Why the marble flooring of Saudi Arabia’s Two Holy Mosques remains cool even in summer

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The marble floor of the Grand Mosque in Makkah serves a practical purpose, helping regulate temperatures. (AFP file)
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The marble floor of the Grand Mosque in Makkah serves a practical purpose, helping regulate temperatures. (AFP file)
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A view of the Holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, with the Makkah Tower Clock in the background. (AFP file)
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Updated 14 April 2023
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Why the marble flooring of Saudi Arabia’s Two Holy Mosques remains cool even in summer

  • Stone from particular island in Greece scientifically proven to have natural, self-cooling properties
  • The Saudi leadership has imported Thassos marble for use in the Two Holy Mosques since 1978

MAKKAH: For centuries, the Two Holy Mosques at Makkah and Madinah have welcomed pilgrims from across the world. To the pleasant surprise of visitors, the glistening white marble floor that surrounds the Kaaba in Makkah remains cool beneath their feet, even during the hottest days.

While some have claimed that hidden cold-water pipes under the floor are responsible for its coolness, the real reason lies in the mosque’s unique choice of building material.

Marble from Thassos, an eastern Greek island near Kavala in the Aegean Sea, has one of the rarest characteristics ever found in the stone. Due to its pure white appearance and high reflection of light, Thassos marble — sometimes called “snow white” marble — has one of the lowest heat absorbances of any marble.




Marble quarry on Thasos island, northern Greece. (Dr Peter Tzeferis via Wikimedia Commons)

The stone has been quarried from the island since ancient times, and is still used all over Greece today. It has formed the walls, floors, and statues of some of history’s greatest sites, including the ancient Macedonian tomb at Amphipolis (the largest ever discovered in Greece) and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The stone’s unique properties see its frequent use in luxury villas and interior decoration, though it does not come cheap. Individual tiles can range between $250 and $400 per square meter, according to Indian marble supplier RMS Marble.




Marble mined at a quarry in Thassos, Greece, is one of its most impressive features of the floor of the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (Shutterstock)

For decades, Saudi Arabia has imported the unique dolomitic marble for exclusive use at the Two Holy Mosques to provide relief and avoid unsafe surface temperatures, as mosque visitors are required to enter barefoot.

Undersecretary-general for technical, operational, and maintenance affairs at the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, Eng. Fares Al-Saedi, told Arab News that Thassos marble is characterized by its extreme coldness, despite intense heat that may reach 50-55 C in the summer months.




Pilgrims use umbrellas to protect themselves from the extreme hear during summer, but on the marble floor they need no protection. (AFP file)

Al-Saedi added that the Kingdom’s leadership decided to import the self-cooling stone for the construction of wide yards and open spaces where millions of pilgrims pass annually.

Al-Saedi explained that the General Presidency supervises marble maintenance work across the area by treating, restoring, and then polishing the marble or replacing old and unusable tiles.

“Maintenance is carried out 24/7 by over 40 engineers and technicians … each marble slab is five centimeters thick, and what makes it stand out is its ability to absorb moisture through its delicate pores during the night and release that moisture during the day, making it cooler under high temperatures,” he said.

According to a study published in the international journal Construction and Building Materials in 2021, the thermophysical features of the stone both reflect and dissipate solar insolation heat.




Crates of high quality marbles from Thassos ready for shipping. (Courtesy of Thassosmarbles)

The study found that Thassos marble has an uncommonly high level of high solar reflectance and a high rate of thermal conductivity relative to limestone, another stone commonly used in Islamic architecture.

Collectively, these properties have proven to be capable of sustaining cool surface temperatures even during hot summer periods, and provide an overall reduction in night-time convective shedding of thermal energy into the overlying atmosphere.

At the same time, the marble adds to the mosques’ artistic ambiance, which provides an exceptionally memorable experience.

Another study carried out by a joint Saudi-Egyptian team and published in the Arabian Journal of Geosciences in 2018 referred to the marble as “heat-dissipating smart marble,” attributing its high whiteness purity to the stone’s dolomite-rich crystal formation.




