Itching to travel? Visit the wonders of AlUla … from home

The vast digital library comprising 3D experiences of AlUla sites and ancient rock art. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 April 2020

Itching to travel? Visit the wonders of AlUla … from home

  • AlUla residents receive training to create digital record of local rock art

DUBAI: When Saudi Arabia’s ancient heritage site of AlUla announced it would open to the world in late 2020, it was on the bucket list of every fervent traveller. Who wouldn’t want to visit Hegra, the impressive Maraya Concert Hall or watch the sunset at Elephant Rock? As we approach the International Day for Monuments and Sites on April 18, it is worth commemorating these ancient lands with their 200,000 years of history — an area once pivotal for trade and the transmission of cultures, which connected Asia, Africa and Europe.

In December 2018, a new Art Jameel project was launched, training a group of 15 men and women from AlUla to learn photogrammetry, a digital mapping technique, in order to digitally record and document the heritage of the rock carvings in the area. Hosted by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), the initiative took place over two weeks of intensive training led by Art Jameel, with the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation, and supported by the Rothschild Foundation.



Yet no one could have foreseen the effects of the current coronavirus. The work done by these AlUla residents now seems to have been undertaken at just the right time. Individuals from their varying degrees of quarantine around the world will soon be able to admire and learn of the wonders of these most mystical ancient lands in Saudi Arabia.

The vast digital library comprising 3D experiences of AlUla sites and ancient rock art, due to be ready for public viewing in the next several months, will allow viewers momentary escape amidst the beauty of AlUla from the confines of varying degrees of lockdown.

“Photogrammetry allows the team to reconstruct accurate digital copies and 3D models of small immoveable heritage items like inscriptions as well as large monuments and buildings, from this we can build models of the historical sites that are not open to the public,” explained Annette Gibbons-Warren, cultural planning director at the RCU.

Over 9,000 sites of rock art and inscriptions have been located in AlUla. (Supplied)

The technology then enables viewers the ability to experience such heritage sites digitally. “We are moving towards this virtual experience with our Living Museum website and use of digital lenses and 360 videos,” she added.

The benefits of using this technology are twofold: It helps to preserve and protect the heritage of AlUla by aiding its conservation and research through high resolution digital document and it provides training to the local populace, fostering the growth of a heritage economy in AlUla.

“I am looking forward to continuing to develop within the field, and expanding the practice of photogrammetry in AlUla for the benefit of everyone interested in contributing to the preservation of heritage in Saudi Arabia,” said Jawharah Albalawi, one of the first phase students.

Thus far the initiatives have reached 3,500 people in the AlUla community and created more than 900 jobs. (Supplied)

The project demonstrates the RCU’s commitment to serving the local communities of AlUla through a series of community-based programs that prioritize human development. Thus far the initiatives have reached 3,500 people in the AlUla community and created more than 900 jobs.

Over 9,000 sites of rock art and inscriptions have been located in AlUla. Building the capacity to digitally document these sites is thus key to the long-term project of documenting them.

“RCU is revealing, protecting, sharing and celebrating AlUla’s extraordinary cultural heritage with the world,” said Rebecca Foote, director of archaeology and cultural heritage preservation. “Through the archeological programs we are undertaking, we are making this heritage globally accessible, shining a spotlight on AlUla’s ancient cultures and kingdoms, and demonstrating their relevance through the far-reaching cultural exchange that has taken place over millennia.”

Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

Tom Hanks stars in ‘News of the World.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

LOS ANGELES: Depending on who you ask, Westerns are either on their way out, gone for good, or making a slow comeback in Hollywood. At one point a staple genre of the film industry, the classic Western rarely makes it onto the movie theater marquee these days. Big-budget flops such as 2013’s “The Lone Ranger” have served to usher the genre out of popularity, but critical successes such as Quinten Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” “The Hateful 8” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” are doing their part to keep Westerns from dying off completely. 

On Christmas Day, “News of the World” will be doing its part to keep the Western genre alive, and hopefully bag Universal Pictures a few Oscar nominations. Arab News heard more from the film’s star Tom Hanks.

“I love listening to a great story as much as I like telling one, and that’s why I was so excited about playing Kidd,” Hanks said, giving audiences a taste of what his performance has in store. “He is a storyteller. He is driven, emotional. He is noble. He is moved by a pursuit of the truth.”

Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former army officer who, after the death of his family, makes his living traveling around Texas reading the news to illiterate townsfolk and entertaining with true tales from across the world.

“'News of the World' takes place in the shadow of the Civil War’s end. There is defeat. There is strife and anger. Because of the war, Kidd came back to having nothing left,” he told us. “Reading the news gave him a purpose. He got up. He collected the stories. He delivered a reading and then he moved onto the next town.”

 As he continues in his travels, Kidd comes across Johanna, a young girl who had been taken from her pioneer family and raised by the Kiowa Native Americans. 

“She has no idea who her family is,” Hanks shared. “Burdened by his own decency, Kidd is going to have to return her to her family and this coming from a man who has lost any semblance of what a family is.”

The movie is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Paulette Jiles, and while it is not based on a true story, its main characters are inspired by real people. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is based on the ancestor of a friend of Jiles’ — the similarly named historical figure Captain Adolphus Caesar Kydd — who performed readings of newspapers in the 1870s. Johanna is inspired by the more well-known historical tale of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped and raised by the Comanche Native Americans.

Interestingly, there seems to be a disagreement between Jiles and film director Paul Greengrass about their goals in portraying the story of “News of the World.” In a 2016 interview with Texas Monthly, Jiles stated that she had no intention of making a commentary on contemporary politics with the original book, preferring to “move people into the world of imagination.”

Greengrass, on the other hand, told reporters at Vanity Fair that he saw the film, which features families and communities in conflict with each other, as representative of the societal divide in the modern-day US. With these opposing ideas woven into the fabric of the story, it will be interesting to see what audiences take away after watching.

It is clear what Universal is hoping to take away, and that is an Oscar. “News of the World” sees Hanks and Greengrass working together again after their previous collaboration, 2013’s “Captain Phillips.” While not an Oscar-winner, “Captain Phillips” received six nominations as well as attention at the Golden Globes and other award shows. With the film releasing at the tail end of the Oscar season, and a road-tested team of director and star, “News of the World” could be Universal’s best shot at an award for the 2020 film year.

Between award season dreams and the hopeful continuation of the Western genre, there is a lot riding on “News of the World.” At its core, however, the movie promises A-list performances and a compelling story full of action and heart.

“Kidd goes through something that saves him as much as he saves Johanna. She gave him a true purpose,” Hanks told us. “His real message is ‘when you have love in your life you will be alright.’ That’s what all great stories are. It’s just pure love for another human being.”