Al Ula ruins: Saudis revive forgotten past

SOURCE:Gulf News

April 10, 2018

‘There is so much history here still waiting to be discovered’

Al Ula, Saudi Arabia: Trudging up a caramel-hued cliff pocked with ancient tombs, guide Bandar Al Anazi gazed at the stunning view: a windswept desert landscape of pre-Islamic ruins at the centre of Saudi-Franco preservation efforts.

 

 

Al Ula, an area rich in archaeological remnants, is seen as a jewel in the crown of future Saudi attractions as the kingdom prepares to issue tourist visas for the first time – opening up one of the last frontiers of global tourism.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was set to sign a landmark agreement with Paris on Tuesday for the touristic and cultural development of the northwestern site, once a crossroads of ancient civilisations.

“All of Al Ula is an open air museum,” Al Anazi said during a media tour just days before Prince Mohammad’s trip, revealing a patchwork of rock-cut tombs containing niches for burials.

“There is so much history here still waiting to be discovered.”

The tombs, some containing pre-Islamic inscriptions and drawings such as hunting scenes, are a legacy of the Nabataean artistic tradition.

The chiseled rock art forms could help unravel the mysteries of millennia-old civilisations on the Arabian Peninsula.

The area, roughly the size of Belgium, served as an important way station and bedouin watering hole on the trade route linking the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and India.

It is home to the kingdom’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, Madain Saleh, built more than 2,000 years ago by the Nabataeans.

“Every day something new is being discovered,” Jamie Quartermaine, an expert from the Britain-based Oxford Archaeology group, told AFP.

“The potential is endless. Look behind you,” he said, pointing at ancient animal art depictions engraved on a rocky spur inside an Al Ula hotel resort.

A helicopter tour of the area revealed a desert landscape that appeared like the top of a foamed latte, dotted with heritage sites and towering maze-like rock formations.

The Saudi-Franco partnership is in part aimed at preserving the site from further erosion and vandalism it has faced.

At one archeological site called Al Khoraiba, Al Anazi pointed at a bereft cistern.

Photos taken by French explorers Jaussen and Savignac, who visited the area in the early 20th century, showed the same cistern once featured the statue of a deity.

The walled city of Al Ula, with tightly packed mud-brick and stone houses that were inhabited until modern times, sits decaying under the scorching sun.

But before a preservation plan is launched in collaboration with France, all archaeological treasures need to be accounted for, said Amr Al Madani, head of the Royal Al Ula Commission.

A massive two-year surveying programme began in March, which includes scanning via helicopters, satellites, drones and a remote sensing technology called Lidar, he told AFP.

“This is a significant undertaking incorporating all levels of survey from aerial survey down to ground checking,” said Quartermaine.

A Franco-Saudi deal to develop Al Ula calls for the creation of a dedicated agency modelled on the lines of the French museums agency, which spearheaded the establishment of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi.

At least one large museum is planned to be built in Al Ula.

Gerard Mestrallet, the former CEO of French electric utility company Engie, has been appointed special envoy of French President Emmanuel Macron for Al Ula.

Al Ula is expected to fully open up to global tourists within three to five years, launching the site as what Saudi officials describe as “a gift to the world”.

Al Ula is among a hidden trove of Saudi archaeological treasures.

Archaeologists last year used Google Maps to find hundreds of stone “gates” built from rock in a remote Saudi desert, which may date back as far as 7,000 years.

They also discovered evidence of 46 lakes believed to have existed in Saudi Arabia’s northern Nefud desert, which experts say has lent credence to the theory that the region swung between periods of desertification and a wetter climate.

Tourism is one of the centrepieces of the blueprint to prepare the biggest Arab economy for the post-oil era.

Al Ula’s hotel infrastructure is currently inadequate, with only two facilities with a capacity of 120 rooms.

But the project is about reviving the glory of Saudi Arabia’s ancient past.

There is currently scant information in Saudi history textbooks about Al Ula.

“This is about national pride in our own past,” Anazi said.

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Nat Geo’s Ocean Odyssey adventure coming to Saudi Arabia

SOURCE: Arabian Business

Time: April 07, 2018

National Geographic Encounter has announced plans to develop up to 10 new locations in Saudi Arabia for Ocean Odyssey, an immersive walk-through adventure across the ocean from the South Pacific to the coast of California.

