New drive to showcase the treasures of Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of Al-Ula

Using technologies such as aerial LiDAR scanning, experts will meticulously uncover Al-Ula’s ancient secrets. (SPA)
Updated 03 May 2018
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New drive to showcase the treasures of Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of Al-Ula

  • Royal Commission launches program to explore historic site
  • Home to dramatic desert landscapes, spectacular rock formations and some of the Middle East’s most significant ancient sites

RIYADH:  The Royal Commission of Al-Ula (RCU) has launched an integrated program to explore archaeological treasures in the historic area that includes Madain Saleh, which became Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

Madain Saleh is the southernmost settlement of the Nabataeans — who carved out the city of Petra in Jordan — and one of the region’s archaeological treasures.

The archaeological program, with a major conservation and development plan for the area, brought together leading international archaeologists to help prepare for a new era of renewed international collaboration and tourism in line with Vision 2030, which includes diversifying Saudi tourism.

Home to dramatic desert landscapes, spectacular rock formations and some of the Middle East’s most significant ancient sites including those built by Lihyanite and Nabataean civilizations of the first millennium BC and beyond, historic Al-Ula is a wonder of the ancient Arabian world.

Rebecca Foote, head of heritage and archaeology at the Royal Commission, told Arab News on Wednesday: “At the heart of the Royal Commission’s archaeology program is a commitment to preserving Al-Ula’s extraordinary cultural heritage sites for generations to come.”

“Our work observes international best practice standards and utilizes some of the most sophisticated technology available for the archaeological program,” Foote said. “The temporary public closure of sites such as Madain Saleh will allow us to carry out vital work locating, mapping and visualizing Al-Ula’s past in order to evaluate vulnerabilities and implement appropriate protective interventions throughout the area.”

According to the RCU, a major integrated archaeological survey of Al-Ula valley and beyond has been launched by the commission, charged with protecting and regenerating this northwestern region. Until a conservation and development plan can be established, some of the sites including the World Heritage Site of Madain Saleh are temporarily closed to the public.

“Re-opening in 2020, the temporary closure will allow experts the opportunity to carry out vital research activity and plan for how to best preserve and present the sites,” the RCU said.

Using state-of-the-art technologies and methods such as aerial LiDAR scanning and photography captured from light aircraft, helicopter and drone, a team of the world’s leading experts led by Foote will meticulously document, map and model the area, supporting RCU’s mission to uncover Al-Ula’s ancient secrets and mysterious past.

Capable of recording surface features through vegetation, the LiDAR will see what lies within the palm groves of the oasis, and the helicopter team will record the remote and harder-to-reach sites.

Thoroughly documenting the area will provide a better understanding of these cultural heritage sites and their ancient past, something that is vital to safeguarding it for future generations.

Providing a window into the people and cultures that shaped the past, the findings will be collated in a bespoke heritage database and used by the RCU to develop a plan for preserving, studying and activating the area’s historic features.

This archaeological survey program supports the commission’s mission to protect and develop the heritage and historical sites of Al-Ula to achieve a sustainable transformation and to enable local, regional and international visitors to learn about the richness of its cultural, historical and natural heritage.

The RCU was established in July 2017 to protect and preserve the region’s extraordinary ancient heritage and natural landscapes and prepare for an era of renewed international collaboration and tourism coinciding with the goals set under Vision 2030.

The RCU has signed an agreement with Campus France, the leading international academic and vocational public institution in France, which will partly train young Saudis to work in this tourism area and discover archaeological treasures in the northwest of the Kingdom.

The first 200 young Saudis recruited for this purpose are in the vanguard of an ambitious project to bring travelers back to Al-Ula, this time as tourists and lovers of history eager to explore one of the greatest profusions of cultural and archaeological treasures.

Recruited from Al-Ula region, they are in Riyadh being trained in hospitality, learning new languages, studying farming and water technology and swotting up on the cultural, social and natural history of their home region.

Students from King Saud University are also being trained by expert archaeologists in international best practice, equipping them with the skills to become the next generation of cultural custodians for Al-Ula. Significantly, 5,000 years ago, Al-Ula was cosmopolitan. For traders and adventurers alike it was an essential stop on the route between the Mediterranean and the Arab world, and far beyond to Asia and Africa.

Located at a historic nexus of civilizations, on an important route of travel used from at least the first millennium BC for the trade of valuable commodities, Al-Ula is built on a history of exchange between cultures.

This exchange of knowledge and cultures goes back millennia and continues to be a crucial part of the area’s identity, and is a blueprint for its future.

A particular archaeological feature of the area are the more than 100 tombs, some over 20 meters tall, that dot the landscape.

French archaeologist Laila Nehme was the first foreign archaeologist to work in the Madain Saleh area and she discovered that it has many more secrets to be shared; the integrated archaeological program is underway to explore all these treasures.


Saudi Arabia urges UN Security Council to disarm Houthis after drone attacks

Updated 7 min 5 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia urges UN Security Council to disarm Houthis after drone attacks

  • Houthis targeted with 'seven explosive drones' Saudi oil pumping stations on May 14 - Saudi envoy
  • Iran-backed militias have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, says analyst

JEDDAH: The Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted and destroyed two missiles launched from Yemen by Iran-aligned Houthi militias on Monday. 

The missiles were reported to have been heading toward Makkah and Jeddah. 

A spokesman for the Arab Coalition said that the missiles were destroyed over Taif in the early morning, and that fragments from the first projectile had landed in Wadi Jalil, a valley that extends toward Makkah.

Residents in Jeddah told Arab News that they heard a loud blast early on Monday morning.

This is not the first time that Houthi militias have targeted Makkah, having fired on the city in July 2017.

Videos circulating on social media reportedly show the second missile being intercepted and destroyed in the skies over King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Houthi attack and commended the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces for their vigilance. 

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said: “This isn’t the first time that the Houthis and their masters in Tehran have fired missiles close to the holy city of Makkah.” 

They have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, he added. 

“They care nothing for the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan. What they did today, and what they did in the past, clearly reveal their sinister designs to strike at the heart of the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

“Now is the time for all Muslim nations in the world to come to the defense of the holy land. Our sacred places are under attack from Iran, the Houthis and their militias,” he added.

“Mere condemnation won’t do. Iran and the Houthis have crossed a red line, and this calls for deterrent action against Tehran,” he said.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government also condemned the Houthis’ attempt to target Makkah, calling it “a full-fledged terrorist attack.”

Monday’s aggression came as Saudi Arabia warned that recent drone attacks against its oil-pumping stations by the Houthis will jeopardize UN peace efforts in Yemen and lead to further escalation in the region.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi ambassador to the UN, said “seven explosive drones” directed by the Houthis attacked pumping stations on May 14 in the cities of Dawadmi and Afif “on the east-west oil pipeline that transfers Saudi oil to Yanbu port and to the rest of the world.”

He urged UN Security Council members, in a letter circulated on Monday, “to disarm this terrorist militia in order to prevent the escalation of these attacks which increase regional tensions and raise the risks of a broader regional confrontation.”

Al-Shehri said Monday’s attack is a reminder to Muslim nations about the clear and present danger from Iran.  “Tehran timed the attack just as King Salman has called for a meeting in Makkah to discuss the threat from Iran to the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

Saudi security forces have intercepted and destroyed 227 ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis at the Kingdom since 2015.