ALULA: The second edition of the AlUla Dates Festival is underway at the Kingdom’s famous ancient city.
The three-week date festival takes place in the Al-Fusan area directly opposing the famous Elephant Rock, and is split into two segments: The dates auction and the dates souq, both only open during the weekends of Oct.15-Nov. 1.
Many know AlUla to be a maze of history and breathtaking desert terrain, but not many people know that hidden between the curves of the desert terrains are over 2.3 million palm trees that produce 90,000 tons of dates annually.
The AlUla dates market has recently seen an increase in demand, and the festival facilitates growth for local harvests into the international market by connecting local farmers to international visitors and investors.
Felix Riess, a strategy consultant visiting AlUla from Germany, said: “It’s a beautiful and historic place, it’s great to see the ambitions for AlUla. It’s currently at the crossroads of something very historical, towards something that keeps the history in mind while building for the future, it’s a great mix.”
The festival kicked off with the first date auction of the season early Friday morning. As the sun rose, farmers unloaded their harvests off their trucks and onto the auction site.
Crowds gathered around to take part in the dates auction, that happens three times during the festival. The bids differ from harvest to harvest depending on quality and size of crop.
Not too long after the first announcement, the bids began rolling in. Chants of numbers and outbuildings were shouted through the air as boxes of dates were shifted around.
The early dates auction is definitely a great place for buyers and sellers to connect, but it is also an exciting experience for families and tourists to witness.
“What we saw today was a really authentic experience of how local wholesalers get the dates from this well known place in AlUla. It was very cool and I have never seen anything like this before and we enjoyed it,” Riess told Arab News.
Christian Keller, another German strategy consultant, added: “It’s always nice to see the combination of the old world and the new world and keeping up with it. Culture is about the people coming to AlUla and viewing it and the residents still valuing and carrying on what they have done years before, and now that you bring in new people like the tourist and visitors, they can experience it. Its culture was brought to life.”
Following the dates auction, in the early hours of the morning, is the souq, which consists of separate booths of local farmers and bakers selling their wares. There are also sections dedicated to investment and international collaboration for information.
The souq offers many family activities for locals to enjoy including the traditional Saudi Ardah dance to ring in the celebrations, as well as a children’s theater performances.
These two events only take place once in the evening of the souq, but throughout the shopping experience guests will be able to listen to a live oud player in the center of the souq.
The festival also serves another purpose alongside sharing culture. His Highness Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla Governorate, aims to promote the important role agriculture plays in economic development of the region in line with the Vision 2030 goals.
The event not only highlights the work of the AlUla’s farmers but also promotes and inspires commercial opportunities for farmers and buyers alike.
Behind the festivities are dozens of hardworking AlUla natives who have spent generations harvesting dates.
The festival creates a hub for exchanging expertise, and growing collaborations that will in part diversify the economy and create more job opportunities for young people in tourism, hospitality and the cultural sectors.
AlUla is undiscovered history in its purest form. Visitors have the opportunity to experience the beauty and tradition of the area, from the festival to the desert to the nearby Old Town.
The Old Town is a treasure trove filled with all things AlUla from historical and handmade crafts to souvenirs to take back to loved ones.
One of the more infamous stores located in the Old Town is Desert Designs.
“We have had a very positive response from the international public, we have had a lot of good responses from Japanese, American, Chinese, Europeans. All sorts of people seem to like our store and the items we provide,” Radi Bukhari, Desert Designs general manager, said.
“We take old silver Bedouin pieces, give them a new life and then we frame them for appreciation. We take Saudi culture and try to give it new life and appreciation not just for foreigners but for Saudis as well,” Bukhari said.