Cultural icons complement ancient Spain’s focus on open borders, free trade

Cultural icons complement ancient Spain’s focus on open borders, free trade
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Plaza de Tiberiades.
Cultural icons complement ancient Spain’s focus on open borders, free trade
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Madinat Al-Zahra, Cordoba, was built by 10,000 laborers over 40 years.
Cultural icons complement ancient Spain’s focus on open borders, free trade
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Torre da la Calahorra is Cordoba’s oldest defense tower.
Cultural icons complement ancient Spain’s focus on open borders, free trade
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Cordoba Mosque with its stunning arches.
Updated 21 April 2017

Cultural icons complement ancient Spain’s focus on open borders, free trade

Cultural icons complement ancient Spain’s focus on open borders, free trade

“Many of the traits on which modern Europe prides itself came to it from Muslim Spain. Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, various types of medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities (Cordoba)…” — Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne
As Britain wrangles over the post-Brexit status of Gibraltar, few of those caught up in the tussle will be aware that the small “British” rock off the coast of southern Spain got its name following a historic moment in late April of 711.
That was the year a Muslim general called Tariq bin Ziyad, at the bequest of the Umayyad Caliph Al Walid I, landed on the rock that would thereafter be known as his rock, “Jebel Al Tariq,” from which is derived the modern name Gibraltar. Half a century later, alone and in flight came a “Syrian refugee.” Abd Al-Rahman I arrived having witnessed everyone dear to him murdered at the hands of the Baghdadi Abbasids in a bloody massacre in Damascus. The sole male survivor of Islam’s first family dynasty decided to start afresh, and set up his new capital in Cordoba, in modern day southern Spain.
Abd Al-Rahman I’s empire would be known as Al-Andalus and as the heir to the British throne testifies, it would go on to change the face of Europe forever, reaching its zenith in 929 when Abd Al-Rahman III declared himself the rightful Caliph of the entire Muslim world.
To fully appreciate what was Europe’s one and only Caliphate would probably take a lifetime — the Muslim presence in Iberia lasted more than 700 years — so here is the traveler’s shortcut to five key places in the former Caliphate capital that evoke the “spirit” of Al-Andalus.

Mezquita-Cathedral
The Caliphate capital’s most iconic remnant still stands. Once the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the importance and majestic beauty of this monument is impossible to overstate. Deemed one of the finest examples of Islam’s first artistic movement — the Umayyad style — the mosque’s design is both a nod to the great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, and the longings of a man in exile. Opened in 785, this remarkable building’s interior was designed to create the illusion of a “forest of palms,” using the iconic Umayyad red and beige horseshoe arches, mounted one upon another. In its heyday, the mosque’s walls were flung wide open and worshippers sat beneath skylights in a space flooded with light and air, as if in a desert oasis, like the ones Abd Al-Rahman I had been forced to leave behind. Though this illusion is no more, following the introduction of the 16th century chapel now in the center, the building still boasts several exquisite features, with the highlight being the mehrab of Al-Hakim II. Deemed a pinnacle in Umayyad artistry, the mehrab merges Byzantine inspiration with the Umayyad styles. Today, the building is Cordoba’s main cathedral but is open to tourists.

Torre de la Calahorra
Across the Guadalquivir — from the Arabic “Wadi Al-Kabir” to mean “Great River” — is Cordoba’s oldest defense tower. These days it is home to an excellent series of rooms dedicated to the golden age of Al-Andalus. In one room, you can hear two of its great philosophers in conversation, Bin Rushd and Bin Arabi. Then there is the men of science like Albucasis. Together, their work would change the intellectual landscape of Europe. Another pays homage to the music of Al-Andalus, a forerunner to western musical revolutions such as the one instigated by the troubadours. Here, forgotten masters like Ziryab enlighten you about the grandfather of the modern guitar among other instruments. Then there is the room that describes courtly life and one that details the agricultural techniques fostered in this region and later transported across the continent. Finally, rooms are dedicated to the reimagining of the Caliphate Mosque and Granada’s Alhambra during their cultural heights. An hour in the Torre de la Calahorra will leave you wondering only one thing, “Why don’t I already know all of this?”

