The Place: Al-Okhdood, a historic site in Saudi Arabia’s Najran

14/03/20

Photo/Saudi Tourism

Al-Okhdood and the story of its people are mentioned in the Buruj chapter of the Holy Qur’an
The archaeological gem of Al-Okhdood in southwestern Saudi Arabia dates back more than 2,000 years. The historic site in Najran is rich with artifacts and remnants of ancient drawings and engravings on stones, which include depictions of a human hand, a horse, a camel and snakes. The remains of a mosque can also be seen.

Al-Okhdood and the story of its people are mentioned in the Buruj chapter of the Holy Qur’an, which refers to a Jewish Himyarite king burning alive thousands of his citizens for converting to Christianity.
This photograph was taken by Abdul Aziz Alarify as part of the Colors of Saudi Competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Gem of history, Diriyah is ‘gateway’ to future of Saudi Arabia

22/02/20

Behind the scenes: The ladies taking a commemorative photo in Diriyah. Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s employees feel a sense of pride, nurturing their county and showcasing its history. (AN photo)

  • Danielle Atkins: ‘If you want to see Vision 2030 in 2020 just come to my office. DGDA really does embody Vision 2030 in 2020’

One of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects and most beloved sites is the home of the founding fathers, Diriyah.

In one year, it has played host to Russian President Vladimir Putin, numerous delegates and was the prime location for Formula E, but behind all the glitz and glamour, a team of Saudis are working hard to make it a major tourist destination.

Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), is going local with its employees — 278 out of 355 are Saudi, with 45 from Diriyah. The employees feel a sense of pride, nurturing their county and showcasing its history.

Established in July 2017, the DGDA aims to preserve the culture of Diriyah, celebrate its community, and make it a landmark that celebrates Saudi Arabia.

Considered one of the Kingdom’s most important historical sites and the capital of the first Saudi state, Diriyah is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif, a mud-brick city that stands as the birthplace of the first Saudi state.

“Diriyah has a special place in my heart because it’s the home of my forefathers. It’s an honor for me to add to their legacy and to improve upon this cartel of history that is so full of meaning,” said Princess Al-Johara Al-Saud, the DGDA’s branded content and collaboration officer, to Arab News. “I am privileged to be part of a team that’s sole focus is to give Diriyah its proper place as the jewel of the Kingdom.”

FASTFACTS

  • Diriyah Gate Development Authority was established in July 2017 to preserve Diriyah’s culture, celebrate its community and make Diriyah known globally as a landmark that celebrates Saudi culture and history.
  • Diriyah highlights the architectural, diplomatic and artistic legacy of Saudi Arabia.
  • Diriyah is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif, a mud-brick city that stands as the birthplace of the first Saudi state.

Merging past, present, and future, “Diriyah is the gateway of the future of Saudi Arabia,” said Danielle Atkins, chief of marketing and communications officer at the DGDA. She said that the team were all young and Saudi, and “if you want to see vision 2030 in 2020 just come to my office. The DGDA really does embody Vision 2030 in 2020.”

Al-Johara was one of Atkins’ first hires. “I feel empowered and supported, working alongside so many prominent women in the marketing team,” she said. “We all feel so proud to be contributing to the preservation and promotion of Diriyah, under the umbrella of Vision 2030 and the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. His mission to enable women in Saudi Arabia has driven us to push forward and to play an instrumental role in making the vision a reality in 2020.”

The marketing team at DGDA, headed by Atkins, is composed of 31 employees, 18 of whom are women. Atkins’ goal is to empower Saudi women and to have them as confident leaders taking the reins.

One of the DGDA’s initiatives is its graduate program. Launched in November 2019, 19 people enrolled, 79 percent of whom were females. The students are expected to complete the program by November 2020, with the possibility of joining the DGDA as full-time team members.

Haifa Al-Ruwaished is currently in the graduate program, and being from Diriyah, she says it was an honor to be able to work alongside passionate and enthusiastic members serving both her county and country.

