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.

 


People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival

People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival
Updated 38 min 35 sec ago

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.

 


Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family

Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family

Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family
  • Paweł Juchniewicz has 2 locals as best friends
  • Enjoys wearing national dress, visiting old sites

RIYADH: A Polish man and his family have developed a considerable affinity to Saudi Arabian culture, particularly the country’s language and historical sites.

Polish national Paweł Juchniewicz, who recently attended a camel show with his family, said that he enjoys visiting two of his best friends who are Saudis.

Juchniewicz was invited to the festival by Abdulaziz Al-Otaibi, a young Saudi whom he befriended in 2018. “Several weeks ago, he invited me to visit the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival. I welcomed the idea because I love getting to know new places related to traditions, in addition to establishing business contacts,” Juchniewicz told Arab News.

“At the festival I saw, for the first time, many wonderful camels that are not popular in Europe. They are very beautiful animals and I learned a lot of interesting facts about the Hagen camels racing business.

“Arabs have used camels for different purposes such as riding, during combat, movement, as well as for transporting water and in farming. My family and I are pleased with the visit where we learned about the ancient culture,” he said.

Juchniewicz said he was “amazed” by the organization of the event in a desert area where there are paved roads, markets and uninterrupted internet access.

This was his fourth visit to the Kingdom since 2018, but he has hosted many Saudis in Poland from 2012. “For 10 years I have been helping Saudis who come to Poland for treatment, work or tourism purposes. I can say that two of my best friends are from Saudi Arabia,” he said.

One of Juchniewicz’s best friends is Abdullah Al-Ghosson whom he met in 2012, when the latter was just 17 years old and in Poland for rehabilitation. “I helped him … showed him Poland, taught him about life and Europe and he taught me Arabic words and (the) language.”

Together, the duo visited Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. “He is a very strong Saudi man as he wasn’t able to walk since birth, but he has (shown) other people with disabilities how to live a normal live in a wheelchair. He is also a businessman as he sells the best honey in Saudi Arabia produced by his family.”

In the Kingdom, Juchniewicz and his family have visited many sites and institutions including the historic Masmak Fortress, the Riyadh Center for Cultural Heritage, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, in Dhahran, the Buraidah Winter Festival, and the Al-Musawkaf Market in Unaizah.

“During my recent stay in Saudi Arabia during the month of Ramadan in May 2022, I wore traditional clothes on a daily basis. I attended feasts and visited a mosque. I really like wearing Saudi clothes.”

Juchniewicz said his wife and children are similarly in awe of the Kingdom’s culture. “I love the Arabic language very much. I love greetings such as ‘asalamu aleikum,’ ‘sabah alkhayr,’ and marhaba.’ I also like vocabulary of a religious nature such as ‘insha’Allah’ or ‘alhamdulilah.’ I love people’s respect for each other and I love hearty food and great Saudi cuisine.”

“Saudi people are open minded, friendly, love to help people, and have a desire to learn about other cultures around the world, they are very generous. Here, I met many learned people, but even the simple ones were kind, I like people who stick to tradition a lot,” he said.

Juchniewicz feels “comfortable and safe” in Saudi Arabia where he has “lots of friends.”

“I was (at) the Saudi-Polish match in Qatar and despite the loss, the Saudis were very polite to my family. I have met people I didn’t know on the border with Qatar, they invited me to visit Alkhobar (in eastern Saudi Arabia) for dinner,” he said.


Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
Updated 03 December 2022

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
  • The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari

JEDDAH: A panel discussion was held today in Jeddah during the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, titled “Hawjan: From the Novel to the Screen,” to shed light on the journey of transforming the best-selling novel “HWJN” into a movie.

From written words to the screen, the speakers explained the success of the famous fantasy novel and the complexities of transforming it for the big screen.

The book, pronounced Hawjan, was the number one best-selling novel in the history of Saudi Arabia when released in 2013. It is the first book of a series of metaphysical and supernatural novels that depict the results of interacting with the unknown realm of the jinn, which co-exists with the human world.

Translator Yasser Bahjatt, Actress Al Anood Saud, Director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Actress Nour  Khadra, Actor Baraa Alem. (AN photo)

Written by Ibraheem Abbas and translated into English by Yasser Bahjatt, the action-romance story details the interaction of two worlds and the unity of two different species to stop the evil of their worlds from slipping into each other.

It also sheds light on good jinns and shows the world from their perspective, with humans haunting their homes, and shows how some humans are more evil to each other than jinn are to them.

The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari.

At first, Al-Yasiri did not take an interest in the book, until his friend insisted he reads it. “I read it overnight and I was actually like: Woah, this is something I want to work on,” said Al-Yasiri in a press release at The Ritz-Carlton Jeddah on Saturday.

He added that he decided to work on it because it “tackles a genre that is rarely addressed in the Arab world” and to “break the norm and bring something fresh.”

The two men immediately started working on the script and started the casting and filming process in 2018 with Al-Ansari as a director and Al-Yasiri as a producer. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted Al-Ansari from coming to Saudi Arabia, leading Al-Yasiri to become the director, and he proceeded with filming.

The story introduces Sawsan, a medical student from the world of humans, and Hawjan, a curious man from the realm of the jinn, which humankind cannot see. The jinn man takes an interest in knowing Sawsan and her family after they move to a new house, where Hawjan and his family have been living for years.