White marble blocks ready for slicing. (Courtesy of Thassosmarbles)

Writer and heritage researcher Abdullah Al-Batati told Arab News that the unroofed and paved stone floor of the mataf (the place where pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba) was slightly curved and filled with pebbles and stones smaller than the size of a bean before the pavement.

“Omar Ibn Al-Khattab was the first to stone the Mosque’s floor after the expansion of the mataf in 119 AH (737-738 AD); during the reign of Al-Walid bin Abdul-Malik, the mataf was covered in marble. In 145 AH (762-763 AD), the old floor was covered in marble in the era of Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour, and was tiled with marble in the era of Abbasid Caliphate in 284 AH (896-897 AD),” said Al-Batati.

“In 1003 AH (1594-1595 AD), flint stones were replaced with alabaster stones, while white bright marble covered the mataf’s floor in 1006 AH (1597-1598 AD) during the reign of Sultan Mohammad Khan. In 1344 AH (1925-1926 AD).”

He noted that during the reign of King Saud, the old marble tiles were removed from the old mataf, and the new mataf was leveled and paved. The two were separated by a dividing line of black marble which was brought in from several quarries across Saudi Arabia.




Undated view of the Holy Kaaba at the Makkah Grand Mosque crowded with pilgrims. (AN file)

Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University, told Arab News that King Abdulaziz carried out expansions at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque, which lasted until King Khalid’s reign in the 1970s and 1980s. The latter issued an order to expand the Grand Mosque in its current form and tile its floor with heat-resistant marble imported from Greece in 1978.

King Khalid ordered the tiling of Makkah’s Holy Mosque using heat-resistant white marble to level the site and remove pebble stones so that the mataf could comfortably accommodate the increasing number of worshippers and pilgrims.

“The second expansion of the Grand Mosque occurred between 1985 and 1986 during King Fahd’s reign, who also ordered the tiling of the courtyard around the Kaaba and the squares surrounding the Grand Mosque using cold white marble in a circular and lined manner, making it suitable for prayers,” Hawsawi told Arab News.

In continuation of past expansion projects, King Salman continued developing the services of the two Holy Mosques, as he ordered the completion of the third expansion, in addition to developing many projects, according to Hawsawi.




Cranes are seen in the background at construction sites behind Makkah's Grand Mosque on December 4, 2008 as Muslims from all over the world flocked to Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP file)

Hawsawi stated that the marble is imported from Thassos in the form of large blocks of stone, which are then processed and manufactured in the Kingdom’s factories by the Binladen Group, a leading contracting company supervising the construction and development of Makkah’s mosques.

“Engineers and technicians carry out regular inspection visits and maintenance works with high proficiency, and marble tiles that are no longer in good condition and have lost their coolness characteristics are replaced with new ones. The type of marble is natural, and neither the Kingdom nor Greece inserts any additives, nor does it have any impurities.

“This type of marble is rare and expensive; a single marble piece is five centimeters thick, 120 centimeters long and 60 centimeters wide. It absorbs moisture and cold at night through its pores to preserve them during the day. Thus, the surfaces of the Grand Mosque remain moderately cool all year long and for everyone to enjoy,” Hawsawi said.

 


How resumption of movie screening provided a global platform for local Saudi talent

Updated 23 April 2024
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How resumption of movie screening provided a global platform for local Saudi talent

  • Since cinemas reopened six years ago across the Kingdom, cumulative box office revenues are approaching the $1 billion mark
  • The Red Sea Film Foundation and the Saudi Film Fund support homegrown talent through programs and partnerships

RIYADH: This month, Saudi Arabia marks six years of movie screenings after a 35-year gap. Back then, the idea of a flourishing domestic film industry seemed improbable. Today, it has become a reality.

Since cinemas reopened on April 18, 2018, multiplexes have prospered, with accumulative box office revenues hitting almost $1 billion. Even the closures of the pandemic years were not enough to halt the industry’s meteoric rise.

