Date with history: Life and death share a valley in Madain Saleh

Date with history: Life and death share a valley in Madain Saleh
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Elephant Rock is a magnet for tourists. Madain Saleh offers a treasure trove for history buffs.
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Date with history: Life and death share a valley in Madain Saleh
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Updated 16 December 2017

Date with history: Life and death share a valley in Madain Saleh

Date with history: Life and death share a valley in Madain Saleh

JEDDAH: Madain Saleh or Al-Hijr City, located in Al-Ula governorate, is an important Saudi tourist landmark.
The city of Al-Hijr was the capital of the Kingdom of Lihyan in the north of the Arabian Peninsula. The city dates back to the era of the Nabatean kingdom. It contains the largest southern settlement of the Nabatean kingdom after the city of Petra in Jordan, the capital of the city of Nabateans about 500 km away.
In 2008, Madain Saleh was selected as one of UNESCO’s historic heritage sites, making it the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in Saudi Arabia.
The name of Madain Saleh is attributed to Prophet Saleh and is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an as “Al-Hijr”, described as a region carved from the mountains and rocks. It contains the site of the well from which the prophet’s she-camel drank.
Arab News visited Madain Saleh and wandered among its ancient palaces and graves with a young Saudi named Abdullah Al-Zahofi. He is a tour guide who provides services to tourists coming to visit the province of Al-Ula and its monuments, whether in Madain Saleh or other archaeological sites.
We started our tour by visiting Elephant Rock, a magnet for tourists in Al-Ula.
Elephant Rock is located 7 km to the east of the province of Al-Ula. It is a massive rock about 50 meters above ground and is characterized by its unique elephant-like shape.
Its location is an ideal center for desert sports and mountaineering enthusiasts, given the panoramic richness of the place.
Al-Zahofi said this site is important for tourism in view of its uniqueness in form. Tourists and visitors of different nationalities prefer to spend time here enjoying the atmosphere and tranquility.
The landscape is filled with the smells of orange, tangerine, lemon, and palm trees, which give the place a further splendor, harmonizing with the bright colors of the mountains.
The place plays a big role in boosting desert tourism and horse racing. It attracts many families keen to hike there.
Then we went to Madain Saleh and the so-called Mount Athlab where Madain and its beautiful palaces are located.
When we arrived at the main entrance, we found a gate at which the vehicles wishing to enter the site and information about its drivers are registered. They told us that the gates would be closed at 5 p.m. and we had to leave the site before that.
We headed to the Hijaz railway station of the Ottoman Empire. Al-Zahofi said this is one of the Hijaz railway stations, which linked the Levant to the holy city of Madinah.
It is the second-largest railway station in the Hijaz area after the Madinah station. Madain Saleh was a prosperous city because of its location on the important Incense Route.
The station consists of a large workshop to repair train carriages, large castles, houses, mosques, weapon stores, water closets and a large water tank. Prophet Saleh’s well is also there.
Then we headed to the most important palace or tomb located in Madain Saleh which is called Qasr Al-Farid or the “unique palace.” It gains importance for several reasons — it is one of the largest existing tombs and its name represents its uniqueness as one rock independent of the rest of the palaces or tombs.
The tomb is unique because it was not completed and was not used as a tomb as there are no traces of burial sites inside it.
It is also distinguished from the rest of the tombs with an increase in the columns carved on the facade. Most graves have two columns, but Al-Farid has four with Nabatean crowns on the front.

