The Journey Through Time: A master plan for preserving and sustainably developing Saudi Arabia’s ancient AlUla

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A panoramic view of the Dadan District. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), unveiled The Journey Through Time - the latest plan for the region. (Supplied)
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AlUla Old Town district - the Perspectives Galleries. (Supplied)
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The Nabataean Theatre in the Nabataean District. (Supplied)
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The viewing deck in the Jabal Ikmah District. (Supplied)
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The Kingdoms Institute in the Dadan District. (Supplied)
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The Interpretive Center in the Jabal Ikmah District. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 April 2021

The Journey Through Time: A master plan for preserving and sustainably developing Saudi Arabia’s ancient AlUla

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says The Journey Through Time will “advance our understanding of 200,000 years of heritage”
  • The RCU expects AlUla, once completed, to attract two million visitors every year and create 38,000 new local jobs by 2035

LONDON: Until now few have been privileged to visit the ancient city of Hegra, hewn from the rocks of the Hijaz in northwestern Saudi Arabia over two millennia ago and lost for centuries in the mists of time.

Like its famous twin Petra, some 460 km north in modern-day Jordan, Hegra was created by the Nabataeans, a mysterious people whose Arabian empire of trade flared briefly but brightly more than 2,000 years ago.

But now, as Saudi Arabia increasingly opens its doors to the outside world, the Kingdom is poised to share with that world one of the great forgotten treasures of antiquity.




Nabataean tombs in AlUla. (Supplied)

After more than a decade of one of the most intensive archaeological investigations ever undertaken, Hegra is to be the jewel in the crown of a plan to transform the dramatic landscape and heritage of the AlUla region into a natural and cultural oasis that will once again see visitors from around the world drawn to this important ancient crossroads.

On Wednesday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), unveiled The Journey Through Time, the latest development rooted in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the nation’s future.

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 Journey Through Time master plan is a leap forward to sustainably and responsibly develop AlUla, and share our cultural legacy with the world.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

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.

The Journey Through Time master plan was developed under the leadership of the crown prince and the guidance of Prince Badr, the Saudi minister of culture and governor of the RCU. Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the RCU, told Arab News the master plan has been envisioned “as a way to capture the deep-rooted essence of what AlUla already is — an oasis of unique culture, heritage, nature and community — while curating a timeless legacy with stories of the past to inform the future and open new chapters in AlUla’s unfolding history.”




The Journey Through Time master plan was developed under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) and the guidance of Prince Badr (L), the Saudi minister of culture and governor of the RCU. (AN Photo Ziyad Alarfaj/AFP/File Photos)

Five districts, each focused on a particular heritage site and strung out along the spectacular AlUla valley, will together tell the story of the past two millennia.

The districts will be connected by a 20 km Wadi of Hospitality, a “green pedestrian spine” which, together with a 46 km low-carbon tramline that will connect the five sites to AlUla International Airport, will follow part of the route used for centuries by pilgrims and, in the early part of the 20th century, by the historic Hijaz Railway.

A network of trails snaking through the green valley will also allow visitors to explore on foot, or by bicycle or horse.




The Nabataean District - Hegra Museum. (Supplied)

The Journey Through Time begins in the south of the valley at the Old Town district, the site of an abandoned mudbrick settlement 17 km south of Hegra. The Old Town was occupied until the 1980s, when the occupants abandoned it for the comforts of the newly built modern-day AlUla, a few kilometers to the south. Today it is an intriguing and haunting labyrinthine ghost town.

From AlUla Old Town, visitors will journey north toward District 2, site of the ancient city of Dadan, a predecessor to Hegra. Between 600 and 200 B.C. it flourished as the capital of the mysterious Dadanite and Lihyanite kingdoms, whose fortunes rested on their control of the incense trade routes that passed through the valley.

 

District 3, Jabal Ikmah, an “open-air library” of petroglyphs, will give visitors a first glimpse of the thousands of ancient rock-art sites and inscriptions to be found throughout the valley and beyond.

The next stop on the Journey Through Time will be District 4, The Nabataean Horizon, a cluster of cultural assets mirroring Nabataean architecture and the perfect curtain-raiser for the last and most spectacular of the five districts: The ancient city of Hegra, which in 2007 became Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.




The AlUla low carbon experiential trams. (Supplied)

Hegra is situated on a large plain southeast of the Hijaz Mountains, studded with hills of sandstone, isolated or grouped together to form massifs that have been dramatically sculpted by the northwesterly winds that have blown through the region every spring and early summer since the dawn of time.

The winds have also created strange and evocative shapes, such as the three-storey rock 10 km northeast of the modern town of AlUla, sculpted over millions of years to resemble an elephant.

In the center of the site, once served by the 130 wells driven into the rock that made possible the sprawling oasis that supported the ancient city, is the former residential area. Although very little remains above the surface of buildings that were made in antiquity largely from mud bricks, geophysical surveys have revealed tantalizing evidence of underground structures, while parts of the city wall can still be seen with the naked eye.

