Saudi Arabia’s Maraya Concert Hall: An architectural wonder of the world

Saudi Arabia’s Maraya Concert Hall: An architectural wonder of the world
A total of 9,740 square meters of mirrors cover the exterior walls of the cube-shaped structure reflecting the picturesque surroundings of AlUla. (Photos/ Supplied)
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Updated 18 March 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Maraya Concert Hall: An architectural wonder of the world

Saudi Arabia’s Maraya Concert Hall: An architectural wonder of the world
  • Located in Wadi Ashaar, the hall is equipped with the latest theatrical and operatic sound systems

RIYADH: The magnificent Maraya Concert Hall in the northwestern Saudi province of AlUla has set a Guinness record for the largest mirrored building in the world.

Maraya (meaning mirrors in Arabic) has been dubbed the “mirrored wonder” due to the giant sheets of glass attached to its structure, which reflect AlUla’s breathtaking landscape.
This includes Hegra, the first historical site in Saudi Arabia to be included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The building has been described as a “site-specific landmark” of true “land-art architecture,” and its extraordinary facade was unveiled at a special ceremony organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla during the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival.
The 500-seat venue has hosted leading international artists, including Egyptian musician Omar Khairat and Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli. The festival began its artistic journey with a performance by the renowned Moroccan singer Aziza Jalal, who surprised fans with a return after a 35-year hiatus.

Marvelous environment
Located in Wadi Ashaar, near the volcanic freeway, the hall is equipped with the latest theatrical and operatic sound systems. A total of 9,740 square meters of mirrors cover the exterior walls of the cube-shaped structure reflecting the picturesque surroundings of AlUla, a landscape that has captivated artists and architects from the Nabataean civilization through to the present day.




Maraya (meaning mirrors in Arabic) has been dubbed the ‘mirrored wonder’ due to the giant sheets of glass attached to its structure, which reflect AlUla’s breathtaking landscape.

Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, said: “AlUla is a cultural heritage to the world, and this step comes in fulfillment of AlUla’s vision, to create a regional and global cultural center.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The building has been described as a ‘site-specific landmark’ of true ‘land-art architecture.’

• Its extraordinary facade was unveiled at a special ceremony organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla during the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival.

“We have developed Maraya Concert Hall as a hub for world events, concerts, celebrations, gatherings, and business conventions. The mirrored hall is a global platform where nature, culture, and human heritage coexist in harmony.
“We are proud to celebrate the opening of Maraya Concert Hall, and we thank our partners, experts, engineers, and architects, who worked day and night to create this astounding monument in the heart of the marvelous desert environment of AlUla,” he added.
Designer Florian Boje, of Gio Forma, said: “As evident in the architecture of the Nabataeans, Maraya Concert Hall was created utilizing segmentation and (by) sculpting the blocks.

“This unique edifice makes us think about the unique landscape of the geological saga, the radical abstraction of the enchanting environment of AlUla, and the uncommon incursions for man in the natural landscape.

Civilization
“The reflections give an overwhelming balance and a deep sense of the connection of human heritage with nature and its intertwining and harmonizing together, which provides us with the responsibility of protecting our human culture that is combined with the exceptional nature of AlUla.”
The development of the concert hall came within the framework of the cultural and heritage statement of AlUla, which was recently issued and published by the Royal Commission for AlUla, inviting global arts and business communities to join the commission in a new cultural chapter in the rich history of AlUla.
The vision for AlUla states that “the artistic mission of AlUla is clear, and (it) will remain the destination for artists to draw their inspiration from a site that highlights the monuments of historical civilizations.

AlUla is a cultural heritage to the world, and this step comes in fulfillment of AlUla’s vision, to create a regional and global cultural center.

Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla

“What remains of great cultures is art and architecture. Successive civilizations have formed the cultural scene with their knowledge and experience, and AlUla will remain the artistic destination for artists to enhance a spirit of imagination and inspiration in their being, and the expression that constitutes the infrastructure of AlUla and its structures and daily life to enrich the encounters of the visitors.”
The second Winter at Tantora festival witnessed a celebration of international events, including the first Hegra Conference of Nobel Laureates 2020, held in the city of AlUla from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1.