The castles in Madain Saleh took the form of palaces. However, they are nothing but the graves and tombs of the people who inhabited the area.
Eid Al-Yahya, the presenter of “On the Footsteps of the Arabs” program on Al-Arabiya channel, said that Madain Saleh contains both Thamudic and Nabatean writings.
Al-Yahya, a famous media figure interested in the archaeology and human history of Saudi Arabia, who accompanied us on this trip, said the graves have many indications that confirm that they were not only designed for burial but were also used for housing.
Among these indications is Mount Athlab that has the diwan, a place for celebrations, eating and drinking next to burial places, according to Al-Yahya. “So, the place was not for just funerals, as claimed by archaeologists.”
Al-Yahya said the method behind carving the diwan has kept in consideration how the Romans ate, lay down on their sides and put food and drinks in front of them. A lot of Thamudic words found on the site and the designs carved on the ceiling of the diwan indicate that the place was used for the pleasures of life.
Al-Yahya said a lot of Nabatean writings on the site of the diwan in addition to Thamudic writings indicate that history in this region is mixed and needs further study and investigation in order to explain to the coming generations the past of this region in detail.
There are large chairs for senior people — Thamudis or Nabateans — who lived in this area in addition to a big strategic water tank with channels carved from the mountaintop to ensure a water flow during the rains.
There are also more than 60 wells, and most famous wells of the Nabatean have a depth of 15 meters. They were drilled in the middle of the mountains to receive the rainwater falling on the mountains.
In a corner of Madain Saleh, a wonderful painting was discovered by Ahmed Aboudi of the Department of Antiquities at King Saud University. It was painted with iron oxide. It is a spring flower, semi-hidden, has peculiar chemical properties and has the effects of the classical period dating back to the third and fourth century BC of the Mediterranean basin and Mesopotamia. It is believed that this painting dates back to 200 BC.
Then we went to a large palace called Qasr Al-Saneh. Although it does not create much excitement, it serves as an introduction to the main elements of the Nabatean model of the graves having a great facade. The two forms are composed of five steps. The inscriptions are at the top of the door. Inside the tomb, there are holes that were used to contain the bodies.
Al-Kraimat includes 20 graves in good condition from the best-preserved tombs in Madain Saleh. They have shapes that look like a griffin (with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion and the head of a human). Some shapes resemble roses, drawn on trays that were used in rituals associated with funerals. In Al-Kraimat, there are also houses built of bricks and a Nabatean well.
Our next stop was the Qasr Al-Farid, one of the most famous and beautiful Nabatean tombs in Al-Hijr. It is characterized by a very large northern facade, and was called Al-Farid or “the unique” because it is an independent rock mass.
The accuracy and beauty of the sculpturing are clear in the facade. Despite this beauty, the sculpture of Al-Farid is incomplete at the bottom. The palace was built for a person named Hayyan ibn Kuza, according to some researchers.
Another famous place in Madain Saleh is Qasr Al-Bint, or Palace of the Girl, around which many fictitious romantic stories revolve. They say that a girl is buried in it after her father killed her because of her romantic relationship with one of the sculptors in the era of the Nabateans who inhabited the cities in 150 BC.
Tourist guide Marzouq Al-Anzi said local residents named this landmark Qasr Al-Bint.
The eye-catching tomb highlights the highest levels of sculpturing and decorative art forms.
The Nabatean crown is located on either side of the entrance to the tomb. The triangular facade is visible above the entrance. The center is shaped like an eagle — Dushara — a deity worshipped by the Nabateans in Petra and Madain Saleh.
In the center of the triangular facade, we see a circular image of a very ugly human face surrounded by snakes. In Nabateans’ belief, it represented the tomb guard, and below it, there is pink decoration.
Most of the tombs in this area were characterized by the presence of writings at the top of the entrances bearing the name of the person buried, those entitled to bury the dead and the date of its sculpture and the name of the sculptor.
To the left of Qasr Al-Bint, there is a huge incomplete grave on the top of the mountain. Most likely, its owner or the sculptor died during its construction. Al-Anzi explained that the tomb has a single room and that its size is defined by the social and economic status of the grave owner.
At the end of the tour, we went to a landmark in the middle of Madain Saleh — the sad-face mountain, which is a large rock bearing the shape of a sad man at the top of a mountain. The destination is popular among tourists with cameras.
Madain Saleh is visited by tourists from different countries as well as media delegations. During our tour, we came across a journalist from Luxembourg and a large number of tourists from Asian countries and Saudis from outside Al-Ula.


Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 30 min 43 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 393,653
  • A total of 6,878 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced nine deaths from COVID-19 and 1098 new infections on Friday.
Of the new cases, 454 were recorded in Riyadh, 244 in Makkah, 171 in the the Eastern Province, 44 in Asir, 42 in Madinah, 28 in Tabuk, 23 in Jazan, 20 in Hail, 13 in the Northern Borders region, 11 in Al-Jouf, and 10 in Najran.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 393,653 after 1205 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 6,878 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 7.8 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Saudi Arabia to date.


