Ancient Kingdoms Festival returns to AlUla

The Ancient Kingdoms Festival in AlUla was organized by AlUla Moments and is being held until Dec. 2. Below: Festival activities include a three-part experience at Jabal Ikmah that includes a workshop and light projection show. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 November 2023

Ancient Kingdoms Festival returns to AlUla

  • The two-week event celebrates local history and heritage through a diverse range of activities by AlUla Moments

JEDDAH: The Ancient Kingdoms Festival has returned to AlUla in celebration of the region’s history and heritage.

Organized by AlUla Moments, the two-week festival is being held until Dec. 2 and offers a series of exciting experiences that transport visitors to the heart of AlUla's captivating past.

The festival’s program includes cultural celebrations, evening tours, historic culinary experiences, and trips to archaeological and historical sites.

The Ancient Kingdoms Festival in AlUla was organized by AlUla Moments and is being held until Dec. 2. Below: Festival activities include a three-part experience at Jabal Ikmah that includes a workshop and light projection show. (Supplied)

This year’s festivities mark the 15th anniversary of Hegra’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Nabataean city sprawls over 52 hectares, standing as a testament to Saudi Arabia’s rich history. Initially untouched for over 2,000 years, the city has revealed its treasures, allowing archaeologists and experts to delve into its ancient mysteries.

Ibn Battuta, the legendary Arab explorer, visited Hegra in the 14th century, noting in his memoirs that its tombs were also passed by travelers, traders, and pilgrims en route to Makkah over the centuries.


• The two-week Ancient Kingdoms Festival in AlUla celebrates local history and heritage.

• This year’s festival marks the 15th anniversary of Hegra’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

• The ‘Life in Al-Hijr Exhibition’ showcases 15 archaeological discoveries in the region.

• For more details about tours and cultural activities, visit

Another famous explorer who made the journey was Charles Montagu Doughty. Regarded to this day as one of the greatest of all Western travelers in Arabia, Doughty’s visit to Hegra was referenced in his 1888 book “Travels in Arabia Deserta.”

However, Hegra is now open to the world as one of Saudi Arabia’s iconic landmarks, welcoming tourists from all walks of life as they explore a distinctive, untouched part of the Kingdom.

The Ancient Kingdoms Festival in AlUla was organized by AlUla Moments and is being held until Dec. 2. Below: Festival activities include a three-part experience at Jabal Ikmah that includes a workshop and light projection show. (Supplied)

“The stories and secrets within Hegra have withstood … time and as we uncover them in the present, they only enforce that the city remains as significant as ever,” Phillip Jones, chief tourism officer at the Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News.

“Modern-day Saudi Arabia and its people are just as pioneering, innovative, and transactional with communities in near and distant lands as the ancient Nabataean and Roman civilizations that inhabited Hegra, whose legacies endure through our culture and heritage. This year’s Ancient Kingdoms Festival casts a unique spotlight on this legacy through a series of world-class activations,” Jones explained.

Its legacy interweaves the stories of the Nabataeans with those of the Dadanites and Lihyanites, all of whom left indelible marks within this historic locale — marks illustrating timeless cultural exchanges in architecture, decoration, language use, and the caravan trade.

Phillip Jones, Royal Commission for AlUla chief tourism officer

Visitors to the festival can uncover Hegra’s secrets through new and exciting points of access, allowing them to witness history through innovative, thoughtfully designed experiences.

“Hegra After Dark” is a history-inspired immersive experience in the shadow of some of the most spectacular tombs located at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors start their journey on a Nabataean-inspired horse-drawn carriage to discover the “Secret Garden of Khuraymat,” a curatorially imagined sensorium where they can explore the history and culture of incense use across the ancient world. Meanwhile, “Theatre of Life” is an experience blending historic storytelling with entertainment.

The stories and secrets within Hegra have withstood ... time and as we uncover them in the present, they only enforce that the city remains as significant as ever.

Phillip Jones, Royal Commission for AlUla chief tourism officer

Jones added: “These activations promise to take visitors on the journey through time and present Hegra to the world in a way that hasn’t been experienced before.”

The “Evening of Stone” is inspired by the province’s history and takes visitors on a journey to its most important graveyards. It also features the “Life in Al-Hijr Exhibition” showcasing 15 archaeological discoveries in the region, in addition to the wildlife and nature life in the area.

During the opening weekend, the festival kicked off on Nov. 16 with the “Journey Through Time Parade,” illuminating the stories, legends, and legacies of the ancient incense road and the life and memories of AlUla.

