UK expedition tracing steps of Philby hopes to inspire next generation to explore Saudi Arabia’s beauty

Heart of Arabia project was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, with the attendance of Saudi ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar. (AN Photo)
Heart of Arabia project was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, with the attendance of Saudi ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar. (AN Photo)
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Updated 30 September 2022

UK expedition tracing steps of Philby hopes to inspire next generation to explore Saudi Arabia’s beauty

UK expedition tracing steps of Philby hopes to inspire next generation to explore Saudi Arabia’s beauty
  • Granddaughter Reem Philby part of homage to Ibn Saud and explorer
  • Pact with KAUST to collect data on culture, desert life, biodiversity

LONDON: A small team of UK explorers have launched an expedition to retrace the 1,300-kilometer 1917 journey of British explorer and scholar, Harry St. John Philby, across Saudi Arabia, in the hope of impacting future generations.

The Heart of Arabia expedition, named after Philby’s book about his journey, was launched on Tuesday at the Royal Geographical Society in London, which was held under the patronage of Britain’s Princess Anne, and with the attendance of Saudi ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar.

Speaking at her first public engagement since the death of her mother Queen Elizabeth II, she said: “The scope for finding more in this expedition is just enormous to add to that level of knowledge, and I think we all have something we can really look forward to, and possibly something that we will envy about those taking part in this expedition, which allows them to be part of that learning exercise.”




The planned 1,300-km Heart of Arabia coast-to-coast trek across the peninsula was launched by Anne, Princess Royal of the UK, in her first public engagement since the death of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II. (AN Photo)

Omani-based British explorer Mark Evans MBE, leader of the expedition, said the team, who will be making the journey on foot, and with camels and four-wheel drives, consists of four people. The other members are Swiss photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache, regional expert Alan Morrissey, and Philby’s granddaughter, explorer Reem Philby.

“When Philby reached Riyadh in 1917, he met Abdulaziz ibn Saud and the two of them became almost lifetime companions (and) he and Ibn Saud spent hour on hour, day after day talking, and then he continued to Jeddah, so we will follow the same structure,” Evans told Arab News.

The first leg begins on Nov. 15 in Al-Uqair in the Eastern Province and will pass through Al-Ahsa Oasis, Al-Hadida/Rub Al-Khali, Hofuf, Ramlat Dahna, Abu Jifan and stop in the capital, Riyadh, on Nov. 30, where they will take a short break. The second leg will begin on Jan. 15 with a visit by Princess Anne to the Kingdom, where she will see the team off as they continue to Dhurma, Halban, Qahqa, Taif, Darb Zubaydah, and conclude in the western city of Jeddah on Jan. 30.




The Heart of Arabia journey will set off in November, a century after Philby’s crossing, and is led by veteran British explorer Mark Evans (C). (AN Photo)

“The journeys are incomparable really, because in Philby’s day, no one knew where he was, he had no way of communicating other than by sending back messages via camels, whereas we will have satellite technology, social media, we’ll be doing live Instagram posts from the middle of the biggest desert on Earth, so life is so much easier today,” he said.

Evans added that some of the challenges of the past would not be an issue this time, with regards to finding water and food, but he said the biggest potential weak link may be the camels. They have to choose the right ones and “toughen them up” before the start.

“Camels have gone soft today like human beings, we have Deliveroo, camels have their Bedouin handlers who bring the food to them rather than having to wander to find the grass or water ... so camels are not working animals anymore,” he explained, whereas when Philby did his journey, camels would walk over 50 kilometers a day carrying heavy loads.

 

 

The aim of the expedition also differs from Philby’s due to its nature. He was sent for political reasons by British writer, traveler, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist Gertrude Bell from Baghdad to meet the future king in 1917 to stop the Ottomans smuggling guns across the central deserts of Arabia. However, their mission now is to “celebrate an extraordinary man and an extraordinary country,” while also collecting cultural, geographical, and scientific data.