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the DGDA, said: “This is such an inspiring time for Saudi youth, especially women, and we are proud to play our part. We are passionate about giving back to the communities of Diriyah and knew that we needed to start with the talent of tomorrow. The graduates from Diriyah that have become part of the DGDA are already stars and I’m confident they will take important roles in shaping the future of the Kingdom. We are especially proud that a majority of the graduates who have joined are women.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Centuries-old Ibrahim Palace in Hofuf an Islamic architectural gem

Time: 15 February, 2020

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • The palace, which was built on commercial route with links to the rest of the world, has come to symbolize the wealth of the region

Built almost 500 years ago, Ibrahim Palace in Hofuf is one of Al-Ahsa region’s most significant landmarks.
The palace includes several military watchtowers. It was said to have been renamed after Ibrahim bin Afysan, an architect who renovated the structure in 1801.
Covering more than 16,500 square meters, the palace combines modern and Islamic architectural styles typical of the time.
Inside is Al-Quba Mosque, which has a single dome resting on top of the entire building, a unique style in Saudi Arabia at the time.
The palace, which was built on commercial route with links to the rest of the world, has come to symbolize the wealth of the region.
King Abdul Aziz added a new dimension to the palace when he ruled Al-Ahsa in 1913, fortifying the structure with Islamic domes and huge, military-style towers, as well as soldiers’ barracks in the palace’s eastern wing.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s most romantic gem Previous

Time: 12 February, 2020

Offering a rich plethora of cultural, historical and adventurous experiences, AlUla is a great new place for die-hard romantics, one that is literally on the doorsteps of all Saudis. (Shutterstock)
  • Rich with historic culture, mystery and romantic landscapes, AlUla is the perfect getaway

JEDDAH: As far as romantic destinations go, there’s nothing more romantic than the beautiful landscape of AlUla; with its mesmerizing mountain carvings and rock tombs, the mystical ancient land is an experience on its own.

Offering a rich plethora of cultural, historical and adventurous experiences, it is a great new place for die-hard romantics, one that is literally on the doorsteps of all Saudis.

Though it will officially open in October 2020, couples can still enjoy the wonders of the area by attending this year’s Winter at Tantora festival.

Hundreds of thousands of years of history serve as a backdrop to pop up restaurants, luxury hotels, excursions and desert adventures.

Resorts in AlUla are surrounded by mountains and vast deserts — the perfect place for a couple to enjoy a quiet and unique experience for Valentine’s Day.

This weekend, the world-renowned theater company, Caracalla, will perform “Jamil and Buthainah — A Love Legend from the Oasis of AlUla” at the Maraya Concert Hall. It is a story of love and loss penned by classical local AlUla poet, Jamil Buthainah.

The performance is fitting for the weekend as the storyline will come alive through music, dance and theater.

There are a number of restaurants in AlUla such as Sass Cafe that serves Italian, French and Mediterranean dishes, burgers from Salt, Michelin-starred chefs at Annabel’s, La Cantine du Faubourg and, and more for visitors to enjoy different tastes throughout a romantic weekend getaway.

For a unique hiking experience, there are two trails. The Arabian Leopard trail and the Lost Knight trail are between 2-3 hours that will take visitors to locations where they can discover the region’s natural heritage, flora and geological formations as well as sites where they can view historical inscriptions and more.

Looking for a little more adventure, nothing gets the heart beating like a zip line adventure. Measuring at 880 meters long and standing over 1200 meters above sea level over the Harrat — dormant volcanic fields located nearby — you can fly over the region at over 90 kilometers an hour reaching the landing area in less than a minute. Short and exhilarating, it is a fun and entertaining way to add thrill to the romantic weekend.

A journey to AlUla is not complete without a visit to Jabal Ikmah rock art, the site for the Lihyanite civilization. At Hegra, the capital of the Nabataean civilization, visitors will be transported in time to a golden age of a flourishing city with the large carved rock tombs of their kings as a backdrop.

