A Saudi hospitality project will allow visitors to walk in the footsteps of royals, in palaces steeped in history

Al-Hamra Palace, Tuwaiq Palace and the Red Palace in Saudi Arabia will make up the first round of boutique sites, with Khuzam Palace and Al-Saqqaf Palace also under consideration. (Supplied)
Al-Hamra Palace, Tuwaiq Palace and the Red Palace in Saudi Arabia will make up the first round of boutique sites, with Khuzam Palace and Al-Saqqaf Palace also under consideration. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 26 January 2022

A Saudi hospitality project will allow visitors to walk in the footsteps of royals, in palaces steeped in history

Al-Hamra Palace, Tuwaiq Palace and the Red Palace in Saudi Arabia will make up the first round of boutique sites, with Khuzam Palace and Al-Saqqaf Palace also under consideration. (Supplied)
  • Three iconic palaces will soon be transformed into hotels with luxurious interiors and unparalleled architecture 
  • Heritage experts say the Boutique Group project will open up cultural treasures of Saudi Arabia for all the world to enjoy 

MAKKAH/RIYADH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced the launch of the Boutique Group, which plans to transform a number of palaces of historical and cultural significance in Saudi Arabia into ultra-luxury hotels.

The move is part of the efforts to showcase the Kingdom’s rich heritage and vibrant culture to visitors from home and abroad, along with the hospitality for which the country is renowned. The first phase of the project focuses on the development of three historical destinations: Al-Hamra Palace in Jeddah, Tuwaiq Palace and Red Palace in Riyadh.

Al-Hamra Palace

Al-Hamra Palace is one of the most historically significant palaces of the modern era, according to Saleh Al-Misnad Al-Tamimi, a researcher in contemporary Saudi history.

Inspired by Andalusian culture and style, it was built during the reign of King Saud bin Abdulaziz for Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz but was not intended to host official receptions and conferences.

The palace, which is located to the north of the US embassy, was relatively small when it was built in the late 1950s, Al-Tamimi told Arab News. It was later expanded and turned into a place to receive royal guests and hold official meetings.

The prince had an office on the south side of the building, directly overlooking the palace mosque, according to Al-Tamimi. Palace employees would hear requests and complaints from citizens and then pass them on to the royal in his office, close to the reception area.

The palace hosted many important events, Al-Tamimi said, including the first conference of foreign ministers of Islamic countries in March 1970, which resulted in the formation of the General Secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.




Inspired by Andalusian culture and style, Al-Hamra Palace was built during the reign of King Saud bin Abdulaziz for Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz. (Supplied)

The many foreign leaders and heads of state who met King Faisal at the palace included US President Richard Nixon, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Lebanese President Suleiman Frangieh and Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeiry. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a rare exception, who was instead received at the Royal Court in the Khuzam Palace.

Al-Hamra Palace was built by the Arab Engineering Company, which had built many similar structures in Jeddah, including those belonging to Prince Nawaf bin Abdulaziz and politician, economist and poet Mohammed Surur Sabban.

After its development by Boutique Group, Al-Hamra Palace will have 77 rooms, including 33 luxury suites and 44 luxury villas.

Mohammed H. Al-Ruwaili, from Al-Sudairy Cultural Center in Jouf, described the launch of the Boutique Group as a civilizational, historical and cultural-investment leap that will open up the heritage and cultural treasures of Saudi Arabia for the world to see and appreciate.

He said the project aims to capitalize on the aspect of Saudi heritage represented by the luxurious palaces that are nestled in nature and formerly owned by kings and princes, by turning them into tourist attractions that visitors from around the globe can enjoy.

With their eye-catching courtyards, gardens and floors, they will be transformed into world-class luxury hotels with ornate interior decorations and unparalleled architectural designs, he told Arab News.




The palace, which is located to the north of the US embassy, was relatively small when it was built in the late 1950s. (Supplied)

“I think we are on the verge of an important and qualitative change in investing and introducing historical and cultural destinations that have value in our country,” said Al-Ruwaili, referring to the first phase of the Boutique Group’s project.

“The announcement (by the crown prince) is historic as it is likely to be followed by important steps and stages that the citizens of Saudi Arabia will benefit from.”