Cities across the Kingdom now boast their own world-class movie theaters, screening the latest international blockbusters, regional hits and domestic productions, while homegrown film-making capability is now routinely spotlighted at local film festivals.

Saudis gather at a cinema theatre in Riyadh on April 30, 2018. (AFP)

With the launch of the Red Sea Film Festival in December 2021 and the establishment in 2020 of the Saudi Film Commission under the Ministry of Culture, many Saudis who were working in production houses overseas are now relocating to the Kingdom.

“The year 2018 marked a significant turning point for Saudi filmmakers and audiences as well,” Saudi film producer Mohammed Al-Turki, who was named CEO of the Red Sea Film Festival in 2022, told Arab News.

“The Saudi box office is growing rapidly. These achievements reflect the filmmakers’ passion for crafting captivating stories that are deeply embedded in our culture and resonate with an engaged local audience.”

The launch of the Red Sea Film Festival in 2021 prompted many Saudis who were working in production houses overseas to relocate to the Kingdom. (Red Sea Film Festival)

Saudi filmmakers are making their mark both locally and internationally. Among them are Tawfiq Al-Zaidi, the Qudus brothers, Ali Al-Kalthami, and Mishal Al-Jasser, said Al-Turki. “All tirelessly striving to deliver their finest work.”

The Red Sea Film Foundation, which was created in 2019 after the cinema ban was lifted, has become a catalyst for the industry’s expansion, staging one of the Middle East’s biggest film festivals in partnership with other major gatherings in the world cinema calendar.

RSFF has developed a variety of programs and initiatives specifically tailored to filmmakers from the Arab world, Africa, and Asia, with a special focus on Saudi filmmakers.

“Our programs include the Red Sea Fund, which offers financial support to film projects at various stages from development through to post-production,” said Al-Turki. “The Red Sea Labs provide a range of training workshops and courses for filmmakers.”

Winners and jury members posing on stage at the end of the second RSFF’s awards ceremony on December 8, 2022. (AFP)

Additionally, the Red Sea Souk acts as a networking hub, providing numerous developmental programs.

“Among our recent successful initiatives is our collaboration with the Series Mania festival, which has enabled several promising Saudi filmmakers to advance their television projects and gain exposure at one of the world’s foremost television festivals,” said Al-Turki.

“We continue to launch many value-adding programs aimed at nurturing rising Saudi talent.”

The Kingdom has established several initiatives to support the industry. Most recently, a SR375 million ($100 million) Saudi Film Fund was unveiled by the government’s Cultural Development Fund in partnership with local investment firm MEFIC Capital and Roaa Media Ventures, a holding company that promotes local media projects and talent.

The fund will collaborate with major international studios to invest in film production that provides content reflecting Saudi culture and values.

Such government initiatives are also spurring the private sector. In 2023, Syed Ali launched 40Films KSA to work with local and international clients.

Ibraheem Alkhairallah on the set of Saudi film “Sattar,” where he portrayed the character of Abdulkhaleq, an undercover officer pretending to be a wrestling coach. (Supplied)

“This cinematic renaissance has made a positive impact on our business, fueling commitment to nurture more and meet the top standards being set daily in the market,” Ali, a Pakistani businessman based in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“The Kingdom is not just a consumer of global cinema; it is a creator, contributing its unique voice to the rich tapestry of world cinema. Saudi filmmakers are narrating stories that captivate audiences both at home and around the globe.” 

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed, who is based between the Kingdom and Germany, says he has also benefited from the boom in the Saudi entertainment industry and will begin working on a film to be shot in the Eastern Province at the end of this year.

The film, titled “Drowning,” will be funded by the Red Sea Film Festival, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and the Saudi Film Commission. “Without this support I would not have been able to shoot the film,” Saeed told Arab News.

“The great developments in the Saudi film industry have greatly contributed to the growth of my work as a young director. Through increased opportunities for collaboration and greater support I have access to resources and support that were previously unavailable to me.”