Eighteen Nobel laureates of peace, economics, literature, physics, chemistry, physiology, and medicine took part in the event along with an elite group of intellectuals, politicians and social leaders from 32 countries around the world.
They presented theses to meet the challenges affecting humanity and the world. The conference aimed to make a significant impact on, and offer solutions to, urgent global dilemmas, with discussions putting forward ways to tackle future issues related to education, health, agriculture, and the world’s economy.

 


Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months
Updated 3 min 55 sec ago

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months
  • Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, says Al-Sudairi

RIYADH: The inflation rate in Saudi Arabia is expected to be 3.2 percent and the rate would decline because of a higher base, Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Al-Rajhi Capital, told Arab News.

The cost of living index of Saudi Arabia remained in the positive trajectory and increased by 6.2 percent year-on-year in June 2021, mainly driven by a rise in value-added tax (VAT) from 5 percent to 15 percent in July 2020, according to Al-Rajhi Capital.

Saudi spending in the local market, especially in the retail, food, and beverages, and health segments continues to support the economy, it added.

Point of sales transactions continued their uptrend, increasing 4.6 percent in June 2021 compared to June of last year, primarily driven by an increase in restaurants and hotels, clothing and footwear, and health segments, Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) data revealed.

Credit to the private sector increased 16.8 percent year-on-year in June, while bank claims on the public sector increased 9.6 percent and the deposits grew by 10.2 percent, the official data showed.

Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, said Al-Sudairi.

SAMA also pointed out in its latest monthly report that remittances from Saudi nationals increased by 56 percent year-on-year in June 2021, while remittances growth from non-Saudi nationals declined 3.4 percent.

Remittance for Saudis increased due to an increase in travel while for expats the trend remains broadly flat, Al-Sudairi added.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Saudi Arabia’s economy is recovering well from the pandemic, and the Kingdom opened its doors to vaccinated foreign tourists on Aug.1.


Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
Updated 25 min 2 sec ago

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
  • Lithuania calls on the EU to take action to halt the growing number of people illegally crossing its border
  • Minister said more than 4,000 migrants have entered Lithuania illegally this year

LONDON: Lithuania accused Belarus on Wednesday of using migrants from the Middle East and Africa as a “political weapon” and urged the EU to intervene.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was allowing flights with what he claims are tourists from Iraq, Syria and African countries who then illegally cross the border into Lithuania in an attempt to seek asylum in the EU.

More than 4,000 migrants have already entered Lithuania in this way so far this year, compared with only about 80 in the whole of 2020, Landsbergis told the website Politico.

“This is not the 2015 migration crisis,” he said. “This is not people fleeing the war in Syria. This is actually a hybrid weapon, a political weapon one might say, that is (being) used to change the European policy.”

He warned that a recent decision by Belarus to increase the number flights from Iraq to Minsk could lead to more than 6,000 migrants crossing the border into Lithuania every week.

“There are currently 24 flights to Minsk from Istanbul and eight flights from Baghdad each week,” said Landsbergis. “If you consider that each of these flights can transport up to 170 people, and if you fill all the seats with asylum seekers, the capacity is up to 6,000 people a week — or even more because new flights from Erbil have been announced on Monday. So there is a possibility for Lukashenko to really up the ante.”

The foreign minister called for increased international pressure on Minsk through further sanctions and by lobbying the home countries of migrants to take action.

“The EU could tell countries such as Iraq that there’s a list of instruments — restrictions of visa programs, for example — that we will use if they don’t stop these flights to Minsk,” Landsbergis said.

“We know that these people are not tourists coming to visit Belarus.”

The number of migrants crossing into Lithuania from Belarus could exceed 10,000 by the end of the summer, he warned, and added that this number could dramatically increase as Lukashenko approaches African governments “to build up new routes.”

“So what we are seeing might be just the beginning,” he said.

The foreign minister said he has discussed the issue with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials who “understand the situation,” but he stressed that more must be done.

“I think we need to really step up our game,” Landsbergis said. “Because at this point the message that we are sending (is) not sufficient to change the way things are.”

