Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 May 2021

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
  • The region is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality

RIYADH: Old neighborhoods in the heart of the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia, are popular attractions, especially with older visitors who like to wander around and look at the traditional mud houses that remind them of their childhood days.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the region in these buildings, both the surviving examples of those built a century ago and the more recent buildings that mimic their style.

Mohammed Al-Na’am is the supervisor of several Al-Na’am heritage houses. These properties, which are owned by his family and were built many decades ago, are open 24 hours a day to visitors and passers-by, who can stop by for a coffee and some food or even stay the night. There are many other houses across the Hail region that are similarly welcoming, he said.

His heritage houses are usually busy with visitors from Hail and beyond, who appreciate the generosity of their hosts, he said. Most of those who visit the houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, are particularly impressed by the ornately decorated walls and ceilings, which have been restored and renovated with a modern touch, Al-Na’am added.

“Hail is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality,” he said. “This explains the interest in the ancient buildings of the region.”

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms, he explained. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

While this traditional style of building enjoys enduring popularity, Al-Na’am said, the high cost of constructing mud houses and the need for continuous maintenance means that modern versions are often built using concrete. This allows the classic mud-house style to be preserved while reducing the cost of construction and maintenance.

“Some modern buildings maintain the traditional design used in ancient buildings and use the same style of decorations, especially those in the city center,” he said. But this style of ancient buildings originally developed and spread in the villages of the region, not in the city.

HIGHLIGHT

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

One feature of these buildings is the design of the majlis or sitting rooms, which often have relatively high ceilings to make it easier to keep the room clear of smoke from the fire during the winter and keep it cool in the summer, said Al-Na’am.

“Most of the sitting rooms are decorated with plaster featuring geometric shapes,” he added. “However, today’s buildings use gypsum plaster and cement, which have lower costs.”

Some people continue to keep the old traditions alive by working with authentic materials. Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts, has been passionate about building mud houses for more than 30 years.

He said he mixes the mud he uses, and that other materials used in the construction include tree trunks and palm-tree fronds. He described the Hail architectural style as durable and solid, with strong walls ranging in thickness from 30 to 40 centimeters. Mixing the mud is a delicate process that requires special skills, and is not as random as it might appear, he added.

“For example, certain parts of the building require a certain amount of mud and clay and a certain quantity of soil,” he explained. “For other parts, mud and soil are mixed and soft hay is added. The mixture is fermented for seven to 14 days before construction starts.”

Al-Khuzam, who is also a well-known fine artist, has taken part in many heritage exhibitions in the Kingdom and other countries.

“My participation in these events aimed to promote our traditional heritage and introduce the next generations to the traditional methods our forefathers used,” he said. The traditional designs and construction methods used in old buildings reflected the values and beliefs of the community, said Al-Khuzam. It was usual, for example, for doors in mud houses to be positioned in such a way that they did not reveal the interior of the house. A wall would block the view. Decorations were also an important part of the design process.

“Our forefathers paid special attention to the sitting room’s construction, which reflected their taste in art and architecture,” he said. “The majority of sitting rooms were decorated with engravings on the walls as well as Qur’anic verses, wise proverbs and drawings of plants.”

The majlis, where guests were hosted, was known as al-qahwa (the coffee area), he explained, and the area overlooking the yard was called liwan (summer majlis).

One feature that sets houses in Hail apart from those in other areas, according to Al-Khuzam, is the yard. Typically, it is a large space with an orange tree in the center. Orange trees live a long time and are a signature feature of yards in Hail. Some also have palm trees.

Another prominent feature of architecture in the region is something called a “dome,” which is located in front of the building. It is where the residents of the house traditionally spend most of their time during the summer. It also helps to shield the rest of the house from the sun and rain.

The previously mentioned majlis or sitting room in the heart of the house is where family members gather during the cold days of winter and light a fire to keep warm. The heads of the family occupy the main bedroom, while the children share rooms that are divided between boys and girls.

One of the nicest parts of a traditional Hail house is called “al-qubaiba.” Located off a corridor or a corner, it is a small space usually used by women, especially the elderly, to pray. A clay pot filled with water is stored there to keep it cool.