To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables

To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables
Updated 23 April 2021

To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables

To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables
  • The Kingdom has noticed an increase in drug smugglers in Lebanon targeting Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi customs foiled an attempt to smuggle Captagon pills hidden in pomegranates that came from Lebanon

RIYADH: Lebanese fruit and vegetable imports will be banned from entering Saudi Arabia or transiting via the Kingdom as of 9 a.m. on Sunday in a bid to prevent drug trafficking.
The Kingdom has noticed an increase in drug smugglers in Lebanon targeting Saudi Arabia, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Friday.
Lebanese products are being used to smuggle drugs into the Kingdom’s territory, either through consignments intended for Saudi markets or those that transit through the Kingdom on their way to neighboring countries. The most common products used to smuggle the drugs were fruit and vegetables, SPA said.
The ban will last until Lebanese authorities provide guarantees that they will take the necessary measures to stop systematic drug smuggling operations.
The Ministry of Interior will continue to follow up and monitor consignments of other products coming from Lebanon to see whether similar measures needed to be taken against them.

Meanwhile, Saudi customs at Jeddah Islamic Port foiled an attempt to smuggle more than 5.3 million Captagon pills hidden “artistically” in a consignment of pomegranates that came from Lebanon.

The intended recipient of the pomegranate consignment was arrested and the drugs were seized, SPA reported on Friday. 


Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia
Updated 23 April 2021

Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia
  • Arab coalition: We will take all measures to protect civilians in accordance with international law

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said it had intercepted a Houthi drone targeting southern Saudi Arabia, Al Ekhbariya TV reported early Friday.
A second drone targeting the city of Khamis Mushait and a third toward Jazan were also intercepted, according to the local broadcaster.  
The coalition, which is fighting to restore the legitimacy of the internationally recognized government in Yemen, had said it will take all measures to protect civilians in accordance with international law.


King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
Updated 23 April 2021

King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
  • Saudi ruler tells summit of world leaders the challenges created by global warming do not respect national borders
  • Biden says US will reduce emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030; China, Russia also pledge to make cuts

NEW YORK: Boosting international cooperation is the “optimal solution” to tackling climate change, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told a summit of world leaders on Thursday.

He said global warming threatens lives on our planet and that the challenges “recognize no national borders.”

“The objective is sustainable development, and in order to achieve this there must be a comprehensive methodology that takes into account the different developments and circumstances that exist around the world,” King Salman said during the Leaders Summit on Climate, which was hosted by the US.

He said the Kingdom has launched packages of strategies and introduced regulations with the aim of using clean, renewable sources to produce 50 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2030.

“Enhancing the level of international cooperation is the optimal solution to meeting the challenges of climate change,” the king said.

“During our G20 presidency last year we advocated the need to adopt a notion of a circular carbon economy, launching two international initiatives to curb land degradation and to protect coral reefs.”

He added that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced two new environmental plans: the Green Saudi Initiative and the Green Middle East Initiative. They aim to reduce carbon emissions in the region by more than 10 percent of current global contributions.

“These initiatives also aim at planting 50 billion trees in the region,” he said.

The Kingdom, he added, will work with its partners to achieve these goals and host forums for both initiatives later this year.

“Finally we would like to affirm our keenness and commitment to cooperation to combat climate change, in order to create a better environment for future generations, wishing success for our efforts to protect our planet,” he said.

Earlier, US President Joe Biden — who convened the summit with a view to building global momentum for climate action ahead of COP26, the UN’s

Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November — pledged to cut US fossil fuel emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030.

“Meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet,” Biden said. “It’s about providing a better future for all of us.” He called it “a moment of peril but a moment of opportunity.”

In his presidential campaign last year, Biden made tackling climate change one of his top priorities. While Republicans oppose his plans on the grounds they will cost jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries, Biden believes that a transition to cleaner energy sources will create millions of well-paid jobs, a stance echoed by many of the world leaders who attended the summit.

“This is not bunny-hugging, this is about growth and jobs,” said the UK’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Forty leaders are taking part in the two-day summit. The UN has described 2021 as a “climate emergency” year, with scientists warning that climate change caused by the use of coal and other fossil fuels is exacerbating natural disasters such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires. There are fears that the world now faces a race against time to avoid the disastrous extremes of global warming.