Khaybar is where geological wonders and natural treasures take center stage. (Supplied)

Another experience is “Ikmah After Dark,”celebrating Jabal Ikmah’s recent recognition on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, where visitors encounter the spirit of this ancient place in an experience that blends Arabian hospitality and refreshments, hands-on carving activities, and a spectacular show — all inspired by the inscriptions left behind by historic civilizations.

Other activations launched are the “King Nabonidus Parade,” where visitors can celebrate all things Tayma in a dramatic show starring the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

Visitors will witness the intertwining of the past with the present while exploring the legendary landscapes and the linking of AlUla, Khaybar, and Tayma — three interconnected ancient oases of Northwest Arabia.

AlUla's second Ancient Kingdoms Festival celebrates the 15th anniversary of Hegra heritage site. (Supplied)

Khaybar is where geological wonders and natural treasures take center-stage. Engaging activations like “Khaybar Camp” invite visitors to explore traditional food, handicrafts, and family-oriented heritage performances. The “Oasis Soundscape” celebration combines music, nature, and landscape in a unique setting, while Takya Restaurant offers an opportunity to savor traditional Saudi Arabian dishes with scenic views of Khaybar forts and oasis.
Tayma, another significant locale, invites visitors to delve into history-inspired experiences, unveiling the richness and complexity of the kings, queens, and ancient communities that once flourished in the region.

Among these experiences, “Tayma Camp” provides a delightful blend of food, authentic handicrafts, cultural performances, camel riding, and falconry, whereas “Tayma Live” presents an enthralling re-enactment show, narrating the story of the “Land of the Kings” through music and performing arts.

AlUla is a place of extraordinary human and natural heritage Bir Hadaj. (Supplied)

The Ancient Kingdoms Festival introduces several new Oases Discovery activations. The “Memory Sanctuary,” crafted in collaboration with AlUla’s residents, pays homage to the oasis through a multisensory experience. Guests can create nostalgic desserts, enjoy liquid nitrogen slushies, and savor 3D-printed wafers in an experiential dessert laboratory.
Furthermore, two extraordinary picnic experiences, “Ancestral Hampers” and “Life and Memory Chest,” draw inspiration from memories of the harvest season in the Oasis. Visitors can opt for the portable, family-friendly picnic hampers to enjoy under the shade of trees or indulge in an elevated gastronomic feast served in a premium, cozy spot.
A series of cultural and artistic workshops will be held under the theme “Programs for Future Ancients.” Designed for young minds and their families, these activities were created through extensive consultation with archaeologists by the Academy of Ancient Inscriptions.

For more information, visit


Kingdom launches heritage metaverse initiative

Updated 24 February 2024

Kingdom launches heritage metaverse initiative

  • Users can discover cultural attractions in simulated environment

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has launched an initiative in the Metaverse, supported by an artificial intelligence system for Generative Media Intelligence, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The dynamic digital environment allows users to discover the Kingdom’s heritage by taking part in simulated activities.

The collaboration with droppGroup utilizes Hyperledger Fabric 2.5 blockchain technology.

The Saudi heritage Metaverse platform offers a blend of cultural shows, performances and digital innovation.

It includes cultural attractions like the History Walk, dedicated sectors for music, art, history, culinary arts and crafts, as well as mini-video games.

The platform is a fully immersive, web-based experience accessible from a range of devices. (Supplied)

Events will also be streamed on the ministry’s Metaverse platform, such as a symphony concert for Saudi Founding Day.

The platform is a fully immersive, web-based experience accessible from a range of devices, including mobile phones, VR headsets and desktop computers.

The Ministry of Culture scheme aims to encourage global audience to explore Saudi Arabia’s heritage and culture.

Millions of people within the Kingdom will be able to take part in Metaverse events remotely.

Those interested in participating in this unique virtual experience can register via the following link:

Kingdom arrests 19,431 illegals in one week

Updated 24 February 2024

Kingdom arrests 19,431 illegals in one week

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 19,431 people in one week for breaching residency, work and border security regulations, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

According to an official report, a total of 11,897 people were arrested for violations of residency laws, while 4,254 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 3,280 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 971 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 39 percent were Yemeni, 57 percent Ethiopian, and 4 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 36 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and 15 were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to be facilitating illegal entry to the Kingdom, including providing transportation and shelter, could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), as well as confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.

Saudi pavilion showcases ancient heritage at Doha expo

Updated 24 February 2024

Saudi pavilion showcases ancient heritage at Doha expo

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at the International Horticultural Expo in Doha participated in celebrations for the Kingdom’s Founding Day.

The pavilion showcased Saudi national heritage, and visitors could explore the Kingdom’s ancient history.

The celebrations included various events to reflect the unique Saudi identity and heritage. Among these were folk arts and traditional music performances, the Saudi ardah, traditional fashion shows, and events showcasing plastic arts.

