Saudi Arabia’s crown prince launches mega tourism projects in ancient area of Al-Ula

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a vision for Al-Ula that includes a resort designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve, both called Sharaan. (SPA)
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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a vision for Al-Ula that includes a resort designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve, both called Sharaan. (SPA)
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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a vision for Al-Ula that includes a resort designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve, both called Sharaan. (SPA)
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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a vision for Al-Ula that includes a resort designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve, both called Sharaan. (SPA)
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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a vision for Al-Ula that includes a resort designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve, both called Sharaan. (SPA)
Updated 11 February 2019
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Saudi Arabia’s crown prince launches mega tourism projects in ancient area of Al-Ula

  • Jean Nouvel, the French architect who designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, will build a resort in the mountains of Al-Ula
  • The Sharaan Resort will include residential estates, a summit center, a spa, restaurants and 925-square-kilometer nature reserve

AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched on Sunday mega tourism projects in Al-Ula, including a resort designed by a renowned French architect and a nature reserve, both called Sharaan. 
Jean Nouvel, the French architect who designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, will build a resort in the mountains of Al-Ula as part of a plan launched on Sunday night to transform the home of ancient civilizations into a destination for visitors from around the world.

The plan for sustainable development of the region, which includes the Sharaan Resort inside a designated nature reserve, was launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the governor of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, at a groundbreaking ceremony at the Maraya theater. The mirrored concert hall was built for the Winter at Tantora festival, which has brought visitors to the untouched area every weekend since December, giving them a taste of what’s to come.

“The decision to build in this place is brave and will allow Sharaan to be revealed on a world-wide scale,” Nouvel said during a presentation at the launch.

Several hundred guests were welcomed in the concert hall, including Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, Princess Reema bint Bandar and Yanni, who performed at the Winter at Tantora festival last weekend. 

“This is just so beautiful, the desert and the sky at night, the stars… the natural beauty here is stunning,” Yanni told Arab News. “I have never experienced this type of beauty before in my life.”

 

The charter for Al-Ula was presented on a stage made of sand, with a multimedia sound and light show involving local men and women, the “guardians” of Al-Ula. The rocks of Al-Ula, visible through glass at the back of the stage, served as a backdrop.

Al-Ula is home to spectacular sandstone rock formations and the archaeological site of Madain Saleh, the largest Nabatean settlement south of Petra that contains the ancient civilization’s rock tombs with their carved facades. In 2008, it was designated as Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage site.

There are only so many architects in the world who have the power to draw visitors on the strength of the building alone, and Nouvel is one. Just ask anyone who has stood under Louvre Abu Dhabi’s 7,500-ton geometric canopy, inspired by a grove of palm trees and designed to cast dappled light onto the water and walkways below, in what he called the Rain of Light.

Nouvel’s architecture is rooted in the local context, and so with the Al-Ula resort, he will take inspiration from the surrounding rocks. “In the thickness of the rock, everything is possible, everything is stable and protected, as if weightless,” Nouvel explained. “Rock is an absolutely fantastic material because of its inertia. To put yourself in rock is to protect yourself. To protect yourself from extreme temperatures, to protect yourself security-wise. We’ve chosen to live in these rocks once more. To be able to frame the Sharaan landscape at different heights is amazing, discovering the distant horizons, discovering the different qualities of light, and all this in total thermal comfort.”

There is already a link between Nouvel and Al-Ula: A number of  ancient treasures from the area are now on display as part of the Roads of Arabia exhibit in Louvre Abu Dhabi. But the Sharaan Resort is a link that is even closer to home.

The resort will include residential estates, a summit center, a spa and restaurants. The full design will be completed by the end of this year; construction is expected to begin in early 2020, with a completion date of 2023.

The resort will be located in a valley deep inside the 925-square-kilometer Sharaan Nature Reserve. Both take their names from the surrounding canyon with its ancient rock formations. The reserve will conserve and restore the region’s natural desert habitats, including the Arabian leopard, with the help of local rangers trained by international experts.

 

 

 

While the details of the plan are new, it is very much in keeping with the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030, which aims to develop the Kingdom’s tourism sector and provide the younger generation with the skills that they need for the future as it diversifies the economy away from its dependence on oil. The vision also pledges to  celebrate the country’s national identity by preserving its cultural sites, making them accessible and building world-class museums to “create a living witness to our ancient heritage.”

The Royal Commission for Al-Ula was created for this purpose in 2017, and the French Agency for Al-Ula Development was established last July, after Paris and Saudi Arabia signed a bilateral agreement during the Crown Prince’s visit in April last year.

The commission aims, by 2035, to attract 2 million visitors to the area, creating 38,000 jobs and generating SR120 billion ($32 billion). 

 


The commission has already launched a scholarship program to train Saudi students in the US, the UK and France in the fields of tourism and archaeology; this year, it will add architecture and environmental planning to the mix. The Hammayah program will also provide up to 2,500 opportunities for local men and women to get involved in a community effort to preserve the wonders of Al-Ula.
There are only so many architects in the world who have the power to draw visitors on the strength of the building alone, and Nouvel is one. Just ask anyone who has stood under Louvre Abu Dhabi’s 7,500-ton geometric canopy, inspired by a grove of palm trees and designed to cast dappled light onto the water and walkways below, in what he called the Rain of Light.

The project is all about “locals, locals, locals,” Rami Al-Sakran, capabilities development manager for the commission, who is leading the Al-Ula scholarship program, told Arab News. “Without the locals, we can’t succeed.”

 

 

 

 

 


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019
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Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


EVENTS WATCH

1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.


The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.