It has partnered with KBW Ventures and the General Entertainment Authority of Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh the first location to open in 2019.

The announcement follows the opening of National Geographic Encounter’s flagship location in New York City’s Times Square.

SPE Partners, creators and developers of Encounter, and its partner the Peterson Companies will engage a world-class global team of Academy, Grammy, and Emmy award-winning artists on the Saudi venture, a statement said.

“We are excited to bring this iconic brand and immersive experience into Saudi Arabia and provide premium entertainment in our country,” said Faisal Baraft, CEO of the General Entertainment Authority of Saudi Arabia.

Alexander Svezia, co-founder and managing partner of SPE Partners, added: “We aim to combine the power of technology with the awe of entertainment to advance science and conservation, and KBW shares that vision. The General Entertainment Authority’s mission, to create a vibrant society and provide exciting entertainment and tailored experiences in Saudi Arabia, aligns perfectly. We are excited to bring ‘entertainment with purpose’ to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, said: “When I first visited National Geographic Encounter and saw that the experience brings people around the globe into the natural world of wildlife, I knew that this was the future. We also believe in Encounter’s ‘entertainment with purpose’ ethos, especially with our current work with Future Oceans, an organisation whose mission is to protect all marine wildlife.”

National Geographic Encounter consulted with dozens of technologists and scientists to create a new kind of immersive experience that guests can walk through to share ocean encounters with friends and family.

Guests will get up close with dozens of species, including sea lions waiting for a playmate, sharks up to 20 feet long, a 50-foot Humpback whale, and a battle between two ferocious Humboldt squids.

The coral reef was built from a process called photogrammetry, where more than 1,300 photos were taken on location in the Solomon Islands. The 2D photos were then used to construct 3D models of coral.

Once visitors “resurface” to land, they can go even deeper on their adventure in Exploration Hall, hearing breathtaking stories from National Geographic photographers and deep-sea explorers.

Audiences can also enjoy a gaming challenge to clean up their own piece of the ocean and play with holograms of the sea’s greatest wonders and mightiest creatures.

Rosa Zeegers, executive vice president, Consumer Products and Experiences at National Geographic Partners, said: “Encounter has been wildly successful, and has proven to be a powerful new storytelling platform for us that perfectly embodies our passionate belief in entertainment with purpose and is a natural extension of our brand. These expansion plans are very exciting, and we’re looking forward to delivering this one-of-a-kind experience to our important Middle East audience.”

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Marriott to attract $2 billion investment in Saudi over four years: executive

SOURCE: REUTERS

Time: April 01, 2018

RIYADH (Reuters) – Marriott International expects to attract $2 billion of investment in Saudi Arabia in the next four years by almost doubling the number of hotel rooms it operates there, an executive said on Monday.

The kingdom aims to boost domestic and international tourism in its drive to diversify the economy away from oil exports. It is has set a target of $46.6 billion in spending by local and foreign tourists in 2020, up from $27.9 billion in 2015.

Alex Kyriakidis, Marriott’s president and managing director for the Middle East and Africa, told Reuters his firm would expand the number of rooms at its hotels to about 12,500 in the next four years from almost 6,800 now.

Building now underway on the almost 6,000 new rooms would cost $2 billion, he said in an interview, adding the company would operate 52 hotels once work was completed, up from 23 now.

The company operates the Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Le Meridien and Sheraton brands in Saudi Arabia, among others.

Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel reopened this month, more than three months after it was converted into a temporary prison for members of Saudi Arabia’s business and political elite detained in an anti-corruption purge.

He said Ritz Carlton’s temporary closure did not hurt the group’s operations in the kingdom, adding that the crackdown on corruption should reassure investors.

He said domestic tourism still accounted for most visitors.

The Saudi authorities have said they would issue tourist visas to foreigners this year, but details have not been disclosed.

To attract visitors, Saudi Arabia said it would develop resorts on some 50 islands off the Red Sea coast and an entertainment city south of Riyadh featuring golf courses, car racing tracks and a theme park.

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Tourism And Recreation

SOURCE: Saudi Embassy

Time: April 01, 2018

Outdoor Recreation

Saudis enjoy a wide range of leisure activities. Families can relax at hundreds of parks, campsites, picnic grounds and other facilities throughout the country.