Al-Khuzam’s enduring passion for Hail’s old buildings is clear.

“I have been ready to do anything for the sake of this precious heritage and legacy,” he said. “I was glad when I heard that the Ministry of Culture had decided to restore the heritage sitting rooms in the city of Hail. These public places represent an important aspect of the traditions and values of the people of Hail, reflecting their generosity to visitors and passers-by. Some of them are open from after Asr prayers until midnight.

“I was a member of the team that restored these sitting rooms. I am grateful for the authorities’ support and for giving us the opportunity to put our touches on the historic buildings in the area.”

Mohammed Al-Halfi, a historian and doctorate student at King Saud University, said a house represents a part of a family’s identity and offers an insight into their history. Houses built close together are indicative of the close relationships between the people that lived in them, he explained.

They reveal how these people planned their lives together and built houses that reflected their environments and surroundings, he added. In the rural desert environment, known for its harshness and extreme summer heat, mud houses helped to manage the temperature.

“Using mud in architecture became an art hundreds of years ago, and still is,” said Al-Halfi. “Guest and living rooms in today’s houses have the same style as the old ones, and this reflects our pride in this identity and our heritage.”

He added that a study of the materials, design and construction techniques that were used to make the mud houses reveals the expertise of the builders. They took into account all factors to ensure the structures were perfectly suited to the local conditions, including the terrain and climate, and even the rising and setting of the sun.

“We must view mud houses as a historical source when studying any society,” said Al-Halfi. “These houses deserve to be studied, economically and socially, to get more information about the community at the time.

“That is why we find mud houses differ from one region to another, according to the cultures of their inhabitants and the building requirements available in their environments.”


Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
The exhibition will be divided into five sections: Origins of the Arabic script, development of calligraphy, master calligraphers, calligraphy and contemporary art, and calligraphy, artificial intelligence. (AN photos/Basheer Saleh)
Updated 16 June 2021

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
  • Event devoted to the art form opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh

RIYADH: Artists have been sharing their thoughts about the “mesmerizing and elegant” beauty and spirituality of Arabic calligraphy, and the importance of the art form, ahead of the opening on Wednesday of an exhibition in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi conceptual artist Othman Al-Khuzaim believes that global interest in the art of Arabic calligraphy has grown in recent years, and this can be attributed to increased awareness of its beauty.
“The general interest of people in calligraphy has led them to show appreciation for Arabic calligraphy, with all its mesmerizing and elegant shapes and forms,” he said.
“Arabic calligraphy stands witness to beauty, which is depicted by Arabic calligraphists on walls inside the Two Holy Mosques to add more spirituality to the holy places.”
Describing Arabic calligraphy as one of the most prominent forms of visual art, Al-Khuzaim said he often recommends it to people and encourages them to enjoy and appreciate it even if they cannot read the language or understand the meaning of the words.
Script and Calligraphy: A Timeless Journey, which opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh and runs until Aug. 21, is a good place for newcomers to the art form to start, or for those who are already familiar with it to learn more about its history, from its origins right up the present day.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Organized by the Culture Ministry, the exhibition runs until Aug. 21.

• The 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings.

• It includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture to showcase the history of Arabic calligraphy, the 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings, along with the relationship between calligraphy, contemporary art and artificial intelligence (AI).
This exceptional journey through history features input from Saudi and international master calligraphers, contemporary artists and designers. It begins with the advent of written communication on the Arabian Peninsula nearly 1,700 years ago and traces the development of scripts engraved on stone and included in linear paintings, manuscripts and other objects across the Islamic world.
The exhibition brings the story right up to date by considering the most modern applications of Arabic calligraphy, for example in fashion, design and even AI. Alongside the classic artworks on display, visitors will find an AI machine, developed by Egyptian artist and designer Haytham Nawar, that allows them to produce a new pictographic language on a video screen.
At the other end of the timeline of Arabic calligraphy, the exhibition includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD. There is also a selection of Qur’an manuscripts, including the renowned Blue Qur’an and Mushaf Al-Madinah, and a specially designed manuscript presented by Obvious, a collective of French AI researchers and artists.

