AlUla Moments’ Ancient Kingdoms Festival showcases Saudi Arabia’s archaeological treasures Tayma and Khaybar

Special The historic oasis of Khaybar, a crossroads for thousands of years, is one of the centerpieces of the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival. (Supplied)
The historic oasis of Khaybar, a crossroads for thousands of years, is one of the centerpieces of the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 November 2022

AlUla Moments’ Ancient Kingdoms Festival showcases Saudi Arabia’s archaeological treasures Tayma and Khaybar

AlUla Moments’ Ancient Kingdoms Festival showcases Saudi Arabia’s archaeological treasures Tayma and Khaybar
  • Home to royal icons and legendary personalities, including the last Babylonian king, Tayma is rewriting Arabia’s history
  • Region’s striking volcanic desert ecosystem and great historical significance make Khaybar uniquely enigmatic

DUBAI: For centuries, the importance of the ancient cities of Tayma, near the modern-day city of Tabuk in northwestern Saudi Arabia, and Khaybar, an oasis north of Madinah, had been largely forgotten.

Now, the Royal Commission of AlUla, or RCU, is bringing these precious sites back to life as part of the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival, reconnecting the ancient oases of AlUla, Tayma and Khaybar to celebrate their distinctive heritage and culture.

“This year, we have created an extraordinary moment by reconnecting the triad of AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma in a considered approach founded on years of research,” Eman Alankari, executive director of cultural sites management at the RCU, told Arab News.

“For the first time in modern memory, the cousin sites can be accessed and understood in parallel, in a continuous historical narrative.”

Tayma is mentioned in Assyrian texts dating to the fourth century B.C. and is referred to numerous times in the Hebrew Bible. During the first century A.D., Tayma is believed to have been a primarily Jewish settlement.




The region, including parts such as Tayma old town, shows evidence of human habitation stretching back 4,000 years. (Supplied)

However, its history goes back much further. Archaeological discoveries reveal that Tayma had been inhabited since the Bronze Age, around the fourth millennium C.E.

In 2010, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage announced that a team of Saudi archaeologists had discovered the Kingdom’s first hieroglyphic inscriptions mentioning an Egyptian pharaoh, in this case Rameses III (1186-1155 B.C.).

The discovery showed that Tayma was once an important land route between the western coast of Arabia and Egypt’s Nile valley.

The first known modern recordings of Tayma date back to the 19th century when English traveler, poet, writer and explorer Charles Montagu Doughty visited and mapped the region in 1877.

Doughty had visited AlUla a year earlier, mentioning it in his 1888 book, “Travels in Arabia Deserta,” which constitutes the first comprehensive Western work on the geography of Arabia.




The ancient city of Hegra by night. (Supplied)

Between 1878 and 1882, French Orientalist and explorer Charles Huber also visited AlUla to explore the area’s ancient inscriptions. It was during this trip that he discovered the Tayma stones — a collection of tablets inscribed in Aramaic — which were brought to the Louvre in Paris in 1883 where they remain to this day.

The inscriptions describe how an Akkadian king invaded the city of Tayma, slaughtering and enslaving its people. The Akkadians (2350-2150 B.C.) built the first ancient empire of Mesopotamia after the civilization of Sumer.

The historical significance of Tayma stems from its strategic position on the ancient incense trail, a network of trade routes extending more than 2,000 km that carried frankincense and myrrh from Yemen and Oman in the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean.

Tayma is also known as the “Land of Kings,” primarily owing to the enigmatic Babylonian King Nabonidus, who resided there during the mid-sixth century B.C. He had once ruled the Babylonian Empire, which included modern-day Iraq and Syria.

FASTFACTS

* ALULA: Encompassing more than 200,000 years of human history, AlUla is home to the Nabatean city of Hegra — Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site — and the tombs of Dadan — capital of the Dadanite and Lihyanite kingdoms. 

* KHAYBAR: The region’s striking volcanic desert ecosystem and rich historical significance make Khaybar a uniquely enigmatic destination, with timeless heritage sites and epic scenery. 

* TAYMA: An emerging archaeological hub, home to royal icons and legendary personalities, including the last Babylonian king, Tayma is rewriting the history of northwest Arabia.

Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, ruling from 556 B.C. to the fall of Babylon to the Achaemenid Empire under the Persian King Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C.

A fascinating individual to study, some archaeologists view Nabonidus as a religious reformer and the first archaeologist.

Nabonidus conquered Tayma and lived there for a decade to worship and search for prophecies while entrusting the throne to his son, Belshazzar. It remains a mystery why he chose to stay.




Royal Commission of AlUla is bringing precious sites back to life as part of the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival, reconnecting the ancient oases of AlUla, Tayma and Khaybar. (Supplied)

Present-day guides to Tayma provide one theory as to why Nabonidus neglected his empire and moved to Tayma. Some say he may have disagreed with the primary religion in Babylon and moved to Tayma to worship a god of his choice, but no one can prove this hypothesis.