Sinagoga
When Abd Al-Rahman III declared himself Caliph, one of his most trusted aides was the Jewish scholar, Hasdai bin Shaprut. During much of Muslim rule in Iberia, European Jews flourished as a community, before being permanently expelled under Christian rule. Wander through the beautiful whitewashed narrow streets where they once lived in search of highlights such as the bronze statue of Maimonides, a great medieval scholar who was born in Cordoba, and the stunning little Sinagoga, where it will become truly apparent just how much early Sephardic Jews interacted with local Muslim culture.

Madinat Al-Zahra
A short bus ride from Cordoba city, Madinat Al-Zahra has been reduced to what looks like little more than a mass sprawl of uninspiring rocks under the odd half arch. This makes it difficult to envision the “city,” which took 10,000 laborers 40 years to complete. Madinat Al-Zahra was intended to announce to the world the wealth, glory and power of the newly declared Caliph Abd Al-Rahman III, but in reality it signified the beginning of the end, as the opulent mini palace city lasted a mere 30 years before being sacked by the intolerant Almohads. Scholars see its demise as the start of Al-Andalus’ decline. The impressive and tactfully submerged museum now compensates for what your imagination can’t do using interesting artifacts and an auditorium that plays short films showing what the Umayyad court looked like as well as just how much it achieved. It also has a brilliant bookshop.

Hammam Al-Andalus, Cordoba
“... Europe was dirty, Cordoba built a thousand baths …,” wrote the 20th century author and physician Victor Robinson. This venue is less about history as it is about imagination and relaxing. Baths like these were found all over Cordoba in its glory days, and this modern incarnation works hard to evoke that classical experience in a historic building reimagined in the traditional artistic style of Al-Andalus, complete with horseshoe arches. Swim in the warm waters, relax in the saunas, maybe even indulge in a little massage, as you again contemplate the impact Al-Andalus and its great citizens had on modern European culture.

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Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah project ‘on time and on track’

Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah project ‘on time and on track’
Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. (Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah project ‘on time and on track’

Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah project ‘on time and on track’
  • DGDA chief vows to turn ‘Jewel of the Kingdom’ into a global destination

RIYADH: Despite challenges posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the multibillion-dollar Diriyah Gate Project is “on time and on track,” said Jerry Inzerillo, the tourism mogul and CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA).

In an interview with SPA, Inzrillo said development work on the biggest cultural project in the world, at a cost of SR75 billion ($20 billion), is forging ahead.
Seven square kilometers of the historic city of Diriyah, just 15 minutes northwest of Riyadh, are being transformed into one of the world’s foremost lifestyle destinations for culture, hospitality, retail and education.
“It will become one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated subsurface infrastructures,” Inzerillo said. “We have recently signed new contracts and are currently in the process of adapting different building techniques for our authentic Najdi architecture.”
In line with design, development and preservation standards, DGDA is creating an environment that enhances Diriyah’s national and international relevance, including the preservation of the At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site, which sits at the heart of the development.
Officials hope the “Jewel of the Kingdom” attracts local and international visitors alike through its world-class entertainment and events.
One such world-class event will be held this weekend when the Kingdom hosts the Diriyah E-Prix double-header, two nights of racing set to launch the seventh season of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

HIGHLIGHTS

• DGDA is creating an environment that enhances Diriyah’s national and international relevance.

• Officials hope the ‘Jewel of the Kingdom’ attracts local and international visitors alike through its world-class entertainment and events.

• One such world-class event will be held this weekend when the Kingdom hosts the Diriyah E-Prix double-header.