Long stretches of coast and spectacular coral reefs make water sports such as snorkeling and wind surfing easily accessible. In addition, the Kingdom has established a network of national parks and preserves so that visitors can observe protected wildlife and ecosystems.

The crown jewel of Saudi Arabia’s national parks system is the 1.1 million acre Asir National Park. Visitors can hike, camp, climb hills and other outdoor activities in this cool, green paradise. The Kingdom’s largest preserve is Al-Khunfah, where visitors can take in spectacular views and observe wildlife such as gazelles and oryx in their natural habitat.

In the cities, people can relax in hundreds of urban parks. Riyadh alone – which means “garden” in Arabic – has 50 public parks. The waterfront corniches of Jeddah and Dammam are also popular places for picnics, swimming, fishing and other watersports.

Camping is a popular activity among Saudis. Families pitch tents in the middle of the desert, along the coast or in one of the Kingdom’s parks, and enjoy the beauty of nature. These camping trips are popular during the Eid holidays and for family reunions, especially after the rainy season when the desert blooms.

Wildlife

Saudi Arabia is home to a variety of animals include the Arabian Oryx, a type of antelope native to the Arabian Peninsula that roams freely in Saudi Arabia’s large desert.

Other animals found in the Kingdom include marine life, gazelles, the ibex (a type of wild mountain goat) the bustard, and the swift saluki hound, a type of dog named for an ancient city in southern Arabia. The saluki is generally considered to be the world’s oldest domesticated dog.

The famous purebred Arabian horse is one of the most popular breeds in the world, with a bloodline that dates back thousands of years. The Arabian’s fine shape and extraordinary stamina and speed make it ideal for racing and breeding.

There are also many camels in Saudi Arabia. They have been used as a means of transportation for thousands of years. Today, camel racing is a popular sport.

Saudi Arabia has taken major steps to preserve its native wild and marine life and established preserves both on land and in the ocean off the Saudi coast.

Tourism

Saudi Arabia offers both natural and historical wonders, from the mountain resorts of Taif and the majesty of ancient Nabatean tombs to the multicolored coral reefs of the RedSea.

While Saudi Arabia has been a travel destination for centuries, with millions of people visiting the Kingdom each year from around the world, most visitors have historically been Muslims undertaking pilgrimages.

Today there is a new emphasis on tourism in Saudi Arabia, and in 2000, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage was established to promote tourism in the Kingdom.

Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, is the geographic and cultural hub of the country and its largest city. Once surrounded by mud-brick walls, modern Riyadh – whose name comes from the Arabic word for garden (rowdhah) – is a contemporary city with an ever-expanding network of modern roads, high rises, residential suburbs and industrial parks.

Despite being a modern city, Riyadh also retains much of its traditional appeal. The city’s historic Qasr Al-Hokm district has been carefully preserved and renovated to make it the city’s cultural, commercial and social center.

One of the highlights of Qasr Al-Hokm is the historic Masmak fortress, which King Abdulaziz recaptured the fortress in 1902 – setting the stage for the foundation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Another highlight is the Murabba’ Palace, a former home of King Abdulaziz that has been renovated as part of the King Abdulaziz Historical Center in Riyadh.

Twenty miles outside Riyadh lies the walled city of Diriyah, the ancestral home of the Al-Saud family and the first capital of the Saudi state.

Jeddah

The Kingdom’s second largest city, Jeddah is a sparkling, modern commercial center that is considered one of Saudi Arabia’s most vibrant cities. It is alive with more than 300 gardens, and is home to one of the world’s tallest fountains.

One of Jeddah’s loveliest features is the Corniche, promenades that extend miles along the Red Sea, interspersed with parks, fountains, lakes and kiosks. Its coastal location near the spectacular Red Sea coral reefs makes it a popular spot for water sports.

The city also has a number of beautifully restored historical buildings, including the Naseef House (Bayt Naseef), with more than 100 rooms and a broad staircase to allow camels access to the first floor for unloading.

Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s main Red Sea port. For centuries, its large harbor has handled ships carrying cargo to ports throughout the world, as well as vessels bringing pilgrims to the Hajj.