But without doubt the stars of Hegra are the necropolises that surround the residential area — cities of the dead, featuring more than 90 monumental tombs carved out of the rocks surrounding and overlooking the former city of the living, and dating from about 1 B.C. to A.D. 75.




The stars of Hegra are the necropolises that surround the residential area — cities of the dead, featuring more than 90 monumental tombs. (Supplied)

Of the four main necropolises, Qasr Al-Bint, home to 31 tombs dated from the year nought to A.D. 58, is the most visually dramatic — both from a distance and up close. The exterior facades of many of the tombs here feature carved monsters, eagles, other small sculpted animals and human faces.

As at Petra, which was also created by the Nabataeans, many of the tombs at Hegra feature spectacular carved facades. However, unlike at Petra, many of the facades also carry dated Nabataean inscriptions, in many cases naming the dead and offering unique insights into the lives of the people who once called Hegra home.

The master plan envisages 15 “cultural assets” that will act as landmarks throughout the five districts. These will include galleries, museums, an oasis living garden and, in a salute to AlUla’s role as a crossroads of ancient trade routes, an incense road market.

Education and the acquisition of knowledge will play a key part in the development. In addition to research centers focused on the ancient sites of Dadan and Jabal Ikmah, a flagship component of the plan is The Kingdoms Institute, a global hub for archaeological knowledge and research dedicated to the cultures and civilizations that have inhabited the area for more than 7,000 years.

An ongoing archaeological survey of the entire 22,000 sq km AlUla region has already identified over 23,000 sites of archaeological interest.

Another key part of the development will be the revival of the Cultural Oasis at the heart of the AlUla valley.

“Through research and innovative solutions from water management to irrigation and land use, the replenishment of the cultural oasis will be a key element of the Journey Through Time master plan,” Al-Madani told Arab News.

“The most intense regeneration efforts will focus on the 9 km heart of the ancient oasis — the ‘green lung’ of AlUla connecting Old Town, Dadan, and Jabal Ikmah — and will trigger a major expansion of AlUla’s green and open spaces.”




AlUla - ‘The Cultural Oasis.’ (Supplied)

With the revival of up to 10 million square meters planned, as “a direct response to the challenges of sustainably and responsibly developing a fragile desert environment,” the Journey Through Time master plan will be the world’s largest cultural oasis regeneration project, creating an enchanting haven for visitors and a unique opportunity for sustainable agricultural production.

In addition, 80 percent of AlUla county will be designated as nature reserves, with key flora and fauna to be reintroduced.

Once complete, the RCU expects AlUla to attract two million visitors every year, boosting its goal of contributing SR 120 billion ($32 billion) to the national GDP and creating 38,000 new jobs in the area by 2035.

With a total of 5,000 “hospitality keys” planned as part of an overall target of 9,400 by 2035, many of those jobs will be in tourism and hospitality.

In each of the five districts visitors will be able to choose from a “tailored blend of living and hospitality options,” ranging from hotels and eco-tourism resorts to luxury lodges and “canyon farms” — carved out of the sandstone rocks that once tempted the Nabataeans to settle here.

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

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King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

Updated 14 April 2021

King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

RIYADH: King Salman on Tuesday offered his best wishes to the Muslim world on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan. 
The comments came as the king chaired the weekly government meeting virtually. 
He also instructed that pilgrims be given the best possible services during the holy month, which for a second year will be observed under strict protocols to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus. 

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Muslims perform first Tarawih prayer at Saudi Arabia's Two Holy Mosques

Updated 13 April 2021

Muslims perform first Tarawih prayer at Saudi Arabia's Two Holy Mosques

  • Only vaccinated or immune worshippers will be allowed to enter the Two Holy Mosques
  • Tarawih and Qiyaam prayers will be combined with the Isha prayer in all mosques across the Kingdom

RIYADH: Worshippers performed the first Tarawih prayer at the Two Holy Mosques on Monday amid strict COVID-19 measures.
King Salman issued a decision on Sunday approving the evening prayer in mosques across the Kingdom during the month of Ramadan, but that they be reduced and combined with the Isha prayer.
Only vaccinated or immune worshippers will be allowed to enter the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and those who do not have a permit will face a hefty fine in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques said it had intensified disinfection and sterilization operations, and is distributing single-use Zamzam water bottles to the prayer halls, areas, squares and to visitors, in general.
The authority said it had recruited more than 100 personnel to welcome worshippers at entrances and direct them to designated places and installed screening points. Thermal cameras have been set up to detect any signs of illness among those entering the mosques.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs said it has completed all preparations for the Muslim holy month. The program includes a number of projects, namely distributing dates through Islamic centers and religious attaches in a number of countries, the King Salman break fast initiative in 16 countries, campaigns to limit the spread of the coronavirus in mosques, as well as a series of virtual lectures throughout the month.
The ministry also issued a circular to all mosques, calling on imams and muezzins to commit the Maghrib and Isha prayers to a two-hour period throughout Ramadan. It also said that the waiting period between the call to prayer and Iqama (the start of the prayer) will be 10 minutes, except for the Fajr prayer, which will be 20 minutes.