Inzerillo said lighting up the Formula E race circuit with environmentally friendly lighting and low-consumption LED technology contributed to an increase in creativity and innovation. It led to the introduction of sustainable solutions that are more energy-efficient and reduce carbon emissions.
The health and safety of drivers and those who will attend the championship is a top priority for the organizers of the event as Inzrillo said strict COVID-19 precautions will be taken to ensure everyone’s safety.
A successful race event will only reinforce Diriyah’s position as one of the world’s greatest gathering places, with modern amenities and advanced infrastructure, he said.
“Hosting the Formula E race against the historical background of Diriyah is an appropriate representation of our vision,” Inzrillo said. “The DGDA wants to protect the history of Diriyah while taking steps toward the future.”
The authority has plans to host more international sporting events at Diriyah as Inzrillo predicts that sports and health will take leading roles in the Kingdom’s future tourism.
He said DGDA wants to build world-class golf courses, picturesque squares, outdoor plazas and tracks dedicated to horse riders that will enhance social and human interaction in Diriyah.
“Heritage and history will be honored and beautifully interwoven with sustainability and environmental considerations,” Inzrillo said.


Experts to resume excavation work on Saudi archaeological sites

Experts to resume excavation work on Saudi archaeological sites
The file photo shows foreign archaeologists excavating the site of Saffaqah in Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Peninsula is home to several ancients sites dating back thousands of years. (Social media)
Updated 24 February 2021

Experts to resume excavation work on Saudi archaeological sites

Experts to resume excavation work on Saudi archaeological sites
  • Before the pandemic, more than 40 teams of local and foreign experts were working in different areas

RIYADH: The Saudi Heritage Authority is preparing to resume survey and archaeological excavations in the Kingdom after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak forced projects to be suspended for almost a year.

The projects will be carried out in partnership with international missions from universities and specialized international research centers.
Teams from various Saudi universities also have been invited to contribute to the survey and excavation operations, and to help unearth antiquities in various regions in the Kingdom.
The Heritage Authority is responsible for conducting archaeological surveys and excavations to discover the rich cultural history of the Kingdom.
Before the pandemic, more than 40 international and local teams were taking part in archaeological excavations in Saudi Arabia. During their research, they discovered traces of ancient human settlements in the Arabian Peninsula, which were published in a string of scientific publications.
The authority collaborates with several research centers and universities to conduct archaeological surveys and excavation operations, and these missions will return to work on 20 sites in the Kingdom along with their Saudi counterparts.
Archaeological missions will resume survey activities at five archaeological sites within the framework of the authority’s cooperation with Saudi public universities.
The authority will also carry out archaeological survey and excavation projects at 19 sites in different regions of the Kingdom, in addition to registering shipwreck sites in the Arabian Gulf for the first time.
Remote sensing techniques and artificial intelligence are among the latest approaches used by the authority and its partner missions.
The authority is expected to launch new research projects this year in cooperation with local partners, including the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the Royal Commission for AlUla, NEOM Co., AMAALA Co., the Red Sea Development Co.
It will also involve national cadres, including male and female students as well as archaeology and heritage researchers in the projects.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Heritage Authority is responsible for conducting archaeological surveys and excavations.

• The authority will also carry out archaeological survey and excavation projects at 19 sites in different regions of the Kingdom.

• Remote sensing techniques and artificial intelligence are among the latest approaches used by the authority and its partner missions.

Fahd Alotaibi, a history professor at King Saud University, said: “The excavation of antiquities confirms the Saudi government’s keenness to root the cultural depth of the Kingdom and the history of human settlement there,” adding that the Arabian Peninsula is one of the oldest geographical areas in which man appeared.
He said that the return of archaeological surveys highlighted the Kingdom’s success in dealing with the pandemic as well as the high level of expertise achieved by Saudi antiquities specialists.
Alotaibi, author of “Language, Writing and Identity in the Arabian Peninsula Before Islam,” said that Saudi Arabia, with its huge archaeological remnants, is a magnet for scholars from around the world.
“The archaeological surveys will yield a lot of archaeological and historical results that will contribute to filling the gap in information about the Kingdom’s national history, or correcting some previous information,” he added.
Alotaibi said that Saudi antiquities researchers’ partnership with international experts through joint surveys, and the Saudi Heritage Authority’s keenness to deal with archaeology departments in local universities, will deliver field training opportunities for students’ and localize experiences related to antiquities.