Such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts.
Abdelrahman El-Shahed Calligrapher

Abdelrahman El-Shahed, a calligrapher and contemporary artist involved in the exhibition, said such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts, who view the preservation of the art form as an important way to show pride in their religion and nations. They also help bring calligraphists together to continue to develop an ancient art, he added.
“We are glad that the Mohammed bin Salman Global Center for Arabic Calligraphy has been launched,” said El-Shahed. “It will definitely help in promoting and preserving Arabic calligraphy around the world, and giving it the appreciation it deserves.”
Saudi authorities announced in April last year that the Dar Al-Qalam Center in Madinah would be developed to become a global platform for calligraphers from all over the world and was renamed in honor of the crown prince. Arabic calligraphy in the region also receives great support from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who last year launched the Year of Arabic Calligraphy initiative to raise awareness and interest in the art form.


Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema

Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema
Saudi nationals will be able to apply to the Red Sea Fund to support short films. (Supplied)
Updated 36 min 28 sec ago

Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema

Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema
  • The Red Sea Souk project market will take place from Nov. 12-15 at the RSFF as projects will compete for the Red Sea Development and Production Awards in the amount of $25,000 and $100,000

JEDDAH: The Red Sea Film Festival Foundation has announced its SR37.5 million ($10 million) fund, which will support projects with directors from the Arab World and Africa, launching a new generation of filmmakers and supporting established auteurs as they bring their work from script to screen.
The Red Sea Fund will back more than 100 projects in its first year, creating a game-changing boost for filmmakers by supporting fiction, documentary, and animation feature films, as well as episodic content.
Additionally, Saudi nationals will be able to apply to the Red Sea Fund to support short films in development and production.
“Helping African and Arab cinema grow — that is a very exciting responsibility,” said Edouard Waintrop, the artistic director of the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSFF).
“That is what the Red Sea Fund will do at every stage of the making of the chosen movies and episodic content. In providing more than 100 grants of up to $10 million to help the development, production, and post-production of movies across the Arab World and Africa, the Red Sea Fund will help cinema that is in full metamorphosis.”
The Red Sea Fund is part of the foundation’s commitment to the regional screen sector, which also includes launching the inaugural RSFF from Nov. 11-20 in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historic downtown.
The festival will see the launch of the Red Sea Souk, its marketplace and industry hub for the region. Red Sea Souk will include a project market, with pitching sessions of more than 20 projects from the Arab World and Africa, as well as a films-in-progress workshop.
All projects that apply to the Red Sea Fund will automatically be eligible for the Red Sea Souk.
The Red Sea Souk project market will take place from Nov. 12-15 at the RSFF as projects will compete for the Red Sea Development and Production Awards in the amount of $25,000 and $100,000.

FASTFACTS

• Fund will back more than 100 projects in its first year as grants will be awarded for development, production, and post-production.

• Inaugural Red Sea Film Festival will be held Nov. 11-20 in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historic downtown.

The Red Sea Souk films-in-progress workshop will be held Nov. 12-15 at the RSFF as each selected project will compete for the Red Sea Post-Production Awards worth $30,000.
“Over the past two decades, we have seen the Arab and African film industry grow and flourish,” RSFF Managing Director Shivani Pandya said.
“The fund and the Red Sea Souk will provide more tools to support the Arab and African film business to make even more of an impact on the international marketplace with the launch of its project market and films in-progress workshop this November.”
The Red Sea Souk will also include panels, networking events, workshops, and booths connecting the international film community to the exciting new Saudi market.
Applications are welcome from around the world to support projects by African or Arab directors, as the Red Sea Fund is open through July 21.
The Red Sea Fund will be split across three main categories. The first is development, which aims to support bold and creative directors in developing live-action, emerging media, and animation projects from treatments to production-ready screenplays and concepts. The Fund will develop projects from Arab, African and Saudi directors that have a director and producer attached.