Abdullah Almuneef, dean of the tourism and antiquities faculty at King Saud University, also welcomed the announcement, saying the project will ensure the restoration and preservation of the historic sites by turning them into elite tourist destinations.

“It is an important experience for the Kingdom, similar to that of Europe, where many famous palaces have benefited from restoration and preservation projects,” he said.

The Red Palace

King Abdulaziz ordered the construction of the Red Palace in Riyadh in 1942 to serve as a residence for his son, Saud, who was then the crown prince. It was also used to receive official guests.

After King Saud moved to his palace in Nasiriyah in 1956, the Red Palace became the seat of the Council of Ministers during the reigns of King Faisal, King Khalid and King Fahd, before becoming the headquarters of the Board of Grievances.




After the redevelopment, the Red Palace will have 71 rooms, including 46 luxury suites and 25 luxurious guest rooms. (Supplied)

It was called the Red Palace on account of the distinctive color of its exterior. Notable guests hosted within its walls included Egyptian presidents Nasser and Sadat, Syrian President Shukri Al-Quwatli, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and King Talal bin Abdullah of Jordan.

The palace consists of 16 suites and rooms equipped with air conditioning and ceiling fans, along with a system that allows sunlight to illuminate the palace interior. After the redevelopment, the palace will have 71 rooms, including 46 luxury suites and 25 luxurious guest rooms.

Tuwaiq Palace

Tuwaiq Palace is located in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter, occupying an area of about 24,000 square meters. Designed in 1981 and completed in 1985, it was awarded the Aga Khan International Award for Architecture in 1998.

Now the palace is a center for cultural activities, conferences, seminars, specialized exhibitions and social activities. It also hosts workshops, festivals, meetings and training events.

It includes several halls, public facilities and hospitality spaces behind a long, wavy wall covered in Riyadh stone, a beige-colored limestone quarried in Saudi Arabia.




Designed in 1981 and completed in 1985, Tuwaiq Palace was awarded the Aga Khan International Award for Architecture in 1998. (Supplied)

It also has a three-story guesthouse overlooking the valley, with four suites and 25 rooms.

There are several reception rooms and lecture halls, all equipped with presentation and translation facilities, in addition to dining halls and other hospitality services.

Three distinctive white canopies extend over the main halls, the glass walls of which offer a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding valley, gardens and scenic outdoor paths. After redevelopment, the palace will include 96 rooms, including 40 luxury suites and 56 luxury villas.

Khuzam Palace

Although it is not currently included in the redevelopment plan, Khuzam Palace has great potential to become a boutique hotel. Located in Al-Nazla Al-Yamaniya in the southeast of historic Jeddah, the palace was named after the Khuzam tulips that grow abundantly in its grounds. Construction began in 1928 and its was completed in 1932.

“The palace was built of stone bricks and its roof was constructed using Javanese wood,” said Al-Tamimi. “About three years later, the Egyptian National Company built annexes to it that were made of reinforced concrete, including the palace that King Abdulaziz used to receive kings, heads of state, ministers, ambassadors and senior officials.”




Located in Al-Nazla Al-Yamaniya in the southeast of historic Jeddah, Khuzam Palace was named after the Khuzam tulips that grow abundantly in its grounds. (Supplied)

According to Al-Tamimi, Khuzam Palace was where the concession agreement allowing for oil exploration was signed between the Saudi government, represented by Minister of Finance Sheikh Abdullah bin Suleiman, and Standard Oil of California, represented by Lloyd Hamilton, on May 29, 1933.

The palace also hosted the signing ceremonies for a border agreement with Kuwait and a reciprocal memorandum with Egypt regarding construction projects, according to Al-Tamimi. Other notable events that took place there included the renewal of the Treaty of Jeddah with the British government in 1943, the signing of the Dhahran Airfield Agreement with the US, a commercial agreement with Syria, and a friendship treaty with Pakistan.

Such has been the significance of the palace throughout the Kingdom’s history that its iconic main gates once featured on Saudi banknotes.

Al-Saqqaf Palace

Al-Saqqaf Palace, also known as the Royal Al-Bayyadiyah Palace, is situated in the holy city of Makkah. It is expected to be included in the next phase of the Boutique Group project, as it is currently undergoing restoration work.