Saudi cave guide unlocks doors to ‘hidden’ Kingdom

Saudi cave guide unlocks doors to ‘hidden’ Kingdom
Tourism guidance is Mohammed’s life, and the Kingdom’s caves and their geological structures are his field of specialization as a guide for foreign and Saudi tourists. (Supplied)
Updated 21 February 2021

Saudi cave guide unlocks doors to ‘hidden’ Kingdom

Saudi cave guide unlocks doors to ‘hidden’ Kingdom
  • The cave, a long tunnel formed by volcanic lava, was formed when the surface of the volcanic lava began to freeze, with the lava below ground remaining as liquid due to the high temperature

MAKKAH: Tareq Mohammed, a specialist in cave tourism from Madinah, is opening the door to a new world of geotourism in Saudi Arabia.
Tourism guidance is Mohammed’s life, and the Kingdom’s caves and their geological structures are his field of specialization as a guide for foreign and Saudi tourists.
“When we talk about geotourism, the first thing that comes to mind are beaches, forests, deserts, mountains, underground wells, hot springs and areas of dormant volcanoes. But Saudi Arabia is also full of monuments and caves,” Mohammed told Arab News.
Geotourism is starting to revive in the Kingdom, and travelers of all ages are discovering that caves are a safe and enjoyable source of adventure.
According to the guide, caves in Saudi Arabia are divided into five basic types according to their geological division: Ice caves, which are formed in ice in cold regions; marine caves formed by waves, oceans or rivers flowing into large rocks or mountains, creating large cavities over thousands of years; basaltic caves, known as volcanic caves; limestone caves; and sand caves that form inside sandy mountains.
“An example of basaltic caves is the Maker Al-Shaiheen cave, which is classified as the longest basaltic cave in the Middle East with a length of about 3,700 meters,” he said.
The cave, a long tunnel formed by volcanic lava, was formed when the surface of the volcanic lava began to freeze, with the lava below ground remaining as liquid due to the high temperature.
“The lava continues to flow until it reaches the end of the tube. The dimensions of the cave vary between 4-12 meters in width and 1.5-12 meters in length,” he said. The Maker Al-Shaiheen cave is located in the west of the Kingdom in Harrat Khaybar, Madinah region.
A sand cave in Al-Qarah Mountain in the eastern region is an excellent example of this type, Mohammed said.
Limestone caves are formed below the Earth’s surface. Over millions of years, acidic groundwater or underground rivers eat away the limestone, leaving cavities that grow over time.

HIGHLIGHT

According to Tareq Mohammed, caves in Saudi Arabia are divided into five basic types according to their geological division: Ice caves, which are formed in ice in cold regions; marine caves formed by waves, oceans or rivers flowing into large rocks or mountains, creating large cavities over thousands of years; basaltic caves, known as volcanic caves; limestone caves; and sand caves that form inside sandy mountains.

“Al-Murabba (square) cave and the Tahaleb (algae) cave are examples of limestone caves. The Tahaleb (algae) cave is characterized by moisture and the presence of some types of algae at its entrance, hence the name,” he said.
“I think these caves are the most beautiful in terms of their different formations and shapes, such as the different limestone stalactites and stalagmites.”
According to Mohammed, the central region of the Kingdom is characterized by these types of caves.
These cavities are called either “cave” or “dehl,” terms that have much the same meaning, he explained. But one difference is that the entrance of the cave is a horizontal cavity, while the entrance of the dehl is a vertical cavity.
The tour guide said that cave tourism is available throughout the year since the caves’ temperature is constant between 24-26 degrees Celsius, whether morning or evening, winter or summer.
He said that any visit should be led by a specialized guide, who will reveal the characteristics of the caves.