The second category is Red Sea Fund – Production, which targets projects going into production and is aimed at supporting any aspect of the shoot. Open to viable projects at the production stage, with a script, committed director and producer attached, as well as potential cast and confirmed timeline. The team can be emerging or established, but with proven experience in filmmaking.

The last category is Red Sea Fund – Post-Production, which supports all aspects of post-production on feature-length projects. Once a rough cut is ready, these grants will support filmmakers to complete their films and get them ready for distribution and exhibition. The team can be emerging or established, but with proven experience in filmmaking.


Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic

Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic
Acting Minister of Media Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi. (SPA)
Updated 16 June 2021

Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic

Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic
  • Al-Qasabi: The continuation of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants requires us to increase precautionary measures to prevent outbreaks

JEDDAH: Arab countries should work together to address the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic through a new joint media strategy, acting Minister of Media Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi has said.
The strategy should also include executive projects in the Arab world to raise awareness about coronavirus vaccines and refute false information about the pandemic, he added.
His comments came during a speech at the 13th session of the Executive Office of the Council of Arab Information Ministers, where he proposed the formation of a group under the supervision of the Media and Communication Sector of the Arab League General Secretariat.
Al-Qasabi said: “The continuation of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants requires us to increase precautionary measures to prevent outbreaks.
“From this point of view came the Kingdom’s decision to limit pilgrimage this year to a limited number of residents in the Kingdom to ensure that the virus does not spread, and to ensure the health and safety of pilgrims.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Saudi Arabia recorded 1,269 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

With 16 new virus-related fatalities, the death toll has risen to 7,606.

He added that the Kingdom had submitted a working paper that includes the proposed objectives of the strategy, as well as its main tracks and topics.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Health Ministry repeated its warning to expatriates and citizens to avoid public gatherings, which have led to recent spikes in coronavirus cases.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported 16 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the death toll to 7,606.
There were 1,269 new coronavirus cases, meaning that 468,175 people in the Kingdom have now contracted the disease. A total of 10,314 cases remain active, of which 1,569 are in critical condition.
The ministry said that 1,014 patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 450,255.
As the Kingdom continues its vaccine rollout campaign, 16,050,143 people in the Kingdom have so far received a coronavirus vaccination.


Saudi Arabia, China discuss ways to boost trade ties

Saudi Arabia, China discuss ways to boost trade ties
Saudi-Chinese Business Council met virtually to discuss ways to boost bilateral trade. (SPA)
Updated 16 June 2021

Saudi Arabia, China discuss ways to boost trade ties

Saudi Arabia, China discuss ways to boost trade ties
  • The Chinese investment in Saudi Arabia totaled $39.9 billion between 2005 and 2021

RIYADH: The Saudi-Chinese Business Council on Tuesday met online to discuss ways to boost bilateral trade.
Mohammed Al-Ajlan, chairman of the Saudi side of the council, said the Kingdom has implemented several reforms to facilitate foreign investors.
He called on his Chinese counterparts to explore the great opportunities that the Kingdom has to offer in different economic sectors.
Lin Yi, vice president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, said Saudi Arabia is the most important partner for China in the Middle East and Beijing gives Riyadh priority in its foreign investment plans.
Saad Al-Kridis, vice chairman of the council, said the trade volume between the two countries has witnessed a surge. The Chinese investment in Saudi Arabia totaled $39.9 billion between 2005 and 2021.

 


Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition

Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition
Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal received by IMCTC Secretary-General Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Moghedi in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 16 June 2021

Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition

Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition
  • The IMCTC chief said the coalition aims to enhance cooperation and coordination among member states

RIYADH: Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal visited the headquarters of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh on Tuesday.
IMCTC Secretary-General Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Moghedi received the top diplomat and the accompanying delegation.
The Nigerian ambassador and Al-Moghedi discussed ways to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms.
Al-Moghedi briefed the visiting dignitaries about the coalition’s goals, achievements and the initiatives it has taken to fight terrorism in different forms.
He said the coalition represents an integrated system of intellectual and media initiatives and also aims to fight terror financing to effectively root out this menace. The IMCTC chief said the coalition aims to enhance cooperation and coordination among member states.