Two young Saudi film directors have been presented with trophies after winning the second edition of a 48-hour filmmaking challenge. (AN Photo/Ali Khameq)

During the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, the Saudi Film Commission announced an incentive program aimed at transforming the Kingdom into a global hub for film production. This included 40 percent returns for productions that hired local crews, among other initiatives.

The incentive program was announced a few months after the RSFF established the Red Sea Fund to support Arab and African filmmakers and directors. The $10 million fund has backed more than 250 projects since its launch.

It is through schemes such as these that the RSFF aims to foster “cultural connections,” providing a platform for up-and-coming film talent in the Kingdom, said Al-Turki.

The Saudi Film Commission is responsible for numerous initiatives that have helped bolster the Saudi industry at home and abroad by providing young Saudi filmmakers with opportunities.

One example is “Norah,” a Saudi production that will be screened at the 77th Cannes Film Festival this year in its “Un Certain Regard” section. It will be the first time a Saudi movie has been selected for the prestigious festival.

Directed by Saudi Tawfik Alzaidi and produced by American Paul Miller, formerly the head of finance at the Doha Film Institute, the film is the first Saudi movie shot entirely in the AlUla region.

Poster of Saudi movie “Norah.” (Supplied)

Supported by the Red Sea Fund, the film also clinched the top prize of a funding award from the Saudi Film Commission’s Daou Competition — an initiative launched by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture in September 2019 to bolster Saudi film production and nurture the country’s next generation of filmmakers.

Set in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, the film follows Norah, a young Saudi woman who lives in a small village, who is introduced to Nader, an artist. Norah asks him to paint her portrait and soon an artistic relationship develops between them. 

The film, Alzaidi’s debut feature, explores the period of Saudi conservatism and the various forms of art that were banned. It examines how art can facilitate communication between people and foster social change.

In the run-up to the sixth anniversary of the lifting of the cinema ban, the Saudi Film Commission organized the fourth edition of the Gulf Cinema Festival, which ran from April 14 to 18.

This was the first time the festival was managed by a government agency, underlining the recognition of the socio-cultural and economic importance of the film industry for the Kingdom.

The Gulf Cinema Festival brought together several pioneers of Gulf cinema to share their visions and experiences in film production. (Supplied)

In a speech during the opening of the festival, the Film Commission’s CEO Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Qahtani said “this edition of the festival represents a crucial milestone in cultural cooperation among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and embodies our wise leadership’s commitment to enhancing collaboration among us,” according to SPA.

“This festival, which brings us together today, reflects the strong connection between ambition and the cultural strategy of the GCC countries, which play a significant role in enhancing cultural exchange, expanding infrastructure, drawing inspiration from successful experiences, and encouraging Gulf talents to offer more,” he said.

The booming Saudi entertainment industry is also attracting directors from across the world to shoot and produce films in the Kingdom.

Over the last 18 months, the landscapes of NEOM in the Tabuk region have been featured in several international films, including Ruper Wyatt’s “Desert Warrior,” starring Anthony Mackie and Sir Ben Kingsley; “Dunki” directed by Indian filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani starring Shahrukh Khan; the first regional reality TV show “Million Dollar Island;” and the “Rise of the Witches,” the region’s largest-ever budget TV show. 

As deals continue to be made and incentives offered for making movies in Saudi Arabia, the future looks bright not only for domestic movie theaters but also for local, regional and international filmmakers and producers intending to work and collaborate in the Kingdom.

“Despite these accomplishments, this is merely the start,” said Al-Turki. “Saudi cinema has much more to accomplish.”


Saudi FM receives Bahraini counterpart in Riyadh

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan receives his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani in Riyadh.
Updated 23 April 2024
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Saudi FM receives Bahraini counterpart in Riyadh

  • During the meeting, the close relations between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and ways to strengthen them in various fields were reviewed

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani in Riyadh on Tuesday.