Also displayed were handicrafts that combined nostalgia with the creativity of the present.

Many visitors were a part of the special occasion, and it was praised for highlighting the diversity and cultural richness of Saudi Arabia.

The event was part of the Kingdom’s efforts to enhance cultural communication and introduce the world to its rich heritage. It was also an opportunity to showcase Saudi history while strengthening cultural ties and communication.

The expo, which boasts the title “Green Desert, Better Environment,” began on Oct. 2 last year and continues until March 28.

The Saudi pavilion is also showcasing the Kingdom’s “natural richness,” drawing visitors from around the world.

From sand dunes to melting glaciers, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Abeer shares lessons from her Antarctic expedition

Updated 24 February 2024

From sand dunes to melting glaciers, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Abeer shares lessons from her Antarctic expedition

  • The princess joined an expedition in November to the remotest parts of Antarctica led by Australian NGO Homeward Bound
  • She joined the expedition to raise awareness about climate action, sustainability, and the need for ‘a peace pact with nature’

RIYADH: Princess Abeer bint Saud bin Farhan Al-Saud recently became the first person from Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region to go on a research expedition to the remotest parts of the Antarctic continent.

In November, the princess was among 80 people selected from a pool of 1,800 applicants from 45 nations who joined the expedition led by Homeward Bound, an Australian organization that promotes women’s leadership in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine).

Princess Abeer told Arab News: “The whole purpose of me joining this expedition was to raise awareness about climate action, environmental sustainability, and making a peace pact with nature and biodiversity.”

The women on The Island Sky 2023, from 18 countries, set sail on Nov. 12, 2023, from Puerto Madryn, Argentina, for a 19-night voyage. (Photo courtesy of Homeward Bound)

Also on the expedition were astronomers, oceanographers, glaciologists, mathematicians, marine biologists, and renewable energy engineers, who collaborated on various projects some of which were part of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), held in Dubai in November and December.

The princess said: “As a group, a few of us collaborated on multiple projects combining science, art, and policy and advocating at the UN by drafting reports and preparing our talks and findings for our participation at COP28.”


• In November, Princess Abeer joined an expedition to the remotest parts of Antarctica, led by Homeward Bound, an Australian organization that holds leadership programs for women in STEMM, becoming the first person from the Gulf region to do so.

Princess Abeer is an international development professional with culture and heritage, peacebuilding, multilateralism, and NGO expertise, who has worked for several UN agencies.

She currently chairs the Sustainable Development Association (Talga) which aims to localize the UN Sustainable Development Goals in alignment with Vision 2030.

The princess noted that she was passionate about dedicating her life to projects that helped preserve endangered species, land, and the planet.

She is also an artist, inspired by her surroundings and what she described as her “cosmic desert” adventures in Saudi Arabia, where she produces works on canvas utilizing natural materials.

Before setting off for Antarctica, Princess Abeer pointed out that she would channel her ancestral heritage.

“I will draw on my roots as a woman from the desert and as a sailor, looking to the heavens to guide me.

“The Southern Cross has led me to many answers and many more questions, just like the North Star has led wanderers through the desert for countless generations,” she added.

The Bedouin who traversed Arabia’s vast deserts over the millennia relied on the stars.

November’s expedition was not all plain sailing. An unexpected storm struck the team’s ship as it navigated the Drake Passage, one of the world’s choppiest sea routes located between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.

Navigating through icebergs amid stormy waters could be a truly frightening experience. (Photo by Maya Beano)

The princess said: “We had a very challenging 48 hours on the Drake Passage. My expedition mates lay on their bunks. Others used dark humor to console their anxiety by playing the ‘Titanic’ soundtrack on the old piano on board in the open area lounge.

“A few others were brave and calm, enjoying their time knowing that the storm would pass.”

While the experience was no doubt frightening, she added that she felt humbled, both by the power of nature and the skill of the ship’s crew who brought them safely through the towering waves to calmer seas.

“Witnessing and experiencing the majesty of nature’s fury is the art of humble exploration. I think it requires so much mental agility, gentle wisdom, and humor to overcome any storm, rogue waves, or any hardship in your life,” she added.

When the team arrived in Antarctica, Princess Abeer noted that it felt like she had been transported to another world, similar to “Alice in Wonderland.”

She said: “It felt like being in an immersive and multi-sensory natural museum of raw and untouched beauty. You can hear the sound of silence. Antarctica is the icebergs and glaciers gazing at you.”

Although the expedition took place during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season, it was vital that participants wore the appropriate gear to withstand the cold, plus polarized sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun’s harsh ultraviolet rays.