Eastern Province

The capital of the Eastern Province, Dammam – along with nearby Dhahran and Khobar – is an important hub for shipping, oil, commerce and industry, and the home of the national oil company, Saudi Aramco. It was in Dhahran in 1936 that the famous Dammam No. 7 oil well was discovered, proving beyond doubt that the Kingdom was sitting on vast oil fields.

Dammam is linked to Bahrain via the King Fahd Causeway, an engineering masterpiece that stretches 15.5 miles across the sea and reclaimed land.

Asir Province

Located in the southwestern part of the Kingdom, Asir Province is an extensive region of steep mountains, lush greenery and cool breezes.

The picturesque regional capital, Abha, is noted for its brightly colored mud houses, built in the traditional style. Residents paint their homes each year, usually in preparation for the Eids, the religious holidays that follow Ramadan or the Hajj.

The Asir National Park, which covers 1.1 million acres, is a paradise for botanists, zoologists and ornithologists who come to study indigenous plants and wildlife. New varieties and species are still being discovered there.

Taif

The mountain resort city of Taif is located 5,600 feet above sea level in the southwest region of Saudi Arabia. Its pleasant climate, lush parks, sunny skies and exotic wildlife have long drawn Saudi families to this resort town each summer.

Its largest and most famous public garden is the King Fahd Park, which includes a lake, playgrounds, walking paths, and a mosque. Visitors can also take in the Shubra Palace, the former summer residence of King Abdulaziz and the most famous historical building in the city. Shoppers in Taif can browse its traditional souq for handcrafts, gold, silver, spices, perfumes and other trinkets.

Makkah and Madinah

The holy city of Makkah is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. Millions of pilgrims from around the world visit Makkah each year to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage that is the religious high point of a Muslim’s life. The Holy Mosque in Makkah houses Islam’s most sacred shrine, the Ka’abah, to which Muslims around the world turn in prayer five times a day.

Muslims are drawn to Madinah not as a religious duty as with Makkah, but out of love and respect for God’s last Prophet, who established the first Islamic community there. Madinah is also where the Prophet Muhammad spent the last years of his life, and where he and many of his companions are buried. The city is home to the Prophet’s Mosque.
Both Makkah and Madinah are open only to Muslim visitors.

Najran

In the ancient trading center of Najran, the capital of Najran Province, old and new buildings stand side by side, giving the oasis city a special charm.

Visitors to Najran can enjoy several museums, including the ruins of the Al-Ukhdood settlement, a former commercial center that thrived from 500 BC through the 10th century. The Al-An Palace, a former governor’s residence, is a remarkable example of local architecture with its circular towers with white ramparts. Najran’s souq is well known for its traditional crafts such as colorful baskets, leather products and old Bedouin silver jewelry.

Also of interest is the Al-Madik Dam in Najran Province, the second largest dam in Saudi Arabia. The dam has become a tourist attraction with parks at each end and wide variety of palms, flowering shrubs and citrus trees.

Hail

The historic oasis of Hail, with its expansive boulevards, parks, playgrounds and refreshing climate, regularly draws large numbers of Saudi families.

In ancient times, Hail was a stopping point along the famous Darb Zubaydah caravan route stretching from Mesopotamia, Persia and Central Asia to Makkah and Madinah. Built 12 centuries ago and named after the wife of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid (763-809), the caravan route included hundreds of wells and cisterns. Remnants of these can still be seen in Hail today.

Al-Jouf

Located in the northern part of Saudi Arabia, Al-Jouf is famous for its ancient ruins, which show evidence of the presence of Assyrians and Nabateans in the region. The region was an important crossroads for traders heading into the Arabian Peninsula from Iraq and Syria.

Al-Jouf also has a special significance in Islamic history. Following its conquest by Muslims in the third year of the Hijra (the migration of the Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah in 622 AD), Al-Jouf became a staging post for Muslim armies setting out to spread the message of Islam.

Traditonal Sports

Horse racing was, and remains today, one of the most popular sporting events in Saudi Arabia. There are modern racetracks in the Kingdom, although betting is prohibited.

Locals have for centuries bred horses for racing and transportation. The famous Arabian horse has a bloodline that dates back thousands of years, and is one of the world’s most sought-after breeds.

Camel racing is also a popular traditional sport. Traditionally the desert sport of Bedouins, camel racing is a major spectacle. In the past, races involved thousands of camels speeding across the open desert. Today, the rules have been modified for modern racetracks, and camel races are held every Monday during the winter at Riyadh Stadium.

