Al-Turaif: How Saudi Arabia is bolstering future tourism by reviving past treasures

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Ad-Dir’iyah, seen in the distance, is the original home of the royal family and the country’s first capital, from 1744 to 1818. (Reuters)
Updated 12 December 2018
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Al-Turaif: How Saudi Arabia is bolstering future tourism by reviving past treasures

  • Of the many Saudi UNESCO World Heritage Sites declared over the past decade, Al-Turaif is the newest (and oldest) kid in town

JEDDAH: In an increasingly accessible country with no shortage of cultural hidden gems, Saudi Arabia is in a unique position to develop and showcase its most fascinating heritage sites, from the architectural to the archeological.
Five national treasures have already been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2008, including Al-Ahsa oasis, Al-Hijr archaeological site (Madain Salih), Historic Jeddah and the rock art at Hail.
The fifth site, recognized by UNESCO in 2010, is Al-Turaif Historical District, the remains of a settlement that dates back to the 15th century. Located in the north-western outskirts of the capital, Riyadh, it is one of the Kingdom’s oldest heritage sites, though its potential was only recognized relatively recently.
It is set against the backdrop of the historic Ad-Dir’iyah oasis, a place that is dear to the hearts of the Saudi people and has a special place in the history of the Kingdom, as the original home of the royal family and the country’s first capital, from 1744 to 1818.
The surviving mud-brick structures, in the Najdi architectural style, overlook the oasis and palm gardens of Wadi Hanifa. They include historic palaces, monuments and administrative buildings used by the First Saudi State, such as Salwa Palace, the home of the ruling family at the time, and Saad bin Saud Palace.
When Ad-Dir’iyah was established as the capital, under the rule of Imam Mohammed bin Saud, the founder of the first Saudi State, tribes from across the desert flocked to the city, which expanded to accommodate them.
The city’s borders ran along the edges of the valley, and the mud-brick walls were designed to cope with the harsh desert weather, including summer temperatures hat can reach more than 55 C. With a valley below, vast farm lands and palm trees covering most of the region, the city thrived and flourished.
During Imam Mohammed’s rule, Ad-Dir’iyah became one of the most important cities in Najd, thanks to its position on the trade routes from east to west, the military strength of Al-Saud family, and its importance to pilgrims, granting them protection and accommodation during their journeys.
Now, Al-Turaif district is undergoing a major renovation project to preserve the historically important structures and showcase them as a reminder of the place and time from which the Kingdom’s founding fathers emerged.
This is just one of many projects planned or underway to safeguard Saudi Arabia’s national treasures and develop them as major tourist attractions. As part of the ongoing process, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage last week added 19 archaeological sites to the National Antiquities Register, which aims to develop and preserve Saudi’s heritage sites.
Ad Dir’iyah has long been considered one of the nation’s greatest treasures. In the run-up to the celebrations in 1999 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, at the time the governor of Riyadh, ordered the formation of a committee to develop Ad-Dir’iyah, following a request by Prince Sultan bin Salman, the president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. The main aim was to preserve the historic mud-brick buildings and monuments of Al-Turaif, as part of a wider program to develop the Historic Ad Dir’iyah site.
The SCTH has launched many projects across the country as part of an ongoing overall effort to transform Saudi Arabia into one of the top tourism destinations in the Middle East.
In 2010, Al-Turaif District became a registered World Heritage site after a number of development projects were carried out in preparation for its inclusion. The development program, drawn up by the Riyadh Development Authority in corporation with the SCTH and Ad Dir’iyah Governate, focused on the historic and political and cultural value of the city.
Ad-Dir’iyah Salwa Palace Museum and the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Mosque are among the major buildings being developed and preserved. There are four other attractions in the area: a Social Life Museum, a Military Museum, an Arabian Horse Museum and a Trade and Monetary Museum.
Another main attraction is Al-Bujairi Park, a modern development project that includes a spacious park, cafes, restaurants and an art gallery that is popular with international tourists and locals thanks to its relaxing atmosphere away from the city’s hustle and bustle. It serves as the main recreational attraction of Historical Ad Dir’iyah between Al-Bujairi and Al-Turaif Quarter also has steep rock formations, passageways and water creeks, making it a unique location in the capital.
On December 9, 2018, after the GCC Summit in Riyadh, King Salman attended the opening ceremony of Al-Turaif Historical District Development Project in the presence of GCC dignitaries and leading Saudi officials and guests. The project will help transform the Ad-Dir’iyah area into an international and national tourism and cultural hub.
“Al-Turaif has been transformed into an open museum with the restoration and documentation of its archaeological sites,” said Prince Faisal bin Bandar, Emir of Riyadh and chairman of Riyadh Development Authority.
As a key focus of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, tourism is seen as one of the most important sectors that can contribute to job creation in the Kingdom.
It currently employs more than 900,000 Saudis, a number that is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030.