“The palace is a lofty beacon of architectural art and one of the oldest archeological buildings,” Samir Ahmed Barqa, a researcher of the history of Makkah, told Arab News.

“It represents heritage architectural designs and bears the Islamic architectural character because it contains a lot of Islamic arts and decorations. It also witnessed many high-level occasions throughout a royal era, whose roots extend to the first Saudi state.”




Al-Saqqaf Palace, also known as the Royal Al-Bayyadiyah Palace, is situated in the holy city of Makkah. (Supplied)

The site consists of two older palaces, Al-Bayyadiyah Al-Shamali and Al-Bayyadiyah Al-Janoubi, which were combined with a newer palace built by King Abdulaziz, who lived there from 1924.

“The palace became the seat of government when the founding king came to Makkah,” said Barqa. “After that, the palace was used as a headquarters for the deputy of King Abdulaziz in Hejaz, his son Prince Faisal, and in later periods it was used as a headquarters for the Muslim World League and then as a headquarters for Makkah Police.”




King Abdulaziz ordered the construction of several halls to host visiting presidents, kings and other dignitaries, as well as the heads of Hajj missions. (Supplied)

King Abdulaziz ordered the construction of several halls to host visiting presidents, kings and other dignitaries, as well as the heads of Hajj missions. The palace became the headquarters of the Royal Court in 1953, and then was occupied by a number of government departments between 1960 and 1982.

It includes more than 100 rooms, including a central meeting hall. The main entrance is distinguished by its exquisite grandeur.

If included in the boutique project, it would no doubt become a significant attraction for religious tourists visiting Makkah and enthralled by the Kingdom’s heritage.


King Salman leaves hospital after medical examinations

King Salman leaves hospital after medical examinations
Updated 15 May 2022

King Salman leaves hospital after medical examinations

King Salman leaves hospital after medical examinations
  • King Salman thanked well-wishers within Saudi Arabia and from friendly countries

JEDDAH: King Salman left King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah on Sunday evening after undergoing medical examinations and successfully completing the treatment plan and recovery period.

Saudi Press Agency reported the king thanked well-wishers within Saudi Arabia and from friendly countries for their messages of support.


Dutch artist Satori headlines Riyadh desert event

DJ NarkBeat engaged the crowd with his notable performance at Desert Sounds'
DJ NarkBeat engaged the crowd with his notable performance at Desert Sounds' "Mars Escape" on Friday. (AN photo/Basheer Saleh)
Updated 15 May 2022

Dutch artist Satori headlines Riyadh desert event

DJ NarkBeat engaged the crowd with his notable performance at Desert Sounds' "Mars Escape" on Friday. (AN photo/Basheer Saleh)
  • New wave of events featuring international lineup of artists and diverse activities catering to music lovers, weekend family entertainment in Riyadh

RIYADH: On Friday, a vibrant series of electronic house music bounced off the hills of the Riyadh desert at the NOX Camp Desert Resort, bringing together music, art and desert-sport lovers alike in a one-of-a-kind event.

The exclusive music and art event organizer, Desert Sound Entertainment, presented their premiere “Mars Escape” experience to the Saudi community, transporting about 1,000 attendees to another dimension made distinct by live art, festival makeup and fire performances.

The moon shone, setting up the atmosphere for the celestial night, the music ascended. Headlined by Satori, the international DJ lineup included the likes of Alaa Jazaery, Rafa, NarkBeat, and a surprise performance by local DJ Ibbie.

One. of. the Mars. Escape attendees enjoyed one of the many games and activities 'Mars Escape' had to offer. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

The 10-hour festival saw a distinctive blend of artists taking to the main stage. Rafa gave the crowd a sensual and authentically earthy organic house experience while NarkBeat’s performance left the crowd in anticipation with sultry Arabian oud sounds. Alaa Jazaeri, founder of a similar music festival titled “Narratives,” slowed down the groove with an organic and soulful house music set, taking festival-goers on a mini-journey.

The diverse music echoing the valley of the desert culminated with Satori, a world-famous Dutch producer whose music focuses on spirituality and enlightenment. His set took off promptly at midnight and closed the event. His stop at Riyadh is part of his world tour this month with upcoming shows in Moscow, Stockholm and London.