The world’s most powerful nations have announced various measures to address the crisis. They include targets for reductions in harmful emissions, plans to stop the public financing of coal, and a commitment to integrating climate action into economic-stimulus plans in an effort to “build back better” after the pandemic-related economic collapse, with the goal of “leaving no one behind.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin also made commitments to reduce emissions. Neither of them made any mention of their respective non-climate disputes with Biden.

Xi — whose country is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed closely by the US — said that “to protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. It’s as simple as that.”

Putin, who Biden recently referred to as a “killer” because of the Russian leader’s crackdown on opponents, said his country is “genuinely interested in galvanizing international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a number of other leaders who spoke at the summit in welcoming the US back to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, from which President Donald Trump withdrew.

She told Biden: “There can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals.”

Small states and island nations, which contribute the least to greenhouse- gas emissions but face the most severe dangers and damage resulting from climate change as they are increasingly affected by hurricanes and rising sea levels, asked the major world powers for help.

Gaston Alfonso Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said his people are “teetering on the edge of despair.” He asked the international community for debt relief and assistance to help his country recover from the effects of storms and the pandemic, to “prevent a flow of climate refugees.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the commitments made during the summit to achieving carbon neutrality as “a much-needed boost to our collective efforts to address the climate crisis ahead of COP26 in November in Glasgow.”

He added: “It is now urgent that all countries, especially other major emitters, present their 2030 climate plans well before COP 26.”

Guterres also urged leaders to deliver on $100 billion of climate commitments made to developing countries a decade ago.

“The world will be watching carefully, particularly those already experiencing severe climate impacts and an ongoing economic crisis,” he said.

“Today’s summit shows the tide is turning for climate action, but there is still a long way to go. To avert a permanent climate catastrophe, we must now urgently build on the momentum delivered today, in this make-or-break year for people and the planet.”


‘Let’s Make it Green’ campaign plants 10 million trees across Saudi Arabia

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
Updated 23 April 2021

‘Let’s Make it Green’ campaign plants 10 million trees across Saudi Arabia

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
  • Efforts will continue to plant more trees, in line with the ‘Green Saudi’ and ‘Green Middle East’ initiatives

RIYADH: A campaign to plant 10 million trees in 165 sites across the Kingdom to develop vegetation cover and limit desertification has been successfully completed.

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and the National Center for Vegetation Cover announced the success of the “Let’s Make it Green” campaign that was launched in October 2020. 

The campaign covered all of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces. The Eastern Province topped the list with more than 2.6 million trees planted, followed by more than 2.1 million in Madinah, over 1.3 million in Makkah, around 1 million in both Jazan and Riyadh, 462,000 in Qassim, and 270,000 in Asir.

Baha reached nearly 300,000, and more than 142,000 trees were planted in the Northern Border, followed by Jouf with more than 113,000, then Hail with about 85,000, Tabuk with over 75,000, and finally Najran with nearly 52,000 trees.

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)

The CEO of the center, Dr. Khaled Al-Abd Al-Qader, said that the campaign planted endangered trees and shrubs in areas that were environmentally degraded due to overgrazing, logging, uprooting, and urban sprawl.

“The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation,” he added.

The ministry ensured that the campaign was aligned with sustainability and water conservation requirements and by using treated wastewater or seawater for irrigation, in line with the best international practices.

The center and ministry worked in cooperation with various governmental authorities, private sector organizations, environmental associations, and community groups.

Minister of Water, Environment and Agriculture Abdul Rahman Al-Fadli said: “What we have accomplished is the result of the support and directions of the Saudi leadership to make the Kingdom a pioneer in protecting the Earth, achieve the international objectives in protecting the environment, increase the vegetation cover, reduce carbon emissions, combat pollution and land degradation, and preserve marine life.”

Efforts will continue to plant more trees, in line with the “Green Saudi” and “Green Middle East” initiatives, he added.

Al-Qader said that the “Let’s Make it Green” campaign has recovered biodiversity, rehabilitated degraded vegetation cover sites, promoted positive behaviors to preserve the nation’s environment and improve the quality of life in Saudi Arabia.