“There’ll be young people joining us in all stages of the journey, so we want to inspire the next generation of Philbys to go out there and look and record and just add to our understanding of Arabia,” said Evans, who also heads the NGO Outward Bound Oman.

Reem, who has trekked across the Kingdom, as well as in Peru and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, said the expedition was “completely down her alley” and it was “truly overwhelming” to trace the steps he walked over 100 years ago.




The expedition will honor the undertaking and achievement of adventurer, Arabist and intelligence officer Harry St. John Philby, who traveled from Al-Uqair to Jeddah, on a mission in support of Ibn Saud. (Heart of Arabia)

“Having that impact on the young generation is truly important, in my opinion. I am a strong believer of the importance of taking kids to the outdoors and having them experience being uncomfortable, step out of their comfort zones and their homes and their usual environments,” said the 42-year-old mother of two. “I know that it will shape truly humbled (and) strong adults in the future.”

Pavalache, who has been a mountain leader in the Swiss Alps, said it is important to tell the story of an incredible man, who brought enormous information to mapping the region. She thinks “it might be a challenge to get immersed in what he was doing, because today, Saudi Arabia is very modernized and to find that balance” between the past and present.

“We would have a couple of places where we will try to get the same images, but I think it is important for us to see how the environment changed today, and also the people who live in the desert and the community, and after we have three parts of research that we will follow within this context,” she said.




The team, which will travel by foot and on camels, includes Swiss photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache (C), regional expert Alan Morrissey and Philby’s Saudi granddaughter, Reem. (AN Photo)

The data and observations generated by the team, in collaboration with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, will support scientific specialists to advance human performance in extreme environments, understanding of pre-Islamic history, and insights into local biodiversity, specifically bats. There are around 30 species in the Kingdom with very little known on the populations, distribution and ecology.

UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia Neil Crompton said Philby was an important figure in the history of relations between Great Britain and the Kingdom, which was known as Arabia when he set out on his expedition, and where he lived most of his life and was an important adviser to Ibn Saud on many matters.

“It’s a chance to learn about his life and the role that he played in the development of relations between the two countries and in Saudi Arabia,” he said, lauding the “immensely strong” ties that exist between the two kingdoms.

“Saudi Arabia is opening up its tourism sector (and) Britons from many different walks of life are coming in, and it’s great to see the explorers came 100 years ago, but now they’re coming back, and so hopefully, we’ll see more of these sorts of things,” Crompton said. “I think that people-to-people links are ultimately the foundation of the relationship.”

He added: “I think the chance to see an expedition crossing the desert in this way will be very interesting to many people in Britain, and I hope encourage more people to visit the Kingdom in the way that so many Saudis come to the UK.”

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Birthplace of Saudi state comes to life with opening of Bujairi Terrace, Turaif

Birthplace of Saudi state comes to life with opening of Bujairi Terrace, Turaif
Updated 8 min 19 sec ago

Birthplace of Saudi state comes to life with opening of Bujairi Terrace, Turaif

Birthplace of Saudi state comes to life with opening of Bujairi Terrace, Turaif
  • Marking the first phase of the $50 billion Diriyah Gate Development Authority project, the opening signals a new chapter in the area’s history

RIYADH: The prominent citadel of Salwa Palace, made from mudbricks three centuries ago in the historic Turaif district, the first capital of the Saudi dynasty, was illuminated on Dec. 4 with a spectacular light display in celebration of its opening to the public.

Just a few steps away, also in the historic Diriyah area, the Bujairi Terrace, a slew of high-end dining experiences ready to welcome over 3,000 people within an area of 15,000 square meters and featuring both Saudi and top international restaurants, opened to its first visitors.

It was a historic day for Saudi Arabia as the opening of both sites marked the first phase of completion for the $50 billion project of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

“This area is very special because it is the birthplace of the Kingdom,” Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO at the DGDA told Arab News. “It’s the ancestral home of Al-Saud, and it is the source of national identity and pride for all Saudis and all Arabs.”