HIGHLIGHT

Rafa gave the crowd a sensual and authentically earthy organic house experience while NarkBeat’s performance left the crowd in anticipation with sultry Arabian oud sounds.

“I would not imagine from this side of the world that people would know me and connect with the music in this way, so it was really a big pleasure. I’ve been playing in this region of course already for a few years, if we speak about Dubai or Egypt, I played in Oman and Lebanon, but never in Saudi,” Satori said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Satori’s mellow sounds, crafted under the influence of the Japanese term “Satori,” cannot be narrowed down to a single genre, but rather a feeling. His music combines elements of self-exploration, earthy melodies, psychedelic tones and vivid energy. The crescendo of the piano, synthetic electronic beats and kalimba prompted a series of cheers as people danced. Almost every listener was rhythmically entranced, surrendering to the sound.

AN photo by Basheer Saleh

“For me it feels like I’m part of innovation. There’s something progressing and just to be part of that is really a great honor. It feels like we’re writing history and I’m kind of part of that chapter,” he said of his recent performance. “In the end, music is a universal language, people would connect to that or understand that even if they’re not used to these types of events. People will feel it.”

While primarily centered around the musical performances, the Saudi General Entertainment Authority-certified event also included an array of cultural activities such as art installations, graffiti sites and street art, virtual reality booths, games, and live catering. “We wanted to complete the music experience as a whole, connecting with nature and expressing through art and feeling with music,” assistant manager, Reema Al-Saud, told Arab News.

Event-goers were ready to indulge in the cultural aspect of the experience. “This is my first experience, and it gives a nice vibe,” said attendee Bha’a Mahdi. “I didn’t like that there wasn’t a big crowd. The place is very, very gorgeous. Incredible. It’s unreal. I liked the music, but was hoping the music would have more drops and highs. I felt united with the desert, I even removed my shoes,” he said.

Other members of the audience had similar comments. “The location is good, the vibe is nice. Just one thing: I wish there were more people,” said one attendee.

“The ground traps you. The sand doesn’t give you way to dance or walk,” said another attendee.

This international lineup and diverse activities come after a new wave of events that cater to those music-lovers, the latest being Freaks of Nature, bringing new meaning to weekend family entertainment ventures in Riyadh.


Saudi Civil Defense rescues pet animals trapped in Alkhobar fire

A Civil Defense crew in Alkhobar rescued animals including cats, dogs and fish from Pets Houses. (Saudi Civil Defense)
A Civil Defense crew in Alkhobar rescued animals including cats, dogs and fish from Pets Houses. (Saudi Civil Defense)
Updated 15 May 2022

Saudi Civil Defense rescues pet animals trapped in Alkhobar fire

A Civil Defense crew in Alkhobar rescued animals including cats, dogs and fish from Pets Houses. (Saudi Civil Defense)
  • All animals are subject to periodic medical checkups by Pets Houses’ veterinarian clinic, which provides for all their needs, including hygiene

RIYADH: Pet owners were relieved after their animals were rescued from a massive fire that broke out Friday inside Alkhobar’s Dhahran Mall in eastern Saudi Arabia.

A Civil Defense crew in Alkhobar rescued animals including cats, dogs and fish from Pets Houses, a pet supplies store in the largest commercial complex in the Eastern Province.

The animals were transported during daylight hours after a fire that started on the complex’s roof was put out.

We always find these (Civil Defense) heroes providing assistance and saving lives, says Badr S. Al-Turaif, General manager Rahmah Animal Welfare Association

According to a Civil Defense source, it is part of firefighters’ job in such circumstances to perform search and rescue operations at the scene to ensure that no one is trapped inside and that any animals are rescued.

The same source told Arab News that firefighters evacuated the pets to a safe location outside the mall before the animals were returned to their owners.

Nawaf Al-Mandeel, general manager of Pets Houses, said that “the shock was tremendous at Pets Houses,” following the fire that broke out at Dhahran Mall, where one of the company’s branches is located.

Firefighters rescuing animals from a pet shop near the conflagration which broke out in Dharhan Mall and caused a lot of damage while a fireman appears to carrying a fish tank. (Supplied/Saudi Civil Defense)

Al-Mandeel said that Pets Houses does its best to afford care and a decent life for the many pets at the branch located in Dhahran Mall. Pet owners regularly come to the branch, he said, to purchase supplies and learn how to breed and care for their pets as part of the family.