Lithuania has asked for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers this month to agree assistance for the country, which is on the front line of a new migration crisis in Europe.

On Tuesday, Lithuanian authorities said they reserve the right to use force to prevent illegal immigration, and turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country. However, rights groups said all nations have an obligation to protect vulnerable people.

“Push backs of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and other human rights instruments” Egle Samuchovaite, program director for Lithuania's Red Cross, told the Associated Press.

She added that refusing to allow vulnerable people to cross the border leaves them in an unsafe environment, trapped between two countries.

Lithuania has no physical barriers along its almost 700-kilometer border with Belarus.

The row over the latest actions of Belarus’s authoritarian president comes after the EU imposed sanctions on his country over an incident in May that was denounced as “state piracy,” in which a Belarusian warplane was scrambled to intercept an aircraft so that a dissident journalist could be arrested.


Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
Updated 52 min 9 sec ago

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
  • Youngster stranded on Greek island has reportedly tried to hang himself twice
  • Alleging abuse including sexual assault, he wants to join his brothers in Britain

LONDON: An expert medical report has warned that a young asylum seeker who has been blocked from joining his brothers in Britain is at high risk of suicide.

Samir, whose name has been changed for his safety and security, is stranded in Greece away from his family.

He fled his home country in 2019 after reportedly enduring torture and detention, and has been living alone on the island of Samos.

He was assessed by the Greek authorities last year as being 20 years old but maintained that he was a child.

He is appealing the decision, but was refused access to Britain by the Home Office, which denied him access to the family reunion process to join his two brothers. His brothers are both refugees in Britain, arriving in February this year.

His application was rejected because the Greek authorities determined that he was an adult, but Samir argues that he is 17.

Immigration authorities in Greece also said there was “insufficient” evidence of a close relationship between Samir and his family. His lawyers in Britain are challenging the decision on both grounds.

Samir previously told The Independent newspaper about the horrendous conditions he was facing on the fringe of his refugee camp, saying he was being bullied and abused, and enduring sexual assault from an older man.

Lawyers said he has tried to hang himself twice, and has had no access to any mental health support.

A medical report written by Prof. David Bell, one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum and immigration, found that Samir is in a “complex chronic traumatized state.”

Bell assessed Samir via video link, writing that he suffers from a “severe depressive disorder.”

Bell concluded on July 29 that it is “clear” Samir will continue to suffer from his disorder “as long as he remains in this environment, regardless of any treatment he can receive.”

Bell added that Samir is within the worst 5 percent of the approximately 400 refugees he has assessed during his career.

He said in the report submitted to court in Britain that it is “absolutely essential” that Samir is “removed from this environment from a mental point of view as soon as possible” and “transferred to the UK to be with his brothers.”

Rebecca Chapman, Samir’s barrister, argued on Tuesday that the Home Office had failed to adequately consider his situation and vulnerabilities through its denial of his right to family life.

Representing the Home Office, lawyer Simon Murray disputed the accusations, saying the department’s decisions were made lawfully.

The asylum seeker’s UK-based solicitor, Rachel Harger of Bindmans Solicitors, said: “Samir is living out the reality of what it means to rely on so-called legal ‘safe’ pathways before entering the UK: Inordinate delays and relentlessly hostile litigation conduct from the Home Office.”

She added: “Notwithstanding the very real risk of physical harm Samir continues to face, there is likely to be a long term impact to his mental health as a consequence of living in a chronically traumatised state whilst in perpetual fear for over a year and a half. This cannot be considered a ‘safe’ route for Samir.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the government and in 2019, the UK received more asylum claims from unaccompanied children than any other European country, including Greece.

“As part of our New Plan for Immigration to fix the UK’s broken asylum system, we will continue to welcome people through safe and legal routes and prioritise those most in need.”


Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani
Updated 04 August 2021

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

DUBAI: Two female judokas, one mat, one Olympic contest. That the two athletes competing, Tahani Al-Qahtani and Raz Hershko, happened to be from Saudi Arabia and Israel, made the recent first round of the women’s judo 78-kilogram-class meeting at Tokyo 2020 more than just an ordinary bout.