Rich with historic culture, mystery and romantic landscapes, AlUla is the perfect getaway for a quick and once in a lifetime experience.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Saudi Arabia’s historic Uqair seaport

08/02/20

The port has seen the launch of Islamic armies that conquered Persia, India and reached the borders of China. (Photo/Saudi Tourism)

Uqair was the first seaport in the Arabian Gulf and is located in Al-Ahsa governorate on the east coast of Saudi Arabia. It is an archaeological site that connects with many adjacent historic features in the area.

When the Kingdom was established, Uqair was its economic gateway, and the main port through which to access the east and the middle of the country. Its historic position was strengthened due to the political agreements established during the reign of King Abdul Aziz. There are old buildings such as the governorate center, customs building and the mosque.

The port has seen the launch of Islamic armies that conquered Persia, India and reached the borders of China.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Jabal Tallan Museum in Jazan — a witness to authenticity and legacy

Time: 01 February, 2020

  • The Jazan Mountains are host to more than 54,000 coffee trees farmed by 600 farmers, annually producing 300 tons of their beans
  • Al-Dayer province is a major tourist destination in Jazan

AL-DAYER: Owned by Gebran Al-Alaili Al-Maliki, Jabal Tallan Museum is a milestone in the cultural and tourism movement sweeping the mountainous provinces of Jazan region.
Although it is a private museum, it contains 8,000 rare artifacts, showcasing the legacy of the past.
The one-story, round-shaped museum features a number of coffee tools, cooking utensils, some leather goods, women’s clothing, a collection of ancient weapons used in wars and some stone tools.
During the coffee festival annually held by the province, a large turnout of visitors flock to the pavilion eager to learn about the artifacts, which include many pots and agricultural tools, as well as daggers and household mattresses used by past inhabitants of the mountain.
The owner of the museum said that it took him 32 years to collect his artifacts in an attempt to preserve the relics of the mountain sector of Jazan, which nearly disappeared.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Dayer Bani Malek province in the Jazan region is characterized by its stone castles and fortresses and agricultural terraces that produce the finest coffee.
It is also home for the first football field carved from the rock, making the province an important touristic and economic hub.
Castles and stone forts housing artifacts and rock inscriptions are spread across the peaks and in the flanks of the mountains of the province.
These installations were built in a unique design and rare geometric form, some of which date back to the pre-Islamic era.
Al-Dayer province is also specialized in cultivating coffee trees that produce high quality Khoulani coffee, one of the world’s finest varieties.
The Jazan Mountains are host to more than 54,000 coffee trees farmed by 600 farmers, annually producing 300 tons of their delicious beans.
The province celebrates its coffee trees by holding a festival attended by the governor of the region, some officials and people interested in coffee from around the world.
Al-Dayer province is a major tourist destination in Jazan thanks to its wonderful views, charming nature and appealing high-peaked green mountains.
It is the largest mountain province of Jazan, with a population of about 100,000 spread across 420 villages.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Kfar Mosque, Saudi Arabia’s Hail region

18/01/20

Kfar Mosque. (Photo/SPA)
  • Due to its strategic importance, the mosque has been renovated several times, with improvements and additions.

With space for 400 worshippers, it is one of the most prominent mosques in the Hail region.
Also known as Al-Hameed Mosque, it was built in 1915 and named Al-Hameed after its neighborhood location. Its architecture is similar to other buildings of the era with construction in mud and stone, and a ceiling made of wooden squares, timber and palm leaves.
Due to its strategic importance, the mosque has been renovated several times, with improvements and additions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s visit puts Saudi Arabia’s AlUla treasures in focus

13/01/20

The ancient Nabataean city of Hegra in the AlUla Valley, a center of power at the core of the trade routes across the Arabian Peninsula, dates, like its famous twin city Petra, in Jordan, from around the fourth century BC. (Supplied)
  • Visit is Abe’s last stop in his visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman
  • Arab News has created an interactive titled “The Rebirth of AlUla” in both English and Japanese

RIYADH: The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tour of AlUla during his visit to Saudi Arabia casts a spotlight on the ancient Nabataean site as it prepares to open its doors to the public later this year.

