Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks

Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks
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The Esmahan Sultan Mosque in Romania.
Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks
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Interior of a mosque in Romania.
Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks
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Dark mint tea is the beverage of choice in Mangalia.
Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks
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Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks
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Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks
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Ottoman flourishes atop headstones in the local cemetery denote high-ranking people.
Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks
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Updated 05 May 2017

Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks

Hidden Romania: The best place to find unknown Ottoman Empire landmarks

The bright August sun began its descent in the sky. In the distance the sound of the Black Sea lapping against Dobrogea’s sandy coastline can be heard over the shrieks of children frolicking in its cool waters. It is summertime in Romania, and everyone is headed for the beach in Mangalia, a small town in the country’s southeast.
Well, not quite everyone. Elderly local Lutfi, an ethnic Turk is shuffling toward Mangalia’s historic center. His soft plimsolls move rhythmically as he nears the green gates of the Esmahan Sultan Mosque. There he lifts his wooden walking stick to greet his fellow worshippers, all local pensioners arriving for the early afternoon prayer.
They are the real-life relics of a Romanian history few travelers know.
I am a couple of hours, drive out of Romania’s bustling capital city Bucharest, where the country’s only piece of coastline meets the sea once known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as the “Hospitable Sea.” Most visitors to this former Soviet country come looking for Transylvanian Draculas or Ceausescu’s communism. I’ve come looking for Romania’s hidden Muslim heritage.
Lutfi is my first great discovery. His ancestors were brought here by the Ottomans. After the prayer, we both stand outside the mosque and he lifts his walking stick toward the brown tourist sign at the entrance, urging me to read the English text.
It tells me the small whitewashed mosque with a terracotta-roof and a single pencil-thin minaret was built in the 16th century by the Ottoman princess, Esma — daughter of Sultan Selim II and wife of the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmet Pasha. It also says that the region of Dobrogea was once a very tolerant place.
“In 1452, when Dobrogea got under the Ottoman domination, and the Turkish, Tatar, Bulgarian, Circassian, Gaguaz, Greek and Jewish peoples became a mixture of religious beliefs, the famous Turkish traveler, Evlia Celebi mentioned, ‘... go to Mangalia, which is the Kaaba Makkah of the wandering and poor people.’”
“Moscheee! Gooood!” Lutfi grins, seeing the look of astonishment now on my face. The sun bouncing off his tinted glasses.
Beside us, in the untidy foliage that surrounds the mosque there are a dozen or so slim tombstones in various stages of decay. The Persian script is still legible on some. Many are topped with high-ranking stone Ottoman headdresses and resemble proud soldiers refusing to wane. This had been no ordinary mosque.
Romania’s Muslim heritage stretches all the way back to the 11th century when Muslims arrived with the semi-nomadic Pecheneg Turks, who briefly ruled parts of Wallachia — the historic name for much of modern Romania. After that the influence was Tatar and Ottoman as the country became first part of the Golden Horde Khanate and then the Ottoman Empire during the Middle Ages.
Yet almost none of this heritage appears on the Romanian tourist trail. Locals head to Dobrogea in search of sun, sea and sand at the seaside resorts of Neptun-Olymp, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn, just north of Mangalia. Built during the communist 1970s, and with no further investment since, wandering around them is a nostalgic experience for a Western tourist. Their names are a nod to Romania’s attempts to align itself with ancient Roman culture.
Even in the regional capital, Constanta, the main monument by the sea is a statue of a Roman poet, Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid. He was banished here by the Emperor Augustus when it was called Tomis in 8CE. Ovid reportedly despised the place, pining for his beloved Rome, but that hasn’t stopped local authorities claiming him as one of their own. The city’s main university is also named after him.
Not far from Ovid’s statue lies Romania’s most important Muslim landmark, the Grand Mosque of Constanta, built on the site of the earlier 19th century Mahmudiyye Mosque. The modern Romano-Byzantine styled building with Egyptian architectural influence was commissioned by King Carol I in 1910 and is now the seat of the country’s Grand Mufti, Murat Yusuf, leader of Romania’s 65,000 Muslims (mainly ethnic Turks and Tatars). The mosque is also home to one of Romania’s most beautiful Muslim artifacts, the largest hand-woven Persian carpet in Europe — a gift from the last Ottoman Caliph, Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
Beside the main hall is a 164-foot minaret, which offers awesome views over Constanta’s historic old town, making the Grand Mosque extremely popular with local tourists. Local Muslims prefer to pray elsewhere.
About three blocks away, in a congested part of the historic center, surrounded by open air cafes, is the less aesthetically appealing Hunchiar Mosque. Square and plain in design, it is more Methodist church then mosque from the outside. The Hunchiar was one of the last mosques built by the Ottomans in Romania. Inside, I met another descendent of the country’s ancient Muslim communities, Saleh, a local geography student of Tatar descent.
After Asr (mid-afternoon prayer), we sat inside the dimly lit prayer hall, the glaze on the mehrab’s pretty blue tiles glistening with the shards of light coming through the grilled windows. Each tile was brought here from the town of Iznik in Turkey where they are produced.
“The Mangalia mosque is probably the oldest in Romania, and a very important one, but I think there is another one in the north that might be older, I’m just not sure,” Saleh said. “There are also lots of other historical Muslim things to see in Romania, but very few of these have been written about, so it is difficult to describe them.”
Saleh is right. Just north of Constanta is the town of Babadeg, where a tomb reportedly from the 13th century is dedicated to the Muslim holy man, Sari Saltik. It is Romania’s oldest Muslim monument. The town also has original Ottoman houses, a Muslim-era fountain and a historic mosque. He was unsure of the exact details and couldn’t tell me more, but that was no surprise. The Muslim history of Romania is truly a hidden one.

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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.