Arab Tourism Day promoting ‘digital future’ for region

Arab Tourism Day promoting ‘digital future’ for region
The tourism sector is expected to undergo a selective transition of existing jobs. (SPA)
Updated 21 February 2021

Arab Tourism Day promoting ‘digital future’ for region

Arab Tourism Day promoting ‘digital future’ for region
  • The new era of Arab tourism will take place at the government level and in the private sector through investors and businesses

JEDDAH: The Arab Tourism Organization has called on the Arab world to celebrate Arab Tourism Day on Feb. 25 under the slogan “Digital Transformation towards Safe Arab Tourism.”

The organization said that the Arab tourism industry of the future will be judged on the quantity of tourists, but also on the quality of services and technological development.

Tourism services must be updated according to health procedures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization said, adding that non-contact travel from arrival to departure should be a priority for the sector.

The organization said that digital transformation is an important goal that requires the Arab world to deliver the return of safe tourism.

It cited the latest statistics by the World Economic Forum in Davos that predicted that digital transformation in aviation, travel and tourism will generate an added value for the tourism sector of $305 billion during the period from 2019 to 2025.

The transformation will also transfer $100 billion from traditional sectors to new competitors and generate indirect benefits of $700 billion by reducing environmental impacts, enhancing safety, security and savings on costs and time for tourists.

The Arab Tourism Organization said that the tourism sector is also expected to undergo a selective transition of existing jobs. However, job losses in the transition are being offset by the creation of new positions based on the skills of the new digital age within and outside the travel system, the organization added.

The new era of Arab tourism will take place at the government level and in the private sector through investors and businesses. Global spending on information technology in relation to digital transformation is expected to reach $7.5 trillion in the future


Snowfall brings sightseers to Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk

Snowfall brings sightseers to Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk
Every year the snowfall brings tourists from across the Kingdom to Tabuk. (Supplied)
Updated 19 February 2021

Snowfall brings sightseers to Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk

Snowfall brings sightseers to Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk
  • Every year, the snowfall brings tourists from across the Kingdom to Tabuk, and while the COVID-19 pandemic will mean fewer visitors than usual this year

JEDDAH: The mountains of Tabuk were capped in snow Thursday morning after a huge drop in temperature overnight. Videos of the storm, and of people celebrating the snowfall, circulated widely on social media, as well as clips of snow-covered camels relaxing before the sunrise.
There were excited comments from Tabuk residents, while those in other regions looked on in envy as the snow encased the mountaintops of Alan, Jabal Al-Lawz and Ad-Daher.
One Twitter user wrote: “What a wondrous sight, like something out of Europe. I’m not sure it’s even here.”

Another, Mohammed Al-Salem, expressed his sadness at being unable to enjoy the snowy mountain tops, saying: “Oh, my heart. Tabuk wins the best city in the winter award. I long to experience such weather.”
Sama Al-Kuwait wrote: “Such beauty in the midst of winter. We often go too far to seek snow, when snow has been close to home in Tabuk. I will surely visit after the pandemic.”
Every year, the snowfall brings tourists from across the Kingdom to Tabuk, and while the COVID-19 pandemic will mean fewer visitors than usual this year, some people still drove all the way from the UAE to capture the snow on camera, according to Al-Arabiya.

HIGHLIGHT

Meteorology experts said temperatures in the far north of the Kingdom are expected to drop even further in the near future, and authorities have issued extreme weather warnings in a number of areas across Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, the Eastern Province, Qassim, Hail, Tabuk, the Northern Borders region, Al-Baha, Asir, Jazan, Jawf and Najran.

Others took to social media to educate people on the weather in various regions of the Kingdom.

Spokesman for the Kingdom’s Embassy in Washington, Fahad Nazer, wrote: “There is no one denying climate change, but it’s also not that rare for this region — Tabuk, in northwestern Saudi Arabia — to experience snow. Contrary to popular perception, not every region in the Kingdom is warm year-round.”
Meteorology experts said temperatures in the far north of the Kingdom are expected to drop even further in the near future, and authorities have issued extreme weather warnings in a number of areas across Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, the Eastern Province, Qassim, Hail, Tabuk, the Northern Borders region, Al-Baha, Asir, Jazan, Jawf and Najran.