Other traditional sports include hunting with hounds and falconry. The swift saluki hound, named for an ancient city in southern Arabia, is generally considered by historians to be the world’s oldest domesticated dog. Falconry in the Kingdom today is limited and carefully regulated in order to protect the game fowl that is the falcon’s traditional prey.

Water Sports

Some of the world’s most beautiful living coral reefs are located beneath both the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

A paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers, these coastal areas offer endless hours of underwater exploration.

Wind surfing, sailing and water skiing are also popular pastimes in the Gulf and Red Sea waters along the Saudi coast.

Also, some of the world’s best deep-sea fishing can be found in the Red Sea. The Coastal Sports Cities in Jeddah and Al-Khobar and other clubs offer opportunities for a variety of water sports and recreational activities.

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Richard Branson to invest in Saudi Arabia’s tourism project

Time: April 01, 2018

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson will invest in a Red Sea project that aims to turn 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourism destinations, the Saudi government announced on Sunday.

Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project, Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said, in what officials called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism”.

Branson also visited the tombs at Mada’in Saleh – a Unesco world heritage site located near a string of new hotels – in a trip to the Gulf kingdom that appears to be aimed at attracting further international attention, in terms of both investment and tourism.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history, and I’ve always felt that there’s nothing like getting a first-hand impression,” Branson said in a statement released by the information ministry.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative countries in the world, only last week passing a decree allowing women to drive.

But since the shock appointment in June of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as successor to his father’s throne, the oil-rich state has launched a media offensive aimed at promoting its image.

Prince Mohammed, who sidelined his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, to be appointed the royal heir, is also the champion of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic plan.

The scheme aims to pull the region’s biggest economy out of its dependence on oil and diversify the country’s economic revenue model.

On 1 August, Saudi Arabia announced plans to turn 34,000 sq km (13,127 sq miles) of its Red Sea coastline into luxury resorts.

The project is aimed at attracting international tourists to a country where alcohol is prohibited and the mobility and dress of women restricted.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed, will provide the initial investment into the Red Sea project, with construction slated to start in 2019.

The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs, according to the Saudi government.

This article was first published in The Guardian

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link The Guardian

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Saudi woman scuba diving pioneer strives to push forward Kingdom’s tourism plan

Time: March 31, 2018

The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the sea is a glimmering turquoise. Nouf Alosaimi is on a discovery dive around a small, sandy island in the Red Sea that is home to busy crabs and a few seagulls.

Jellyfish float near the edge of the boat in waters so translucent the fish are visible deep below. The 29-year-old Saudi woman is wearing a diving suit and a necklace with a silver charm in the shape of shark’s tooth, a nod to her nickname, “Sharky”. In the water, she wears a swim cap, but on the boat she goes bareheaded.

The serene waters north of the bustling city of Jeddah are the scene of a dramatic experiment to encourage tourism in the Kingdom. It’s exciting for Alosaimi on multiple levels. It’s bringing new opportunities for women. And it’s opening up miles of untouched coastline teeming with unexplored seascapes for her and other divers.

“We are here on an island in middle of the Red Sea. We want to discover this place,” Alosaimi said before her dive. “We may find this island beautiful for a picnic. We are creating a diving product here.”

Alosaimi, a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, is a pioneer in her field, holding a local record for the deepest dive by a Saudi female at 345 feet (105 meters). The technical dive required five tanks and lasted more than 70 minutes.

Her passion for diving takes her on an hour-long bus ride to work each day from Jeddah to King Abdullah Economic City. There, she works at a dive center recently opened at the Bay La Sun Marina and Yacht Club in preparation for the Kingdom’s plans to open up to tourists later this year.

For decades, visitors to Saudi Arabia have largely either been pilgrims heading to Makkah and Madinah or business travelers heading to the capital, Riyadh, or other major cities like Jeddah and Dammam.

Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old heir to the throne, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, is trying to change that with the introduction of tourist visas. Tourism is being promoted as a way to create more jobs for Saudis, attract foreign investment, boost the economy and further improve the country’s image abroad.

Tourism official Salah Al-Taleb said the country isn’t targeting mass tourism, but select tour groups interested in nature, diving, hiking and cultural sites.

“Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country that hosts the two holiest sites in Islam and these facts need to be respected whenever (tourists) travel around, enjoy themselves and engage with people,” he said.

The government’s sovereign wealth fund, which the crown prince oversees, has identified a 250-km stretch of Red Sea coastline that it plans to transform into a global luxury travel destination with diving attractions and a nature reserve.

The fund says the area will be a semi-autonomous destination “governed by laws on par with international standards.”

The Red Sea is also the site of an ambitious $500 billion project called “Neom” — an independent economic zone in a corner of the country near Egypt and Jordan that sits on 26,500 square kilometers of untouched land, an area bigger than the US state of Maryland. Prince Muhammad has said he envisions it as a hub for technological innovation that will create jobs and attract investment.

The prince is trying to shake off the old stereotypes of Saudi Arabia. He’s brought back musical concerts after a two-decade ban, he’s promised the return of movie theaters and he’s behind the decision to lift the ban on women driving this June.

One lesser-known change has already had a huge impact on Alosaimi’s life. She says the Saudi Border Guard no longer stops women from going out on boats without a male guardian, such as a husband, father or brother. Rather than do shore dives, she can now explore the waters freely.

Egyptian diver Tamer Nasr, who worked in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh for more than 20 years, said it could take divers years to map out Saudi Arabia’s nearly 12,000 kilometers of Red Sea coastline.

“They have here a huge area to discover,” he said, adding that divers from Bay La Sun Marina have already found a number of underwater wrecks and dive sites that could draw tourists.

Diving remains rare among Saudis. To connect with other female divers in Saudi Arabia, Alosaimi created a group called “Pink Bubbles Divers” and organized a day in Jeddah last year for women to dive together and enjoy a private day at the beach.

Once the ban on women driving is lifted this summer, Alosaimi plans to take a road trip with friends to discover new dive sites further north.

“I used to feel bad because I know the Red Sea in Egypt more than the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia,” Alosaimi said. “Now, I have the opportunity to see all these places, the reefs.” — AP

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

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Saudi projects put Kingdom on international tourist map

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: March 30, 2018

JEDDAH: The large developments at the Red Sea, Al-Gidya and NEOM will help to put Saudi Arabia on the world tourist map, project executives said on Thursday.
The statements by executives of the Saudi projects followed the meeting of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in New York on Thursday with more than 40 leaders from world conglomerates.
John Pagano, the chief executive officer of the Red Sea project, said the development would enhance the position of the Kingdom on the world tourist map.
He described the meeting as fruitful in laying the foundations for the future of the project. It also highlighted the intention of the project’s administration to benefit from the best ideas from sustainability experts, leaders of the sector and thought pioneers around the world.
Michael Renengers, OEC of the Al-Gidya project, stressed the goal of achieving good outcomes for Saudi citizens.
“The ideas and initiatives we have discussed have enlightened important parts of our plan and encouraged us to go ahead toward building the project, unique in the Kingdom,” he said. The projects will inspire the men and women of the Kingdom to enhance their contribution to the developments.
Claus Cleinfeld, CEO of NEOM, said that the project’s vision was to make it the best place in the world for living and working.
He said that the meeting reviewed a number of points on sustainability and also examples of new manufacturing techniques, in addition to the world’s first management and operation system that is 100 percent dependent on renewable energy.

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Learn about the charming beauty of Al Reath in Saudi Arabia

Time:  27 March 2018

The village of Al Shameya in Al Reath Governorate has become a unique touristic landmark. (Supplied)

The village of Al Shameya in Al Reath Governorate has become a unique touristic landmark, because of its visual charm where the mountains and valleys merge with the greenery of trees and light mist.

Al Reath Governorate in Jazan, southwestern Saudi Arabia, is visited by many -as Lejb Valley, is particularly appealing to tourists for its greenery and running water throughout the year.

They seek tranquility at mountain Al Qahar, valley of Wa’al and Al Sada, Rada’a Mountain, and other beautiful areas in the province of Al Reath.

Photographer Ali Al Rithi who documented the scenery of the province told Al Arabiya: “The region enjoys a rich folklore, which has varied traditions, including the parades such as, Al Zamil, Al Shahreya, Ardha and Al Safqa which are performed in a collective manner in both public and private events, wearing special folk costumes.