His exile is alluded to on a stele discovered by Saudi-German excavation teams in 2005. Following his defeat by Cyrus the Great, it is still unclear whether he was executed or forced into exile.

While we will never know why Nabonidus mysteriously abandoned the city of Babylon for a remote oasis in the western Arabian desert, part of his legacy sheds light on the significance of these, until recently, little-known desert kingdoms. 

The ancient treasures of Tayma and Khaybar form the centerpiece of this year’s AlUla Moments and, in particular, the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival, which brings to life the three interconnected oases of northwest Arabia.

The festival is staging a variety of cultural performances, workshops and sightseeing opportunities, recreating the history and traditions of these cities, which for thousands of years served as a crossroads for merchants and explorers.

Since opening to tourists, AlUla has been welcoming visitors to its ancient sites, notably the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra.




The fascinating stories emerging from these once bustling commercial hubs in ancient Arabia are shedding light on a world long lost to the sands of time. (Supplied)

“RCU works closely with an international team of archaeological and heritage management experts to discover, revive and protect heritage sites within our region of engagement,” Alankari told Arab News.

“Our vision is to create the world’s largest open air living museum and share the treasures that are being revealed by taking the world directly to the sites, to the scene where history happened, and discoveries continue to be made.”

Festival goers can visit the ancient Temple of Salm, overlooking a vast landscape where there was once an ancient lake, and the remains of structures dating back to the Iron Age.

They can also see Bir Haddaj, a well that is thought to be the largest of the ancient world, built during the reign of Nabonidus in the mid-sixth century C.E.

In the fifth century C.E., the well fell into disuse and remained buried for centuries until a local Jewish resident, Suleiman Al-Gonaim, uncovered its location and restored it. Fast-forward to 1953, and it was the turn of the modern Saudi state to add four pumps to help local farmers obtain sufficient water for their crops.




The vision of the festival organizers is to create the ‘world's largest open-air living museum.’ (Supplied)

At Khaybar, opened to the public for the festival, visitors can explore mysterious prehistoric stone structures — best seen by helicopter excursion — and the Harrat Khaybar volcanic site, where they can enjoy adventure trails through the Umm Jirsan lava tubes.

AlUla highlights include trips to Hegra, the ancient kingdom of Dadan, once the capital of the Dadanite and Lihyanite kingdoms, where visitors can join an “apprentice archaeologist” program and interact with experts in the field.

A journey through Jabal Ikmah, a mountain near the ancient city of Dadan, reveals ancient inscriptions, winding rocky pathways and stunning nighttime vistas of the ancient Arabian desert landscape.

However, jewels in the festival crown are undoubtedly Tayma and Khaybar, where visitors can get a first glimpse of these ancient Arabian cities still undergoing renovation.

Tayma is open for a limited time until March 31, 2023, after which it will close for more excavation and restoration work.

The fascinating stories emerging from these once bustling commercial hubs in ancient Arabia are shedding light on a world long lost to the sands of time.

 


KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib

KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib
Updated 05 December 2022

KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib

KSRelief distributes over 92 tons of food baskets in Marib

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) distributed 92 tons and 127 kilograms of food baskets in Yemen’s Marib governorate, benefiting 5,166 people.
This is part of the Food Security Support Project 2022, which is being implemented by KSRelief in Yemen and aims to distribute more than 192,000 food baskets weighing more than 20,000 tons to needy and affected families in 15 Yemeni governorates.
KSRelief also continued to implement its voluntary medical project for specialized surgeries in Gambia, which is being carried out from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4.
Since the beginning of the campaign, the voluntary medical team has performed 105 surgeries.
Also, KSRelief distributed 1,644 winter bags in Pakistan, benefiting 11,508 people. 
This comes within the framework of the relief and humanitarian projects and voluntary programs being implemented by Saudi Arabia, represented by the KSRelief, for a number of brotherly and friendly countries.


HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service

HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service
Updated 05 December 2022

HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service

HMS Hail commissioned into Saudi Arabia’s naval service
  • This is the third ship to be launched, following Al-Jubail and Al-Diriya, as part of the Sarawat project

SAN FERNANDO, Madrid: The Royal Saudi Naval Forces has commissioned into active service His Majesty’s Ship Hail at the Navantia shipyard in San Fernando, Spain, state news agency SPA reported.

This is the third ship to be launched, following Al-Jubail and Al-Diriya, as part of the Sarawat project of five combat ships aimed at improving the Kingdom’s maritime defense capabilities and interests.

Rear Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghofaily, Commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, together with other Saudi and Spanish officials hoisted the Saudi Arabian flag on the ship to mark its official commissioning into the naval service.

