Ad Diriyah a ‘jewel’ of Saudi Arabia, its revival key to Kingdom’s future, says project chief

The historic district of At-Turaif in Ad Diriyah, once home to the Saudi royal family. (Ziyad Al-Arfaj/Arab News)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Ad Diriyah a ‘jewel’ of Saudi Arabia, its revival key to Kingdom’s future, says project chief

  • Tourism mogul Jerry Inzerillo talks to Arab News about the megaproject to restore the UNESCO site
  • “We have specific instructions to open several assets for 2019. These are very exciting plans.”

RIYADH: Gerard “Jerry” Inzerillo, tourism mogul and CEO of the Ad Diriyah Gate Development Authority, gave an exclusive interview to Arab News in the town’s historical At-Turaif district.

Ad Diriyah, located on the outskirts of Riyadh and once the home of the Saudi royal family, temporarily opened its gates as the ABB Formula E racing championship took place a few kilometers away. 

The serenity of the location allows visitors to experience the historical significance of At-Turaif. Efforts to restore its magnificence are clearly evident.

Restoring At-Turaif and Ad Diriyah is one of the many megaprojects underway to boost tourism in the Kingdom, in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan.

Why Ad Diriyah? Because you can’t have a future without a past. That’s where the crown prince’s brilliance lies.

“It’s a magical time in the Kingdom. What all these projects will offer people from all over the world is fabulous,” said Inzerillo in his Brooklyn accent.

“With all that vision, boldness and welcome, you want to go to the soul, the pearl, the jewel of the Kingdom, and that’s the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ad Diriyah and At-Turaif.”

When visiting Ad Diriyah 19 years ago, Inzerillo admitted that he was slightly let down by what he saw.

He understood its historical significance, and 19 years later, with the manpower of hundreds of Saudis who believe in the preservation of their country’s heritage, Inzerillo can see the fruits of their labor. “The future can only be anchored with the values of the past,” he said.

The UNESCO site has undergone 15 years of restoration, bringing it back to life. Working alongside the crown prince, Inzerillo believes that Mohammed bin Salman’s insistence on preserving the authenticity and soul of Ad Diriyah and At-Turaif is vital. “There’s only one Ad Diriyah,” said Inzerillo.

Everything that will be built around the historical site will be made of mud and in keeping with the architecture of Saudi Arabia’s central Najd region. 

“To preserve the authenticity of the area, the crown prince stressed that he wants street energy, human interaction, laughter, food, beverages and music. There will be a major focus on pedestrian traffic,” Inzerillo said.

“Many people don’t realize that there’s 1,000 years of history in Saudi Arabia, and At-Turaif has 274 years of history on its own.”

He said he can see the pace of progress in the tourism sector. For years, the Kingdom has welcomed millions of people through Makkah and Madinah, but Inzerillo believes that it is time for Riyadh to shine.  

“It’s now time to come to Riyadh, a thriving international global city that’s on a fast track to 8 million people,” he said.

“It’ll be the stop-off point for the region. It’s where the region started. Arabia started at Ad Diriyah,” he added.

“I’ve been in tourism for 50 years. I’ve worked with some of the best heads of state in the world. The crown prince is so smart and full of love for this project,” Inzerillo said.

“We have specific instructions to open several assets for 2019. These are very exciting plans. We’re going to be opening major restaurants, retail outlets and hotels for 2020,” he added.

“The crown prince will announce the masterplan in the next few months. It’s bold and exciting. Nowhere in the world has the level of authenticity, the authentic mud that At-Turaif has.”

The project’s success will be due to the crown prince’s watchful eye and hands-on approach, Inzerillo said.  

It will include museums, academic institutions, “edutainment” facilities, 11 hotels, several hundred shops and 100 restaurants. 

They will all overlook the Wadi Hanifah valley in Najd, surrounded by 1 million date palm trees and another 1 million that are expected to be planted.

“Why Ad Diriyah? Because you can’t have a future without a past,” said Inzerillo. “That’s where the crown prince’s brilliance lies.”


Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki at a press briefing. (SPA file photo)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

  • Houthis want to disturb peace, says coalition spokesman
  • Stockholm peace agreement under strain

RIYADH: The Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government is committed to protecting regional and global security, a spokesman said Monday.

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki was asked at a press briefing about Houthi militias threatening to target the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“This is their way to disturb peace,” Al-Maliki replied. “Previously the Houthis targeted Riyadh with a ballistic missile, violating all international laws by attacking a city that has more than 8 million civilians. We take all precautions to protect civilians and vital areas. The coalition works to protect regional and international security.”

Al-Maliki said Houthis had targeted Saudi border towns several times, the most recent incident taking place in Abha last Friday.

But the Saudi Royal Air Defense Force had shot down a drone that was targeting civilians, he added.

He said four Saudi nationals and an Indian expatriate were injured in the attack because of falling debris.

The drone wreckage showed the characteristics and specifications of Iranian manufacturing, he said, which proved Iran was continuing to smuggle arms to the militias.

He warned the Houthis to refrain from targeting civilians because the coalition, in line with international humanitarian law, had every right to counter such threats.

He said the coalition was making efforts to neutralize ballistic missiles and dismantle their capabilities, as the coalition’s joint command would not allow the militia to possess weapons that threatened civilian lives and peace.

Al-Maliki reiterated that the Houthis were targeting Yemeni civilians and continued to violate international laws. 

He also urged Yemenis to try their best to prevent children from being captured by Houthis, who were using them as human shields and child soldiers.

His comments came as the UN tried to salvage a peace deal that was seen as crucial for ending the country’s four-year war.

The Stockholm Agreement was signed by the Yemeni government and Houthi representatives last December.

The main points of the agreement were a prisoner exchange, steps toward a cease-fire in the city of Taiz, and a cease-fire agreement in the city of Hodeidah and its port, as well as ports in Salif and Ras Issa.

Militants triggered the conflict when they seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and attempted to occupy large parts of the country. An Arab coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognized government in March 2015.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015.

Earlier this month US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that President Donald Trump’s administration opposed curbs on American assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

“The way to alleviate the Yemeni people’s suffering isn’t to prolong the conflict by handicapping our partners in the fight, but by giving the Saudi-led coalition the support needed to defeat the Iranian-backed rebels and ensure a just peace,” Pompeo said at a news conference in Washington.