During the meeting, the close relations between their countries and ways to strengthen them in various fields were reviewed.

The ministers also discussed the latest regional and international developments and efforts made with regard to them. 


Outer Edge Summit in Riyadh explores AI, digital futures

Updated 24 April 2024
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Outer Edge Summit in Riyadh explores AI, digital futures

  • Experts highlight issues in data ownership and the revolutionary Web3

RIYADH: By owning our data, we will be empowered and safe, says Krista Kim at Outer Edge Innovation Summit on April 23 at The Garage in Riyadh.

Kim spoke in one of the summit’s panel discussions, titled “Web3 and AI for business and smart cities,” which included guest speakers Naif Al-Rabeah, director of Web3 and spatial reality portfolio at NEOM; Eric Pulier, founder & CEO at Vatom Corporation; and Kamal Youssefi, president at the Hashgraph Association.

Outer Edge Innovation Summit brought together some of the biggest names in the blockchain, AI, and gaming ecosystems from all over the world. (AN photos by Abdulrhman Bin Shalhoub)

The Korean Canadian artist has a goal to raise awareness of the importance of each person owning their data: “I believe that data is power. You need to allow people to be empowered by owning their own data and to give them a choice of what projects they want to be involved in.”

Kim highlighted that data ownership “is one of the greatest human rights issues in the 21st century.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Topics at the Outer Edge Innovation Summit in Riyadh include smart cities, gaming, esports, art, culture, and more.

• The panel discussion titled ‘Web3 and AI for business and smart cities’ included guest speaker Naif Al-Rabeah, the director of Web3 and spatial reality portfolio at NEOM.

• Last month, Krista Kim presented ‘Heart Space,’ the first collaborative generative AI biometric artwork in history, commissioned by Julius Baer at Art Dubai.

“Right now, in the Web2 system, our data is taken for free. The companies practice surveillance capitalism and they take your data and they monetize on your free data.”

Scott Lawin, CEO of Candy Digital, a gaming and fan engagement company focused on sports and entertainment, attended the summit to support Web3: “Web3 really gives people that opportunity to authenticate their data and share it in a selective way where necessary. And also benefit from the contribution of that data.”

Krista Kim, Contemporary artist

Lawin attended the panel discussion highlighting the importance of the harmony of web3 and smart cities. Web3 is a term used to describe an idea for the next stage of internet development, which incorporates concepts such as decentralization, blockchain technologies, and token-based economics.

"I’m really excited about the Kingdom’s push forward and support for Web3. And I wanted to come and sort of see it here at first hand and meet the community here."

(Data ownership) is one of the greatest human rights issues in the 21st century.

Krista Kim, Contemporary artist

“As it relates to smart cities, (they) are designed and built around data. And understanding how the personalization of that data can help improve citizens’ lives,” he explained. “But ownership of that data and giving each individual the ability to sort of turn on and turn off the way that data is utilized is also quite important. From a privacy perspective and just a self-determination perspective.”

Meanwhile, Kim hopes to raise awareness of the global issue through personal projects and artistic efforts.

Last month, she presented “Heart Space,” the first collaborative generative AI biometric artwork in history, commissioned by Julius Baer at Art Dubai.

Within the exhibition, visitors take their heartbeat measurements with an app that will create a heart signature to be used an artwork in the immersive space.

“So, you are contributing through your heartbeat to the experience of the artwork, and you have the opportunity to create the NFT of your heart signature on the app,” the artist explained. “This is a project that I'm creating for people to take the first step to create your heart signature and then from that first step, you can start the movement toward that privacy and identity on the chain.”

The line between real and fake is being blurred further, creating ramifications in various fields. “AI can now create fake articles and they can fake your identity ... in three years, AGI (artificial general intelligence) is going to automatically just create stories,” Kim said. “So, we need to differentiate between what is real and what is fake, and also what is made by a human being versus what is made by the machine.”

Technology can be used to its advantage. Blockchain provides a solution of creating verification for newspapers, journalists and online media outlets, Kim says.