To mark the special day, traditional performers in national dress put on a show and distributed gifts to visitors.

Stunning illuminated walkways lead the way through new buildings reflective of traditional mudbrick Arabian homes and lampposts decorated in the Najdi style typical to central Arabia. Palm trees line the Wadi Hanifa that separates the Bujairi Terrace from Turaif.

Visitors can walk over a bridge after dining at the Bujairi Terrace to visit the recently restored ruins of the original seat of the Al-Saud dynasty, taking the same steps as Saudi rulers did centuries ago.

What distinguishes the Bujairi Terrace from other high-end dining areas in the Gulf is the balanced offering of Saudi cuisine alongside top-notch international Michelin-star brands.

Maiz and Takya, two Saudi restaurants, offer a mix of traditional and contemporary cuisine within sleek settings decorated with a modern take on native Najdi patterns and architecture.

“We are offering specialties from the 13 provinces of Saudi Arabia,” Bader Al-Shaikh, a chef at Maiz, told Arab News.

“The idea was to create a place where people can dine in comfort and peace,” Hessah Al-Mutawa, owner of Takya, told Arab News. “We offer a contemporary fusion of traditional Saudi dishes.”

Inzerillo said that, in addition to the first 20 restaurants already present at the site — including well-known names like Angelina Paris, Café de L’Esplanade, Flamingo Room by tashas, which over the last few years has taken neighboring Dubai by storm — there are other 10 in the works for the second phase of development.

Six million trees and plants have also been incorporated into the area so that visitors can walk for hours, enjoying the natural and historic surroundings before and after dining at world-class restaurants.

Bruno, the famed French restaurant from the south of France, also opened in Bujairi, marking its second branch abroad after St. Petersburg, Russia. Saudi-owned gastronomical brands include GRIND, Somewhere, SUGAR and Sum + Things.

Upon the completion of the DGDA project, scheduled to be finished in 2030, Diriyah will be home to cultural, educational and entertainment shows, along with retail and hospitality facilities. The latter will include 38 hotels, in addition to a series of museums, cultural and academic institutes and retail areas.

The destination is expected to add around SR27 billion ($7.2 billion) to the country’s gross domestic product and create 55,000 jobs, with a focus on upskilling women.

The historic area of Diriyah, known for its Bedouin hospitality and culture, is experiencing a renaissance through a celebration of its past and present.

Inzerillo stated: “Now, from today, it is going to be one of the great gathering places in the world. Everybody will come.”

 

 


President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

King Salman, President Xi Jinping shaking hands during a signing ceremony in Beijing in March 2017. (AFP file photo)
King Salman, President Xi Jinping shaking hands during a signing ceremony in Beijing in March 2017. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 sec ago

President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

King Salman, President Xi Jinping shaking hands during a signing ceremony in Beijing in March 2017. (AFP file photo)

RIYADH: Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in the Kingdom on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place during his trip: the Saudi-Chinese Summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development. The participants will include more than 30 leaders and officials from the two countries and international organizations, highlighting the importance of the gatherings and their high regional and international profile, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Xi’s visit reflects the desire of the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen the bilateral relationship, enhance their strategic partnership and realize the political and economic potential it offers to serve their common interests, the SPA added.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth more than SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit, along with a strategic partnership deal, and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the agency said.

Saudi Arabia aims to build a strong strategic partnership with China to support trade and investment. The Kingdom was the biggest recipient of Chinese investment in the Arab World between 2005 and 2020, accounting for more than 20.3 percent of the total regional investment, worth $196.9 billion.

The two countries are preparing to launch the SABIC-Fujian Petrochemical Industrial Group, a joint venture worth an estimated SR22.5 billion, in which SABIC has a 51 percent stake, that includes a high-capacity plant for the production of petrochemical products.

Beyond trade and investment, relations between the two countries have also continued to expand and develop more broadly in recent years, particularly in terms of cultural exchanges.

