Saudi Arabia launches major project to revive Kingdom’s industrial heritage

Minister of Culture Prince Badr Al-Saud, second left, at the meeting with the minister of trade and investment and minister of energy. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 01 May 2019

Saudi Arabia launches major project to revive Kingdom’s industrial heritage

  • Transforming the Hijaz railway into a heritage site is one of projects being considered
  • The creation of Saudi Society for the Preservation of Industrial Heritage was announced by the culture minister

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has launched a major initiative to bring its rich industrial past back to the future.

The Kingdom has become the first country in the Arab world to commit to investing in its industrial heritage with the establishment on Monday of a dedicated preservation society.

Turning the famous Hijaz railway into a heritage site is already one of the ambitious cultural projects being considered for the future.

Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan announced the setting up of the Saudi Society for the Preservation of Industrial Heritage at a meeting attended by Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qassabi and Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih.

The prince noted that a country’s industrial history reflected its level of civic progress and said: “Saudi Arabia has an established industrial heritage going back thousands of years and has monuments that deserve care and consideration.”

Examples of the Kingdom’s industrial past and present include its involvement in sectors such as oil, water supply systems, minerals, gold, transport, cement and concrete.

The new society aims to raise awareness of cultural landmarks associated with historic Saudi industries by organizing workshops and promotional campaigns in cooperation with commercial bodies, while also preserving, documenting and enhancing heritage sites throughout the country.

Dr. Miles Oglethorpe, board member of The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH), who attended the society launch, said the Kingdom had a vast industrial heritage to draw on that could “deliver social, economic and political benefit that reinforces Saudi society.”

He told Arab News: “Industry is extremely important, and the history of industry is that which lies behind how we live today. All across the world there are hugely important industries that have employed people and changed the world around them. Sometimes they have rapidly altered the environment and landscapes, sometimes not very nicely, other times very spectacularly.

“Industry lies at the heart of our daily lives today, therefore it’s an amazing historical resource, a source of so many different stories and something that effects millions of people who work in it, or have worked in it, or families who’ve worked in it.”

On Saudi Arabia and its impact on the world, Oglethorpe said: “If you step back for a moment and ask has Saudi Arabia had any impact on the wider world, the answer is a massive yes.

“Saudi petroleum dominated the world and is still extremely important, so the history of that is very significant. Both how it works now and how it originated.”

Oglethorpe said the Saudi concrete industry was another good example of a global export, which had even been put to good use in the Harry Potter movies. “Hogwarts Express, that is in Scotland, the first mass concrete bridge in the world and an enormous structure.”

The TICCIH official noted huge potential for turning the Hijaz railway into an industrial heritage site.

“Railways are the low-hanging fruit, one of the things that you can make immediate progress with because, everybody loves railways. Many children across the world are brought up with Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s already recognized and there are international links. It would be an immediate win, but there is a lot of work to be done.

“It would capture the imagination,” added Oglethorpe. 

“The Hijaz railway is famous worldwide. There have even been movies made about it and you have major historic figures, both Saudi and foreign figures like T. E. Lawrence, so you know you can make a national and international impact.”

He said one of the first aspects of turning old industrial sites into heritage attractions was to encourage communities to show an interest in their local history. Their contribution would be “important and valuable” because their family histories were often tied to these places.

Oglethorpe also pointed to the educational value of delving into the industrial past. “What industry gives you is a way into an education of STEM subjects. We are trying to get many men and women into STEM subjects. Try to get kids at a young age engaged into where steel comes from. How a steam locomotive works. How you build things like this.”

He said that as well as teaching people about the technologies they could also learn the skills required to keep them alive.


Madinah museum showcases over 2,000 rare artifacts

Updated 23 August 2019

Madinah museum showcases over 2,000 rare artifacts

  • The museum has issued more than 44 books and publications on Madinah’s architecture

MADINAH: Dar Al-Madinah Museum offers visitors the opportunity to view historical pieces associated with the Prophet’s life. It features artifacts that capture the history, heritage, social life and culture of Madinah.

The museum’s executive director, Hassan Taher, said that it aims to promote the noble values of the Prophet Muhammad, encourage a sense of belonging and capture the history, culture and heritage of Madinah. The exhibits start with the Prophet’s life and end with the Saudi era.

Taher said: “The museum carries out specialized research in Madinah’s architectural heritage. It contains a library of relevant books, research and magazines, all of which are accessible to researchers.”

He said that the museum has issued more than 44 books and publications on Madinah’s architecture.

Taher explained that when preparing the museum’s narrative, it was necessary to reconcile temporal and spatial contexts so they created an added moral and intellectual value for the visitor.

He added: “There are around 2,000 artifacts in the museum’s exhibition halls. These include antiquities, extremely accurate models, handicrafts, manuscripts, documents, correspondence, old publications, postage stamps, photographs and artworks.”

One of the museum’s most valuable exhibits is a large collection of rare pieces associated with important moments in the Prophet’s life and the history of Madinah. 

These include various parts of the Kaaba, rare coins used in Madinah during different eras, ancient pottery, Islamic manuscripts, jewelry and collectibles from the pre-Islamic era.

Taher said that the museum has a professional team of guides who speak several languages, including English, Turkish, Urdu and Malay.