But to work in such inhospitable conditions, the princess pointed out that participants required inner strength.

Humpback whales gracefully surface in the Gerlache Strait during sunset. (Photo by Maya Beano)

“In isolated polar regions, just like hibernating animals live off their fat, as polar explorers we sought to ignite our spirits — with sea crafts like bunting,” she added.

Princess Abeer and the rest of the team slept aboard their ship, anchored off the Antarctic coast, but each day used Zodiacs — heavy-duty inflatable boats — to commute to their research stations and to conduct field research.

While studying the impact of climate change on the Antarctic’s weather, wildlife, and geography, the princess was shocked to see the massive icebergs breaking into the ocean and the record number of invasive species drawn to the continent by its warming climate.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

In particular, she was stunned to see rainfall in a part of the world where water in the atmosphere should be falling as snow.

She said: “It was raining occasionally instead of snowing. That is defying nature by all measures. It can’t and shouldn’t be raining in Antarctica at all.”

Out on the Antarctic ice, Princess Abeer was a long way from the vast sandy deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, she found some unexpected similarities in the contrasting environments.

“When you’re in a desert of ice, as opposed to a desert of sand, you’re living with people who are on the very edge of human tolerance. I think the upshot of that is the incredible hospitality you get,” she added.

View of Antarctica on a sunny day. (Photo by Maya Beano)

It highlighted to her how the world’s most distinct ecosystems — from polar regions and subtropical rainforests to vast interior deserts and coastal habitats — were interconnected by the global climate system.

Princess Abeer said: “Safeguarding the cryosphere is not a matter for polar regions alone but all countries alike. Glaciers and icebergs melting at faster rates will cause rising sea levels, affecting all coastlines in the world.

“The polar and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) regions — in fact the entire globe — are linked. If we want to save one, then we have to save the other.

“The importance lies in understanding these reciprocal relationships for effective climate management, ensuring global climate stability, and safeguarding ecosystems in both polar and desert regions alike, and henceforth contributing to safeguarding the global climate system,” she added.

Another major concern for polar researchers was the impact of a warming climate on seabird habitats. The breakup of sea ice has disrupted colonies, while the arrival of invasive species from further north has brought with it the spread of avian flu.

The Snowy Sheatbell, the only land bird native to the Antarctic. (Photo by Princess Abeer Al-Farhan) 

“Antarctica is like a haven paradise of wildlife. On a daily basis we had awe-inducing surprise encounters with humpback whales flashing their flukes against the water.

“There were also colonies of Weddell seals that I think can only be found in ice-free islands in Antarctica,” the princess said.

Antarctica is home to one especially iconic species — penguins. Of the world’s 18 different penguin species, seven of them are only found on the southernmost continent.

“We were so lucky to have seen them all in their natural habitat during our last expedition.

Adelie penguins colony on the iceberg Antarctica. (Shutterstock)

“The species found in Antarctica and the Subantarctic region are the emperor penguin, Adelie, chinstrap, gentoo, macaroni, rockhopper, and king penguin,” she added.

For Princess Abeer, the biggest takeaway from her time in Antarctica was the need for the world and individuals to take a cross-sectoral approach in their efforts to halt climate change and prevent global temperatures from rising any further. Failure to do so, she highlighted, would lead to further ice melt and a rise in global sea levels.

“I believe that it’s time to make a peace pact with nature. We must not let our faith for a regenerative future for this planet melt away. What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica,” she said.


Culture Ministry launches ‘1727’ competition to mark Saudi Founding Day

Competition begins on Thursday and runs until Saturday; it is open to the general public. (Twitter @SAFoundingDay)
Updated 24 February 2024

Culture Ministry launches ‘1727’ competition to mark Saudi Founding Day

  • The competition is part of numerous activities and events presented by the Ministry of Culture to commemorate Founding Day, a source of immense pride for all Saudis

RIYADH: The Ministry of Culture announced the launch of the "1727" competition, featuring a prize pool of SR100,000, in honor of the Saudi Founding Day.

The competition, open to the general public, commences on Thursday and will run through Saturday. It entails a series of questions related to the establishment of the Saudi state by Imam Muhammad bin Saud in 1727 AD.

Participants will encounter eight diverse questions divided into four phases, with two questions per phase, focusing on the cultural and historical aspects of Founding Day.

Participants who correctly answer all questions, progressing through all phases, will qualify for a prize draw. Randomly, 100 winners will be chosen, each receiving SR1,000.

The competition is part of numerous activities and events presented by the Ministry of Culture to commemorate Founding Day, a source of immense pride for all Saudis. These events aim to engage all segments of society throughout the Kingdom.