Sawarat is a joint venture between the Saudi Arabian Military Industries company and Spain’s state-owned Navantia to build multi-purpose combat ships for the Saudi navy as well as localize 50 percent of military industries by 2030.

Under the joint venture, Saudi Arabia’s navy will also have its first Saudi system, nicknamed Hazm, that would contribute to localize military industries through transformation of technology and national staff intensive training

HMS Diriya, the second ship of the Sarawat project, is scheduled to reach Saudi Arabia early next year after having completed its training program in Spain.

The launch of the fourth and fifth ships, HMS Jazan and HMS Onaiza, will meanwhile take place in Saudi Arabia under the sponsorship of Saudi engineers who have received training in Spain.


Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference

Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference
Updated 05 December 2022

Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference

Cross-cultural dialogue at heart of Riyadh Philosophy Conference
  • Event’s 2nd edition asked questions surrounding space exploration and impact on humanity

RIYADH: Over the course of three days, scientists, writers, historians, professors and philosophers from around the world gathered at the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh to discuss the major issues affecting humanity today.

The second edition of the conference, which concluded on Dec. 3, was dedicated to the theme of “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.”

A total of 71 speakers attended from more than 19 countries around the world, including the US, UK, UAE, Mexico, Italy, Singapore, Italy, Germany and Egypt, making the conference a diverse platform to discuss ideas and topics pertinent to our world today. Attendees numbered around 2,700.

The second edition of the conference was dedicated to questions revolving space exploration and its philosophical and social implications for humanity. (Photo/Huda Bashatah)

“A conference such as this has cross-cultural dialogue at its heart. Inviting and welcoming leading philosophers from all over the world is not a one-way thing,” Dr. Mohammed Hasan Alwan, CEO of the Literature, Publishing & Translation Commission, told Arab News. “It is, instead, a two-way dialogue, with international experts joining their Saudi and regional colleagues in a spirit of intellectual exploration that is far more profound and far-reaching because it is done in a spirit of partnership.”

This year’s conference continues the efforts of last year’s event, which was the first of its kind to take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “Our conference has been bigger and more ambitious in many ways,” added Alwan.

The conference was established, he said, “because we believe in philosophy and its relevance in our world.”

The second edition of the conference, which concluded on Dec. 3, was dedicated to the theme of “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.” (Photo/Huda Bashatah)

The theme of the conference was highly topical to ongoing debates surrounding space exploration.

“The conference theme is, to coin a science fiction phrase, ‘going boldly where few conferences have gone before,” said Alwan. “We chose a theme that was challenging, and yet which also showed just how philosophical thinking is absolutely vital for humanity, because of its ability to map out entirely new intellectual territory that relates to space exploration, to humanity’s potential extra-terrestrial activities.”

The topic of space exploration is also reflective of Saudi Arabia’s own plans. In September 2022, the Kingdom announced that it had launched a new astronaut program. Its first journey, set for 2023, will carry a female Saudi astronaut, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Over the course of three days, scientists, writers, historians, professors, and philosophers from around the world gathered at the King Fahad National Library in Riyadh to discuss pressing major issues affecting humanity today. (Photo/Huda Bashatah)

“What has been impressive is the ability to speak to a diverse and large population here that you don’t find in academic conferences; attendees this year included even investment bankers and people working in the oil industry,” Nicolas de Warren, professor of philosophy at Penn State University in the US, who was attending the conference for the second time, told Arab News. “I was impressed again by the level of sophistication and questions from the diverse audience.”

De Warren chaired a panel titled “Exploring Space and Time Today.” His research looks at the impact of science fiction literature which, as he says, “imagines not only the exploration of space but what it would mean to enter into contact with other life forms or alien civilizations. It is what is called first contact narratives.”

Such ideas raise the fundamental philosophical question of if we as a species are alone in the universe? Are there other life forms? How do we know if there are other life forms? Why has there been no contact with these other life forms? And what would it really represent if, indeed, one day, there was the discovery that there are other intelligent life forms and civilizations?

De Warren discussed such questions in his panel but went a step further. According to his thesis, these questions do not really concern aliens but ourselves.

“It has to do with the way in which we project our planetary fears onto some imaginary alien to sublimate them,” he said. “From that perspective, it’s not fortuitous that during the 1950s and 1960s, one of the dominant genres of science fiction literature and films was invasion narratives — Martians are coming, and so on. That reflects the sort of sublimation one found during the Cold War.”

Apart from delving into pressing issues involving our world today and fostering cross-cultural dialogue, the conference also had a pedagogical aspect.

A pavilion area with workshops for children called Philosophers of Tomorrow, a Philosophical Camp for philosophical dialogue, and a debating competition for trained teams of college students called Reading Between the Lines Competition underlined the importance of fostering philosophy inquiry and thought within educational platforms, schools and communities in the Kingdom.

