun trip particularly when using his drone, which has helped to uncover and depict such scenery in a wider and more comprehensive way.
“These images showed the villages located along the Kingdom’s deep south along with the simple village life of their residents, living at the heart of an unending natural beauty found in the greenery, the fog and the rain.”
The volcanic peaks that enrich Asir’s nature invited people to discover their scattered green areas that added to the region’s beauty, which he believed was unmatched by any other place in Saudi Arabia.

“This is particularly true in Mount Tahwi’s Ghiyeh village, which represents beauty in small, eye-catching and breathtaking geographical areas.”
The rock formations showcased in Al-Hresi’s images are, according to him, “some of the most important pillars of tourism in the world.”
He said it became even more worthwhile to document the Kingdom’s natural wealth amid the global coronavirus pandemic, which turned the focus of Saudis inwards and toward local travel and tourism.
He spoke of fortified and beautiful villages that showed off a particular type of architecture and construction, with forts built high in the mountains.
The fog-covered villages stand at high altitudes exceeding 2,400 meters above sea level, particularly those located in the areas of Al-Baha and Asir, and require twice as much effort to reach, especially when moving with equipment and drones.
“Al-Qahar mountains feature narrow valleys containing forest trees, along with drawings and inscriptions,” Al-Hresi said, adding that it was difficult to reach the mountain peaks due to their rough terrain.
“The rainwater falling on top of the mountain ends up in Wadi Bish Dam.”
Al-Qahar mountains stand tall on the cusp of Al-Raith governorate, east of Jazan, forming a fascinating scene. They are considered one of Al-Raith’s most beautiful sites due to their breathtaking nature and terrain, moderate weather and continuous rainfall throughout the year.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudis try sandboarding as domestic tourism booms

04/09/20

While the international airport and borders remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Saudis and expats turn to domestic tourism, many heading for a sandboarding experience on the dunes of the “Saed” desert area, 110 km east of the capital Riyadh.

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