The area is also characterized by the cultivation of maize, millet, barley, coffee, figs, bananas, oranges, grapes, apples, lemons and apricots.”

He explained that Al Reath is considered one of the most attractive sites for tourists and photographers who documented many archaeological sites, which still need more research and exploration to know its actual historical time frame.

Al-Reith is located in the northeastern part of Jazan city and is about 150 km away. It is bordered to the east by Wadi Al Hayat in Asir region and Al Hasher Mountains, and from its west, Al-Hawqu and Al-Fatihah, and from the north is the Baysh Valley and from the south is Harub governorate, which is one of the oldest centers in Jazan, as its first centers were opened in the village of Meqzz’eovi.

During the past five years, Al-Reath Governorate witnessed an urban development following the paving of the roads in many areas in the governorate beginning with Al Haqw area and passing through towards the valley of Lajb to valley Amoud. In addition, these governorates feature a lot of governmental developing projects.

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea divers explore freedoms off the coast

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: March 26, 2018

OFF THE COAST OF JEDDAH: The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the sea is a glimmering turquoise. Nouf Alosaimi is on a discovery dive around a small, sandy island in the Red Sea that’s home to busy crabs and a few seagulls.
Jellyfish float near the edge of the boat in waters so translucent the fish are visible deep below. The 29-year-old Saudi woman is wearing a diving suit and a necklace with a silver charm in the shape of shark’s tooth, a nod to her nickname, “Sharky.” In the water, she wears a swim cap and dive suit. At sea, the sole woman diver among a group of men, she’s momentarily free from the edicts that govern life on shore.
Out here in the Red Sea, it’s easy to forget this is Saudi Arabia, a conservative Muslim country where the vast majority of women cover their hair and face with black veils, wear long, loose robes, known as abayas, in public, are largely segregated from men and cannot travel abroad without the permission of a male relative.
The serene waters north of the bustling city of Jeddah are the scene of a dramatic experiment to encourage tourism in the reserved and traditionally closed kingdom. It’s exciting for Alosaimi on multiple levels. It’s bringing new opportunities for women, as a corner of the country is carved out with somewhat relaxed rules. And it’s opening up miles of untouched coastline teeming with unexplored seascapes for her and other divers.
“We are here on an island in middle of the Red Sea. We want to discover this place,” Alosaimi said before her dive. “We may find this island beautiful for a picnic. We are creating a diving product here.”
Alosaimi, a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, is a pioneer in her field, holding a local record for the deepest dive by a Saudi female at 345 feet (105 meters). The technical dive required five tanks and lasted more than 70 minutes.
Her passion for diving takes her on an hour-long bus ride to work each day from Jeddah to King Abdullah Economic City. There, she works at a dive center recently opened at the Bay La Sun Marina and Yacht Club in preparation for the kingdom’s plans to open up to tourists later this year.
For decades, visitors to Saudi Arabia have largely either been pilgrims heading to Makkah and Medina or business travelers heading to the capital, Riyadh, or other major cities like Jeddah and Dammam.
Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is trying to change that with the introduction of tourist visas. It’s part of a much larger plan to overhaul the economy in the face of sustained lower oil prices. Tourism is being promoted as a way to create more jobs for Saudis, attract foreign investment, boost the economy and improve the country’s image abroad.
Tourism official Salah Altaleb said the country isn’t targeting mass tourism, but select tour groups interested in nature, diving, hiking and cultural sites.
“Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country that hosts the two holiest sites in Islam and these facts need to be respected whenever (tourists) travel around, enjoy themselves and engage with people,” he said.
The government’s sovereign wealth fund, which the crown prince oversees, has identified a 125-mile stretch (200 kilometers) of Red Sea coastline that it plans to transform into a global luxury travel destination with diving attractions and a nature reserve. The fund says the area will be a semi-autonomous destination “governed by laws on par with international standards,” suggesting veils and abayas won’t be required for women.
The Red Sea is also the site of an ambitious $500 billion project called “Neom” — an independent economic zone in a corner of the country near Egypt and Jordan that sits on 10,230 square miles (26,500 square kilometers) of untouched land, an area bigger than the US state of Maryland. Prince Mohammed has said he envisions it as a hub for technological innovation that will create jobs and attract investment.
One lesser-known change has already had a huge impact on Alosaimi’s life. She says the Saudi Coast Guard no longer stops women from going out on boats without a male guardian, such as a husband, father or brother. Rather than do shore dives, she can now explore the waters freely.
Egyptian diver Tamer Nasr, who worked in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh for more than 20 years, said it could take divers years to map out Saudi Arabia’s nearly 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) of Red Sea coastline.
“They have here a huge area to discover,” he said, adding that divers from Bay La Sun Marina have already found a number of underwater wrecks and dive sites that could draw tourists.
Diving remains rare among Saudis. To connect with other female divers in Saudi Arabia, Alosaimi created a group called “Pink Bubbles Divers” and organized a day in Jeddah last year for women to dive together and enjoy a private day at the beach.
Once the ban on women driving is lifted this summer, Alosaimi plans to take a road trip with friends to discover new dive sites further north.
“I used to feel bad because I know the Red Sea in Egypt more than the Red Sea in Saudi,” Alosaimi said. “Now, I have the opportunity to see all these places, the reefs.”