Saudi female elected first president of Digital Cooperation Organization

Updated 13 April 2021

Saudi female elected first president of Digital Cooperation Organization

  • It is estimated that by 2025 the global digital economy will be worth $23 trillion with a GDP share of 24.3 percent

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia was elected president of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) and Saudi national Deemah Alyahya was appointed the first secretary-general of the organization during its first meeting on Monday.
The organization also approved the accession of Nigeria and Oman to the organization as founding members.
The first five members of DCO included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and Pakistan.
The seven member states constitute an economic bloc worth $2 trillion of the global gross domestic product.
The first meeting was chaired by Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha. Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Communication Union, GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef Al-Hajraf, World Economic Forum President Borge Brende and representatives of different UN programs also attended the meeting.
The meeting approved several initiatives including establishment of a center to boost coordination on transfer of data, women’s empowerment and promotion of small and medium enterprises with a focus on digital transformation.
The DCO aims to strengthen collaboration among member nations as they adapt to a global economy increasingly defined by technological innovation.
Through this initiative, the member states could establish solid cooperation in the emerging fields of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, IoT, big data, 5G, cloud computing, and blockchain.
It is estimated that by 2025 the global digital economy will be worth $23 trillion with a GDP share of 24.3 percent. This provides the DCO with a great opportunity to build a platform for their tech-savvy youth, women, entrepreneurs, and indigenous industry to flourish and compete with their global contemporaries and boost their digital competitiveness.
In addition, member states can harness their expertise and share experience to strengthen efforts for preparing for global crises such as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.


Hajj ministry announces guidelines for Umrah, Ramadan prayers

Updated 12 April 2021

Hajj ministry announces guidelines for Umrah, Ramadan prayers

  • Taraweeh, Qiyam prayers should not exceed 30 minutes in all mosques
  • Prayer permits will not be provided for unvaccinated individuals, Hajj ministry says

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has set guidelines and protocols for issuing Umrah and prayer permits for the month of Ramadan. 
Vaccinations are at the top of the priority list as no worshippers are allowed into either Makkah’s Grand Mosque or Madinah’s Prophet’s Mosque without having received at least one dose of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
Permits will only be allowed through the Tawakkalna and Eatmarna apps, and will not be provided for unvaccinated individuals, as the latest Tawkkalna update has designated each category with a color code and barcode specific to their health status.
Unauthorized vehicles will not be allowed in the central region around Makkah, and visitors must arrive on time or risk losing their time slot.
Children will not be allowed to enter either mosques, nor the courtyards around the mosques.

HIGHLIGHT

Permits will only be allowed through the Tawakkalna and Eatmarna apps, and will not be provided for unvaccinated individuals, as the latest Tawkkalna update has designated each category with a color code and barcode specific to their health status.

The Ministry of Interior issued a warning that a SR10,000 ($26,671) fine will be issued to pilgrims wishing to perform Umrah without permits, and a SR1,000 fine for worshippers trying to enter the mosques without one.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance issued a statement saying that Taraweeh and Qiyam prayers should not exceed 30 minutes in all mosques in the Kingdom. This comes after King Salman issued a decision to permit Taraweeh prayers in the two holy mosques and reduce them to five tasleemat.
The ministry reminded people for the need to follow the preventive measures to ensure the safety, health and security of those visiting the two holy mosques.


Ramadan 2021 will start on Tuesday: Saudi Arabia

Updated 13 April 2021

Ramadan 2021 will start on Tuesday: Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Nearly 2 billion Muslims worldwide will mark the first day of Ramadan on Tuesday after an official sighting of the new crescent moon, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court said on Monday evening.

The court extended its best wishes to King Salman, the crown prince, citizens and expatriates in the Kingdom, and all Muslims on the advent of the holy month.

For a second year, Ramadan in Saudi Arabia will be observed under coronavirus precautions.

“The month of Ramadan is upon us and the world is suffering from the coronavirus pandemic,” King Salman said.

“We thank God for the scientific efforts in developing vaccines to curb the pandemic.”

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman approves Tarawih prayers in Two Holy Mosques Read more here.

Preventive measures remain in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus during Ramadan. Only vaccinated or immune worshippers will be allowed to enter the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, and pilgrims who try to perform Umrah at the Grand Mosque in Makkah without a permit will face a fine of up to 10,000 riyals.

Nevertheless, with more than 6 million people already vaccinated, more people will be able to attend the holy sites than a year ago, and many Saudi families are looking forward to a more “normal” Ramadan after a year of restrictions.

READ MORE

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers Read more here.

Rahaf Hussain and her husband Abdullah Al-Rashidi both have families in Jeddah but live in the Eastern Province. They have made it their mission this Ramadan to spend as much holiday time together as they can for the sake of their children.

The couple have planned careful iftar gatherings of no more than 20 people this year, in line with official recommendations.

“This year, we plan on a COVID-free Ramadan,” Hussain told Arab News. “We got our vaccines, and we are still wearing masks and constantly washing our hands.

“We were deprived of our families, and we lost some dear ones. Our Ramadan gatherings last year were spent on screens, but I’m making sure that won’t happen this year. We’re sticking to the rules.”

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