AlUla, the last stop in Abe’s visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman, is full of archaeological treasures nestling amid beautiful desert landscapes.

Saudi Arabia’s move to open up Hegra city and the AlUla Valley is restoring a missing chapter in the history of the Arabian Peninsula and the entire world.

Bearing the name Mada’in Salih in the post- Islamic era, the lost city of Hegra was built by the Nabataeans, like its famous twin Petra in Jordan. They controlled the profitable trade routes that crossed the Arabian Peninsula from east to west and north to south from about the fourth century BC to 106 AD.

Arab News has created an interactive “The Rebirth of AlUla” — arabnews.com/alula — that dives deep into its history, blending compelling storytelling and journalism with stunning video footage, beautiful photography, animated graphics and rare footage and interviews – in both English and Japanese.

“The Rebirth of AlUla” throws light on the work of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), established in 2017, which is working with the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula) on “the transformation of the AlUla region into a worldwide cultural and touristic destination.”

The site is currently hosting the second Winter at Tantora festival, a spectacular celebration of art, music and heritage that is drawing the world once again to AlUla from Dec. 19 to March 7.

Over 12 weekends of festivities, visitors are being treated to an eclectic mix of performers, including the Gipsy Kings, Lionel Richie, Enrique Iglesias, Craig David and Jamiroquai.

Returning to Winter at Tantora will be Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Greek pianist Yanni and Egyptian composer Omar Khairat.

The festival is also showcasing the newly constructed Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla, which is surrounded by mountains, combining modernism and antiquity.

The concert hall was built as an architectural extension of the environment that surrounds it at its site in Ashar, situated in the volcanic foothills of Harrat ‘Uwayrid.

In 2007, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, under its Secretary-General Prince Sultan bin Salman, nominated AlUla for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The application was accepted, and Hegra became the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Leaders magazine in February 2019, the RCU’s CEO Amr Al-Madani said AlUla is “full of archaeological treasures from the Dadanite, Nabataean, Roman and Islamic civilizations, nestled amongst the staggeringly beautiful desert landscapes.”

A cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the nation’s sustainable development, the project aims to create opportunities for the community and boost the local economy in AlUla.

Afalula will support the growth of infrastructure, archaeology and tourism in the area, with the aim of attracting 2 million visitors per year to the site by 2035, in the process creating 35,000 jobs for the residents of AlUla.

The RCU’s task is to contribute SR120 billion ($32 billion) to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2035. It currently employs 374 people, of which 134 are based in AlUla.

The RCU is also engaging the local community through programs such as Hammaya, in which 2,500 residents will train to be advocates for AlUla’s natural and human heritage.

The emphasis on local identity and heritage is unmistakable. About a 45-minute drive from Hegra is the Sharaan Nature Reserve, a territory of 925 sq. km within AlUla that features some of the region’s most striking rock formations and desert habitats, managed by local rangers trained by international specialists.

“We’ve reintroduced Idmi gazelles, Nubian ibexes and red-necked ostriches into the reserve, and they’re thriving and doing well,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Malki, head of the reserve.

The Arabian leopard may soon follow. In April this year, two cubs were born as part of a breeding program to preserve and eventually reintroduce the critically endangered species back into the wild in northwest Saudi Arabia.

Central to AlUla’s vision is the incorporation of art and cultural initiatives. The RCU’s cultural manifesto says: “AlUla will become known worldwide as a place to dream, where the greatest artists and thinkers of our time gather to stretch their creative capabilities and realize some of their most ambitious artworks and arts experiences — an evolving cultural crossroads for today and the future.”

Just as the caravans of antiquity once came to trade in this land, so AlUla, with an ancient Hegra reborn, will once again attract travelers from all corners of the world.

This article was first published in Arab News

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