ru

Ancient silk road port found in Saudi Arabia

SOURCE: The Nation

Time: March 24, 2018

A stone tablet discovered in the ruins of al-Serrian, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia. JIANG BO/FOR CHINA DAILY

The prosperity of an ancient seaport on the Maritime Silk Road near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, will soon be unveiled, thanks to an upcoming China-Saudi Arabia joint archaeological excavation.

 

Five Chinese archaeologists with the National Center of Underwater Cultural Heritage, which is affiliated with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, are set to conduct field research of the ruins, known as al-Serrian, from March 26 to April 13.

It will be the first Chinese archaeological mission on the Arabian Peninsula, and additional research at the site will follow within the next five years.

They will join six counterparts from the antiquities and museums sector of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, including one trained by China as the first certificated underwater archaeologist in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Serrian was one of the gateways for Hajj pilgrims to Mecca, together with the bigger trade hub of Jeddah to the north. Jiang Bo, the team head, said some ancient travelogues show that it was a busy port with mosques, markets and residential areas.

“However, no comprehensive excavation has been done in the area before,” Jiang said on Friday. “It’s a dream for Chinese underwater archaeologists to check the former glory on the other end of the Maritime Silk Road.”

Jiang conducted preliminary field research at al-Serrian in 2016 and found some construction components and broken porcelain pieces on the beach.

Local Arabic historical documents showed that al-Serrian had its peak from the ninth to the 13th centuries, but Jiang speculated that a Chinese porcelain piece he found was produced in Fujian province during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

“It shows that the boom period of al-Serrian might have been much longer,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said conclusions can only be reached after excavation. The final report will be published in Chinese, Arabic and English, he added.

Some tombstones also were found, but the writing on them needs further study, Jiang said.

Traditional methods and new technologies will be combined for the research, he said. For instance, drone aerial photography, digital mapping and 3-D virtual reconstruction of the port will be used, in addition to a trawl survey of port ruins and cultural relics that are under the water.

In the early 15th century, Chinese explorer Zheng He led seven expeditionary voyages across the Indian Ocean. During the last voyage, from 1430-33, seven Muslim sailors in the fleet set off from India, passed al-Serrian and finally reached Mecca for Hajj, Jiang added.

“They recorded their journey in detail, which offered a crucial reference in studying communication between China and the Arabian Peninsula,” he said. “Archaeological works and historical records are interconnected.”

More than 20 joint international archaeological projects are being conducted in Saudi Arabia, Jiang said, and Germany and Italy also have recently conducted underwater excavations in the area.

“The region is now a popular destination for global academic research,” he said. “China also needs to better use its expertise promoting cross-border cooperation in the cultural heritage field to echo the Belt and Road Initiative.”

The archaeological project is part of a Sino-Saudi cultural heritage cooperation agreement signed during President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in January 2016.

Following the agreement, a large exhibition, Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, which displayed hundreds of artifacts from 15 Saudi museums, was held from December 2016 to March 2017 at the National Museum of China in Beijing. The two countries’ state leaders attended the event’s closing ceremony.

A major exhibition of Chinese cultural heritage will be opened later this year in Saudi Arabia. Jiang said that some artifacts unearthed during the upcoming excavation in al-Serrian will probably be included in the exhibits.

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