In 2019, for example, the Saudi Ministry of Culture announced the establishment of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China, which will be officially launched during President Xi’s visit. It aims to promote the Arabic language, along with Arab arts, mutual understanding and cultural exchanges, reflecting the Kingdom’s desire to further enhance the cultural aspects of relations.

A number of Saudi universities and schools offer classes in the Chinese language, while Arabic is taught in 44 Chinese universities.

 


AlUla, UNESCO launch archaeology International Fellowship Program

AlUla, UNESCO launch archaeology International Fellowship Program
Updated 06 December 2022

AlUla, UNESCO launch archaeology International Fellowship Program

AlUla, UNESCO launch archaeology International Fellowship Program
  • Training on archaeological digs, recordkeeping
  • Focus on protecting Saudi heritage, says royal body

RIYADH: The Royal Commission for AlUla has announced the launch of an International Fellowship Program in the field of antiquities preservation in cooperation with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The international fellowship program provides the opportunity to explore and learn about civilizations in the northwest of the Arabian Peninsula.

The program, in cooperation with archaeologists and heritage experts from the RCU’s Kingdoms Institute, is part of a four-month workshop in AlUla. It is expected to strengthen the scientific and technology transfer partnership between the RCU and UNESCO.

Training for field and administrative positions will be offered during the course of the program, which includes the study of artifacts and the preservation of archaeological monuments and key sites of interest.

Jose Ignacio Gallego, the RCU’s archaeology and heritage research executive director, said: “The international fellowship program will enhance knowledge transfer between international experts and trainees in a variety of specialized fields.”

“The fellowship aims to support the heritage of AlUla and establish it as a center of knowledge in the field of antiquities protection, and enhances the Kingdoms Institute’s position as a leading entity that implements innovative solutions and ideas in the field of heritage research, preservation and publicization.”

The Kingdoms Institute is a project of the RCU governorate. It is located in the Dadan Oasis. Its urban design is inspired by the Dadanian civilization, which is represented by one of the most prominent buildings carved into the mountains opposite the archaeological site.

The institute includes several basic archaeological programs and research, most notably preserving rock art, inscriptions, languages, agriculture, sustainability in prehistoric times, communication, and the protection of records and sites.

The Kingdom Institute specializes in studying and analyzing artifacts, and applying international practices for archaeological excavations and heritage preservation.


Saudi King invites Chinese president to visit Kingdom on Wednesday

Saudi King invites Chinese president to visit Kingdom on Wednesday
Updated 06 December 2022

Saudi King invites Chinese president to visit Kingdom on Wednesday

Saudi King invites Chinese president to visit Kingdom on Wednesday

King Salman invited President of China Xi Jinping for an official visit to attend the Saudi-Chinese summit held in Saudi Arabia from Dec. 7 to 9, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday. 

The summit will be chaired by King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. It will look at relations between the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab states with the People's Republic of China,

Discussions are expected to focus on strengthening joint cooperation in economy and development.


Saudi’s aid agency concludes anti-blindness program in Morocco

Saudi’s aid agency concludes anti-blindness program in Morocco
Updated 06 December 2022

Saudi’s aid agency concludes anti-blindness program in Morocco

Saudi’s aid agency concludes anti-blindness program in Morocco
  • KSRelief continued providing medical aid to Syrian refugees residing in Jordan’s Zaatari camp

RIYADH: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center has concluded an anti-blindness voluntary program in Morocco’s Tiflet.

Under the Saudi Noor Voluntary Program, held in collaboration with the Kingdom’s Al-Basar International Foundation, doctors performed 462 cataract removal operations, examined 5,800 patients and distributed 1,470 glasses.

The program comes as part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to help low-income families in the region, according to a statement by state news agency (SPA).

KSRelief continued providing medical aid to Syrian refugees residing in Jordan’s Zaatari camp. The agency’s medical clinics offered consultations to 14,704 refugees during November, said SPA.

The laboratory and radiology departments also received 1,480 people.