The two countries have no formal relations and no history of sporting competition to speak of. Furthermore, regional politics and boycotts movements have made it a norm that Arab athletes refuse to take part in any match opposite an Israeli counterpart in fear that this might be interpreted as a form of recognition.

This is why, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, Israeli judoka Hershko had made it a point to praise the bravery of Al-Qahtani. Not only did the Saudi judoka defy popular calls by hatemongers to boycott the match, but she participated knowing very well that Hershko has far more international experience and was clearly the likely winner.

The 23-year-old Israeli said: “I think it is amazing that we both put politics aside to do something we love. I was super excited that anything can happen at the Olympics.

“I knew it was rare for an (Arab) to accept to fight like this, but I was so excited when she accepted. Both of us put politics to the side and did what we loved together in the match.”

Algerian Fethi Nourine and Sudan’s Mohammed Abdalrasool had withdrawn from the judo men’s plus-73-kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete. But Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Hershko, a decision that drew praise from Japanese media and prompted a wave of support from high-profile figures and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qahtani was the last of the Kingdom’s 33 athletes to confirm her place at Tokyo 2020, her wild card selection making her only the second female judoka from the country to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Games. The two women had walked out side-by-side onto the mat ahead of what turned out to be a tough match for the inexperienced 22-year-old Saudi. As the fight progressed, Hershko racked up the points, eventually beating Al-Qahtani 11-0.

“It was a tough fight in the beginning. She (Al-Qahtani) was brave to take on the fight despite pressure from hatemongers about her decision to fight me,” Hershko added. The victor pointed out that she and Al-Qahtani were simply human beings, females from different countries, playing in a match. “I don’t think it was different from fighting someone from the US or South Africa. It was great that Al-Qahtani bravely accepted and let politics stay out of the picture.”

After Al-Qahtani’s loss, some questioned whether the pressure of the situation had affected her performance.

While Al-Qahtani was not available for comment, Hershko noted the importance of the match and how sport could be a uniting force at a time when politics in the Middle East continued to be a hot topic, even after several countries had normalized relations with Israel.

“Politics has nothing to do with it, it was a good match,” said Hershko.

In a statement after the bout, the International Judo Federation said: “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Al-Qahtani’s courageous performance on and off the judo mat demonstrated a notable shift in Saudi Arabia, and an openness to rise above current geopolitics in the realm of sports and culture, both avenues that could bring people from opposing nations together.

On whether she would accept an invitation to compete in Saudi Arabia, Hershko said: “Of course, why not?”


Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis

Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis
Updated 13 min 31 sec ago

Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis

Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis
  • Prince Faisal reiterated the Kingdom’s continuous solidarity with the Lebanese people in times of crises
  • The minister said any aid provided to Lebanon by the Kingdom depends on serious reforms being carried out

RIYADH: Hezbollah’s insistence on imposing its hegemony on the Lebanese state is the main cause of Lebanon’s problems, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Speaking at an international conference on Lebanon marking the first anniversary of the Beirut Port explosion, Prince Faisal bin Farhan urged Lebanese politicians to confront the organization’s behavior in order to achieve the will of the Lebanese people to combat corruption and implement necessary reforms in the crisis-stricken country.
Prince Faisal added that any aid provided to Lebanon by the Kingdom depends on serious reforms being carried out while ensuring the money reaches its beneficiaries and not siphoned off by corrupt officials.
“We are concerned that the investigations into the Beirut port explosion have not yet yielded any tangible results,” the foreign minister said. 
He praised the efforts of France and the international community to support Lebanon and its people, stressing the need for these efforts to be accompanied by real reforms to overcome the economic and political crises sweeping Lebanon. 
Prince Faisal reiterated the Kingdom’s continuous solidarity with the Lebanese people in times of crises and challenges, and stressed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to its contributions to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon.
“The Kingdom was one of the first countries to respond to providing humanitarian aid to Lebanon after the horrific explosion that occurred exactly a year ago in the port of Beirut through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief). KSRelief continues to implement its programs in Beirut to this day,” Prince Faisal said.
The donor conference to raise emergency aid for Lebanon's crippled economy on Wednesday raised $370 million, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.