“We’ve done more than before to encourage children and young people to participate in the conference through a Philosopher’s Cafe, which has space for members of the audience to discuss philosophical topics with the conference’s speakers,” added Alwan.

This year the conference partnered with more organizations, ranging from international universities, the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, as well as the Saudi Space Commission, and several Saudi organizations engaged in promoting philosophical thinking, such as Baseera, the Saudi Center of Philosophy and Ethics, Mekal Philosophy Club and the Saudi Philosophy Association.

“We abstract the tools that philosophers use and try to invite teachers to apply those tools in their curriculum,” said Dalia Toonsi, educational consultant, founder and general manager of Baseera Educational Consultancy. Baseera, an institute that trains teachers to implement dialogical and philosophical teaching as well as learning methods into the curriculum of Saudi schools, was taking part in the event for the second time.

“People in the Arab world generally don’t think philosophy is an interesting subject,” said Toonsi. Baseera’s work emphasizes the importance of philosophical inquiry in schools.

Toonsi said: “Tools from philosophy entail critical thinking, examining assumptions, deduction and reduction, and inquiry and also caring thinking, related more to children, which gives children the ability to open their minds to different opinions related to philosophical inquiry.”

 

 


People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival

People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival
Updated 04 December 2022

People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival

People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival
  • Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi said: “The initiatives, programs and projects offered to people with disabilities in the Kingdom reflect our wise leadership’s interest in this group … and the achievement of equal opportunities for them”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is currently hosting the sixth Gulf Theater Festival for People with Disabilities at the Princess Noura bint Abdulrahman University Conference Center in Riyadh.

The nine-day festival, organized by the Authority for Persons with Disabilities, began on Friday, Dec. 2 and will feature six theatrical performances from the GCC alongside interactive events and theater workshops.

Eng. Ahmad bin Sulaiman AlRajhi, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, caressing a child with disability during the opening ceremony of the Sixth Gulf Theater Festival for People with Disabilities organized by the Authority of People with Disabilities in Riyadh. (SPA)

The festival aims to promote inclusivity, and boost awareness, of people with disabilities.

Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, minister of human resources and social development, said: “The initiatives, programs and projects offered to people with disabilities in the Kingdom reflect our wise leadership’s interest in this group … and the achievement of equal opportunities for them.”  

The Kingdom is hosting this session for the first time, with the aim of discovering and developing the talents of our sons and daughters with disabilities in the GCC in the fields of arts and increasing their participation in cultural events.

Ahmad Al-Rajhi, Saudi minister of human resources and social development

He added: “The Kingdom is hosting this session for the first time, with the aim of discovering and developing the talents of our sons and daughters with disabilities in the GCC in the fields of arts and increasing their participation in cultural events.”

Alanoud Alfaqeer, the supervisor of the sixth Gulf Theatre Festival for People with Disabilities, General Manager of Partnerships and Cooperations at APD. (Supplied)

Alanoud Al-Faqeer, the supervisor of the festival, said: “Theater is one of the mechanisms through which the awareness of the public can be raised. Theater helps showcase talents and motivate people with disabilities to integrate into society.”

“Saudi Arabia welcomes all people with disabilities … all arrangements have been made to contribute to the festival’s success and provide support to all participants to showcase their performances in an amazing manner,” she added.

The director of the executive office of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Dr. Amer Al-Hajri, called for greater efforts to empower people with disabilities by providing them with appropriate opportunities of all kinds to show their talents.

 


Riyadh Season to launch ‘Ana Arabia’ on Saturday

Photo (@RiyadhSeason)
Photo (@RiyadhSeason)
Updated 04 December 2022

Riyadh Season to launch ‘Ana Arabia’ on Saturday

Photo (@RiyadhSeason)
  • The exhibition will feature exclusive and innovative products in fashion, jewelry, perfumes, leather and home accessories in an interactive environment

RIYADH: The exhibition “Ana Arabia” (Arabic for “I am an Arab Woman”), which highlights Arab women in design and fashion, will be launched on Saturday at Riyadh Front, one of the entertainment zones of Riyadh Season.

The exhibition will bring together Arab creators in what will be the largest gathering of its kind in the Middle East.

“Ana Arabia” will display the works of more than 200 designers from across the Arab world, allowing female designers and businesswomen to market their products and exchange experiences in the design sector.

The exhibition will feature exclusive and innovative products in fashion, jewelry, perfumes, leather and home accessories in an interactive environment.

It will also see exclusive meetings with top fashion and beauty experts to present their experiences.

The exhibition will open from 4 p.m. until midnight and will continue until Dec. 16. Tickets can be booked via the link: https://riyadhseason.sa/event-details-en.html?id=598/en_Ana_Arabiya