The Color Run debuts in KSA’s Eastern Province

Updated 18 March 2019
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The Color Run debuts in KSA’s Eastern Province

  • ‘The Happiest 5k on the Planet’ combines ‘fun, exercise and charitable giving’ during the Sharqiah Season
  • The Sharqiah project aims to deliver an extensive entertainment experience for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom

JEDDAH: For the first time in Saudi Arabia, The Color Run is coming to Sharqiah Season, which features more than 80 events in Eastern Province cities, and is the first of 11 scheduled festivals planned throughout the Kingdom in 2019. 

Sharqiah Season is a collaborative effort by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), the General Culture Authority and the General Sports Authority.

The countdown is on for The Color Run, which takes place at the South Alkhobar Corniche on Saturday.

In this untimed 5-km event, runners — who start in white — are doused with various colors at every 1-km checkpoint.

Since its inception in 2012, The Color Run has seen more than 7 million participants in 40 countries, while donating more than $5 million to charities. 

Organized in line with the GEA’s efforts to attract top entertainment offerings to Saudi Arabia, “The Happiest 5k on the Planet” will make its mark on the Kingdom as part of this year’s worldwide “Color Run Hero Tour,” with 15,000 participants expected in each city.

The non-competitive run is not only an opportunity to create picture-perfect memories, but serves as a celebration of health, happiness and individuality. 

The GEA is supporting the event as part of its continued efforts to enrich the lifestyle of residents and citizens in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan and the Quality of Life Program 2020.

The Color Run was hosted in the UAE twice in 2018, with massive crowds attending and cheering the runners. 

This year, the main theme is celebrating the hero in you, where nothing is impossible. Once the run is over, the fun will continue at the Finish Festival, a larger-than-life celebration with music, photo ops, activity booths, vendors, and more massive color throws.

“We are thrilled to be bringing The Color Run to Saudi Arabia. Its vibrancy matches the aims of the GEA and the Quality of Life Program 2020 objective to support and create new options that boost participation across cultural, entertainment and sports activities,” said the GEA’s Chief Operating Officer Sultan Al-Faqir.

“The Color Run, being held in our three biggest cities, will provide an exciting opportunity for thousands of families to engage in a healthy activity that combines fun, exercise and charitable giving.”

The Sharqiah project aims to deliver an extensive entertainment experience for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom.

The festival features events in Eastern Province cities, including Dammam, Dhahran, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa and Jubail. Future seasons will focus on different areas of Saudi Arabia, with different entertainment options for each city. Upcoming seasons will focus on different areas, and also different parts of the year, such as Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.

"The Happiest 5k on the Planet" will make its mark on the Kingdom as part of this year’s worldwide ‘Color Run Hero Tour,’ with 15,000 participants expected in each city. (Photo Supplied)

Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said in a statement that  the organization’s participation in the festival aligns with its goal of improving the quality of life in the Kingdom, and discovering local talent in various entertainment industries.  He also highlighted the importance of the entertainment sector and its contribution to the economy and the creation of jobs for locals, all important aspects of Vision 2030.

The opening night of Sharqiah Season on Thursday drew crowds of Saudis to the Alkhobar Corniche, despite strong winds and sprinklings of rain earlier in the day. Groups of friends stopping to take selfies and families with young children in tow wandered through the Entertainment Boulevard, lined with food stalls selling karak and koshari.

Earlier in the day, the mega event began with the opening of an exhibit featuring the work of Leonardo da Vinci at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). 

The exhibit showcased some of Da Vinci’s original sketches, with several screens showing videos detailing how his designs have continued to inspire scientists and inventors in the modern era.

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Sharqiah Season continues until March 30, with upcoming weekends featuring sports events such as the Red Bull Air Race and the Formula 1 H20 boat race, as well as concerts in Dammam featuring Akon, Deadmau5, Pitbull and French Montana.