Speaking about how it works, she added: “On-chain media is very important, so that you can see the verification of this story on the blockchain. To bring it a step further — biometrics. So, your heart signature that I spoke about, as a journalist, you can use your heart signature to sign your story online.”

Outer Edge Innovation Summit brought together some of the biggest names in the blockchain, AI, and gaming ecosystems from all over the world.

In partnership with Animoca Brands and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the summit highlights advances in Web3 and the gaming ecosystem development in Saudi Arabia.

Topics at the summit will include smart cities, gaming, esports, art, culture, and more.

For more information about the Outer Edge Innovation Summit in Riyadh, visit outeredge.live/riyadh.

 

 


Saudi Arabia condemns Israeli war crimes in Gaza

Updated 23 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia condemns Israeli war crimes in Gaza

  • Palestinian authorities reported finding hundreds of bodies in mass graves at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis this week after it was abandoned by Israeli troops
  • Ministry renewed Kingdom’s demand that international community assume its responsibility toward stopping Israeli attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia condemned Israeli war crimes being committed in the Gaza Strip without deterrence, Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The condemnation comes after Palestinian authorities reported finding hundreds of bodies in mass graves at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis this week after it was abandoned by Israeli troops.

Bodies were also reported at the Al-Shifa medical site following an Israeli special forces operation.

The Kingdom’s Foreign Ministry stressed that the failure of the international community to hold Israel accountable for violating international law will only result in more violations and the exacerbation of human tragedies and destruction.

It renewed the Kingdom’s demand that the international community assume its responsibility toward stopping Israeli attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip and holding it accountable for the massacres that it has committed there.

UN rights chief Volker Turk said earlier on Tuesday he was “horrified” by the mass grave reports at Gaza hospitals.


Hima forum concludes following conservation discussions in Riyadh

Updated 23 April 2024
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Hima forum concludes following conservation discussions in Riyadh

  • Local and international experts shared their expertise at event

RIYADH: Local and foreign companies said their farewells following the Hima protected areas forum.

The forum, which was organized by the National Center for Wildlife, took place in Riyadh from April 21-24.

The event showcased topics related to efforts made by the Kingdom in the conservation field, and included various discussions, workshops, and presentations.

The concept of protecting and preserving natural habitats and wildlife dates back to the pre-Islamic era, when Bedouins in the Arabian Peninsula would cultivate land and claim ownership.

Those who cultivated plants on a specific piece of land could eventually claim ownership of that land.

Hasan Nasser Salman Al-Nasser, an agricultural specialist at the Environment Agency, said: “It is an area of special interest, designated by a legislature to be used for agriculture. This concept dates back to the pre-Islamic era.”

Al-Nasser explained the concept of “hima,” which means a protected area, and how it evolved over time, ultimately reaching its current understanding in Saudi Arabia.

He said: “The first hima protected during the time of Islam by the Prophet was a natural reserve used for horses.

“During the time of Khalifah Omar, there were the hima of Al-Sur and Alrabathah. After that, each tribe was responsible for protecting their natural reserves.”

The forum featured the participation of several official entities and projects, including NEOM, Red Sea Global, and Catmosphere. A community-led organization, the Northern Rangelands Trust, was also present.

Issa Ismail Gedi, chief programs officer at the Kenya-based Northern Rangelands Trust, said: “When I was in primary school, I used to help my family. Wildlife has been thriving on our land, alongside our livestock.”

The organization focuses on building resilient community conservation regions that transform lives and help the natural environment.

The body has safeguarded a number of areas, including national parks in Kenya. Gedi said the organization is also supporting 50 to 60 percent of wildlife located outside protected areas.

The forum was the first of its kind, and hosted by the National Center for Wildlife and supported by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The event provided an opportunity for local and international experts to share their expertise, with the aim of exchanging information and discussing outcomes to develop strategies for better preserving and protecting Saudi Arabia’s nature and wildlife.