Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s visit puts Saudi Arabia’s AlUla treasures in focus

The ancient Nabataean city of Hegra in the AlUla Valley, a center of power at the core of the trade routes across the Arabian Peninsula, dates, like its famous twin city Petra, in Jordan, from around the fourth century BC. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s visit puts Saudi Arabia’s AlUla treasures in focus

  • Visit is Abe’s last stop in his visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman
  • Arab News has created an interactive titled “The Rebirth of AlUla” in both English and Japanese

RIYADH: The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tour of AlUla during his visit to Saudi Arabia casts a spotlight on the ancient Nabataean site as it prepares to open its doors to the public later this year.

AlUla, the last stop in Abe’s visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman, is full of archaeological treasures nestling amid beautiful desert landscapes.

Saudi Arabia’s move to open up Hegra city and the AlUla Valley is restoring a missing chapter in the history of the Arabian Peninsula and the entire world.

Bearing the name Mada’in Salih in the post- Islamic era, the lost city of Hegra was built by the Nabataeans, like its famous twin Petra in Jordan. They controlled the profitable trade routes that crossed the Arabian Peninsula from east to west and north to south from about the fourth century BC to 106 AD.

Arab News has created an interactive “The Rebirth of AlUla” — arabnews.com/alula — that dives deep into its history, blending compelling storytelling and journalism with stunning video footage, beautiful photography, animated graphics and rare footage and interviews - in both English and Japanese.

“The Rebirth of AlUla” throws light on the work of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), established in 2017, which is working with the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula) on “the transformation of the AlUla region into a worldwide cultural and touristic destination.”

The site is currently hosting the second Winter at Tantora festival, a spectacular celebration of art, music and heritage that is drawing the world once again to AlUla from Dec. 19 to March 7.

Over 12 weekends of festivities, visitors are being treated to an eclectic mix of performers, including the Gipsy Kings, Lionel Richie, Enrique Iglesias, Craig David and Jamiroquai.

Returning to Winter at Tantora will be Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Greek pianist Yanni and Egyptian composer Omar Khairat.

The festival is also showcasing the newly constructed Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla, which is surrounded by mountains, combining modernism and antiquity.

The concert hall was built as an architectural extension of the environment that surrounds it at its site in Ashar, situated in the volcanic foothills of Harrat ‘Uwayrid.

In 2007, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, under its Secretary-General Prince Sultan bin Salman, nominated AlUla for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The application was accepted, and Hegra became the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Leaders magazine in February 2019, the RCU’s CEO Amr Al-Madani said AlUla is “full of archaeological treasures from the Dadanite, Nabataean, Roman and Islamic civilizations, nestled amongst the staggeringly beautiful desert landscapes.”

A cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the nation’s sustainable development, the project aims to create opportunities for the community and boost the local economy in AlUla.

Afalula will support the growth of infrastructure, archaeology and tourism in the area, with the aim of attracting 2 million visitors per year to the site by 2035, in the process creating 35,000 jobs for the residents of AlUla.

The RCU’s task is to contribute SR120 billion ($32 billion) to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2035. It currently employs 374 people, of which 134 are based in AlUla.

The RCU is also engaging the local community through programs such as Hammaya, in which 2,500 residents will train to be advocates for AlUla’s natural and human heritage.

The emphasis on local identity and heritage is unmistakable. About a 45-minute drive from Hegra is the Sharaan Nature Reserve, a territory of 925 sq. km within AlUla that features some of the region’s most striking rock formations and desert habitats, managed by local rangers trained by international specialists.

“We’ve reintroduced Idmi gazelles, Nubian ibexes and red-necked ostriches into the reserve, and they’re thriving and doing well,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Malki, head of the reserve.

The Arabian leopard may soon follow. In April this year, two cubs were born as part of a breeding program to preserve and eventually reintroduce the critically endangered species back into the wild in northwest Saudi Arabia.

Central to AlUla’s vision is the incorporation of art and cultural initiatives. The RCU’s cultural manifesto says: “AlUla will become known worldwide as a place to dream, where the greatest artists and thinkers of our time gather to stretch their creative capabilities and realize some of their most ambitious artworks and arts experiences — an evolving cultural crossroads for today and the future.”

Just as the caravans of antiquity once came to trade in this land, so AlUla, with an ancient Hegra reborn, will once again attract travelers from all corners of the world.

 
 


Riyadh governor opens high-profile Saudi economic forum

Updated 56 sec ago

Riyadh governor opens high-profile Saudi economic forum

RIYADH: A high-profile conference to tackle some of the main challenges facing the Saudi economy was on Tuesday opened by Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar.

Speaking at the opening session of the influential three-day Riyadh Economic Forum (REF), the prince praised the Saudi business community for its cooperation with the government in helping to strengthen the country’s economic fortunes.

The ninth edition of the forum, being held under the title “Human-Centered Economy,” will discuss some of the key future economic issues confronting the Kingdom.

Thanking King Salman for his patronage of the event, vice chairman of Riyadh Chamber and chairman of the forum’s board of trustees, Hamad Al-Shuwaier, said important recommendations linked to the Vision 2030 plan would be announced during the gathering.

These would be related to the areas of public finance reform, the nonprofit sector, future jobs, the environment, and reverse migration.

“What distinguishes the forum, which serves as a research center for national issues, is its focus on the principle of dialogue and participation between all concerned, specialized and responsible parties within the economic and social community, by intensifying meetings and promoting participation in all study discussions, with the aim of touching barriers in a close and intensive manner.

“Accurately diagnosing the facts gives accurate results when identifying solutions,” he added.

Special sessions of the forum will aim to generate practical suggestions and solutions to help with economic decision-making and to establish the principle of dialogue and participation among sectors of the business community.

In July 2019, the REF held a panel discussion at the chamber’s Riyadh headquarters on a study detailing the role of balanced economic development in reverse migration and sustainable and comprehensive development in the Kingdom.

Its focus was to identify the obstacles preventing the movement of young workers between towns and big cities, as well as highlighting ways to improve the quality of life in small urban centers through an analytical survey of industrial and service resources in different regions.

Al-Shuwaier noted that the forum was special in bringing together a broad range of intellectual and practical minds from government and private sector organizations covering many fields.

He added that the chamber was working on the final touches to transforming the forum into an independent economic think tank that served national economic issues.

Ajlan Al-Ajlan, chairman of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), which organized the event, said the forum’s main objectives included using scientific studies and methodology to identify issues affecting the national economy, analyzing constraints on economic growth and working to combat them by learning from the experiences of other countries.

He pointed out that the forum coincided with the Kingdom’s presidency of the 2020 G20 summit of global leaders, being held in Riyadh in November, and that the eyes of the world would be on Saudi Arabia.

The forum is one of the participants in T20, an official G20 engagement group, with four topics related to important sectors discussed by the group.

The opening ceremony of the REF was followed by a session on future jobs, administered by Education Minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh. Delegates discussed employment requirements linked to the fourth industrial revolution and how to tackle the prospect of 40 percent of jobs becoming obsolete due to mechanization in the farming and industrial sectors.

The session highlighted that education should go hand in hand to prepare students for the jobs of the future.

Forum data showed its previous eight sessions attracted 33,938 attendees, an average of 4,243 participants per session.