All animals are subject to periodic medical checkups by Pets Houses’ veterinarian clinic, which provides for all their needs, including hygiene, he said.

“We were shocked by the news of the fire that morning. We contacted the authorities and alerted them to the presence of pets inside our branch located inside the complex, and they responded immediately,” Al-Mandeel added.

Firefighters rescuing animals from a pet shop near the conflagration which broke out in Dharhan Mall and caused a lot of damage while a fireman appears to carrying a fish tank. (Supplied/Saudi Civil Defense)

He described the waiting periods as “excruciating” until he received the welcome news that all the animals at the branch had been rescued and transported safely and without any injuries, thanks to the efforts of the Civil Defense “heroes.”

“The team brought the animals to our veterinary clinic swiftly to check on their health. The medical team confirmed the safety of all the animals,” he said.

Badr S. Al-Turaif, general manager of Rahmah Animal Welfare Association, told Arab News that the association is in contact with the shop’s management and that the animals are in good health, adding that they had not been exposed to either fire or fumes as the shop is located relatively far from the fire site.

Nawaf Al-Mandeel, General Manager of Pets Houses. (Supplied)

“The courageous efforts of the Civil Defense team are not surprising,” Al-Turaif said. “We always find these heroes at the center of incidents, providing assistance and saving lives.”

Al-Turaif urged pet store owners to implement the preventive measures outlined by the Civil Defense to avoid tragedies in the future. These include setting fire alarms, developing an emergency and evacuation plan, ensuring adequate ventilation, designing the shop in a way that allows for the implementation of these measures, and creating an appropriate environment for animals so that their health and safety are not jeopardized.


Grand Mosque robots answer pilgrims’ questions in 11 languages

Grand Mosque robots answer pilgrims’ questions in 11 languages
Updated 15 May 2022

Grand Mosque robots answer pilgrims’ questions in 11 languages

Grand Mosque robots answer pilgrims’ questions in 11 languages
  • The robots guide pilgrims on how to perform their Umrah rituals, issue fatwas, and answer questions
  • They also have high resolution cameras that provide clarity in transmitting images, high resolution headphones, and a microphone with high capture quality

RIYADH: Robots that provide visitors to the Grand Mosque in Makkah with guidance can be accessed in 11 languages: Arabic, English, French, Russian, Persian, Turkish, Malay, Urdu, Chinese, Bengali, Hausa.

The robots guide pilgrims on how to perform their Umrah rituals, issue fatwas, answer questions and provide opportunities for people to communicate with scholars remotely.

The four-wheeled robots have 21-inch touchscreens and are equipped with a smart stopping system that allows them to be moved easily and smoothly.

They also have high resolution cameras that provide clarity in transmitting images, high resolution headphones, and a microphone with high capture quality that allows clear sound transmission.

The robots work on a Wi-Fi wireless network system at a speed of 5 GHz which enables fast and high transmission of data.


Saudi Ministry of Justice: 79k e-transactions completed since March 2020

79k e-transactions completed since March 202. (SPA)
79k e-transactions completed since March 202. (SPA)
Updated 16 May 2022

Saudi Ministry of Justice: 79k e-transactions completed since March 2020

79k e-transactions completed since March 202. (SPA)
  • The service has been streamlined to enable electronic agreement on sale terms without a notary’s certification, so that the operation can be completed in less than one hour

RIYADH: Almost 79,000 property e-conveyancing transactions have been processed since the launch of the Najiz.sa service in March 2020, the Saudi Ministry of Justice announced.

The total value of the transactions exceeds SR11 billion ($2.9 billion).

“The service is available through the Najiz.sa portal at ept.moj.gov.sa,” the ministry said.

“The upper limit for the e-conveyance of property has been raised from SR3 million to SR20 million.”

The service has been streamlined to enable electronic agreement on sale terms without a notary’s certification, so that the operation can be completed in less than one hour.

It had also enabled digital verification of bank accounts and payment of property transaction tax.

As part of several reforms and development initiatives, the Ministry of Justice is working on enhancing digitization and providing innovative tech solutions that facilitate services, simplify procedures and boost security.

“In cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank, the ministry made it available through 17 local and international banks,” the statement said.