While trying to maintain the boundaries between his life in both worlds, Hawjan discovers that he comes from a royal bloodline and tries to reclaim his right to the throne.

The script, written by both Al-Ansari and Al-Yasiri, ensures that the story has the necessary changes for the screen, but does not drift away from the book.

One of the biggest challenges the crew faced was creating a city that exists in the jinn world —Milaj City, which no human has seen. Al-Yasiri said they had to bear in mind the civilizational scenery of the jinn world, which existed before humans.

Casting the actors was a bit tricky, trying to find characters in the actors rather than actors who could portray them. This led to the casting of the brilliant Saudi actor Baraa Alem as Hawjan, Nour Khadra as Sawsan, Nayef Al-Dhufary as Zanan, and Al-Anood Saud as Jamara.

As the book became a major hit in 2013, the publishing houses were ordered by the religious police to stop selling it 11 months after its release, as it stirred controversy among parents who started complaining that their children were learning black magic, and how to call upon jinn.

One month later, the book was back on shelves after the editors, and the reviewing committee, made sure it was clear of the claims.

A teaser trailer was released earlier today by Vox Cinema, giving a glimpse into the world created by Al-Yasiri. Produced by Image Nation, MBC, and Vox Cinema, the movie will be out in 2023.

 


Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch
Updated 03 December 2022

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch
  • The forum seeks to achieve the national strategic investment goals by attracting investments to the promising sectors, namely tourism, agriculture and sports

ABHA: Asir Gov. Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, who also heads the region’s development authority, sponsored the launch of the Aseer Investment Forum at King Khalid University in Al-Qaraa on Saturday.

The ceremony saw the participation of Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih and Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, along with  Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization Zurab Pololikashvili.

In his opening speech, Prince Turki said: “The Asir region is of great interest to the wise leadership and benefits from its continuous support to promote all of the developmental projects and underline its strong points and uniqueness in all its fields. The forum was held after the region’s infrastructural development was completed and the economic studies, which will provide accurate information regarding the investment opportunities, were conducted.

“The forum seeks to achieve the national strategic investment goals by attracting investments to the promising sectors, namely tourism, agriculture and sports. These sectors would, in their turn, contribute to the achievement of the objectives of Asir’s development strategy, stimulate local and foreign direct investments and turn the region into a global tourist destination all year round, while also expanding the investment radius to cover all of the region’s provinces, characterized by the diversity of their environments,” he added.

Al-Khateeb stressed the leadership’s keenness to develop the Kingdom’s tourism sector, utilize the attraction elements and benefit from available opportunities by raising the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product from 3 to 10 percent. “The launch of Asir’s strategy has helped the ministry implement several of its initiatives and projects, which are aimed at developing the tourism sector as well as locally and internationally promoting the region’s tourism sector,” he said.

“The Kingdom has allocated SR450 million ($119.7 million) to train 100,000 young Saudi men and women with the aim of providing tourism facilities with trained employees. More than 70,000 young men and women have received the necessary training, including 7,000 who were sent abroad to be trained according to international standards,” he added.

Al-Falih said that “the ministry is working to support economic projects in Asir and encourage businessmen to establish services and tourism projects in order to develop the region and stimulate investments through the privatization and partnership system in place between the private and public sectors.

“The ministry is also keen to receive suggestions, listen to the investors and work on resolving all the difficulties they might face,” he added, lauding Asir’s strategy for “what it has achieved in terms of establishing an investor-attracting environment, inviting the investors and providing them with all the information and data that would help them set the region’s investment compass.”

Pololikashvili commended the Kingdom for “the qualitative leaps it has achieved when it comes to tourism, developing tourist destinations and facilitating the required procedures to visit the country,” recognizing how rich Saudi Arabia’s various regions are “in terms of natural elements and environmental diversity, which support its aim of becoming a global tourist destination.”

 


Super Hero experience tells Boulevard World visitors the story of The Avengers

Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2022

Super Hero experience tells Boulevard World visitors the story of The Avengers

Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
  • The Super Hero experience includes the old TV room, which contains a TV set with distorted frequencies, to enhance the feeling of fear and tension among the participants in the experiment

RIYADH: The Super Hero experience takes visitors of Boulevard World, one of the 15 entertainment zones of Riyadh Season, on a training trip to Marvel World with the SHIELD team, accompanied by Stan Lee, who tells the story of the Avengers and how to use the team’s weapons in a digital experience that turns visitors into distinguished heroes.

The experience takes visitors to the shooting wall, where they learn to use the weapons of their superheroes and choose the appropriate items for each stage. Through the training area, visitors also have option to solve puzzles, search for missing data, and impersonate heroes to measure their physical capabilities.

Through the experience, visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them in a form closer to reality than imagination. Visitors can also have fun in the Marvel World, the Hall of Superheroes, the Draw Your Hero activity, and the augmented reality mirror.

HIGHLIGHT

The experience takes visitors to the shooting wall, where they learn to use the weapons of their superheroes and choose the appropriate items for each stage. Through the training area, visitors also have option to solve puzzles, search for missing data, and impersonate heroes to measure their physical capabilities.

The Super Hero experience includes the old TV room, which contains a TV set with distorted frequencies, to enhance the feeling of fear and tension among the participants in the experiment. It also has a street room where people are chased by zombies.

The zone allows visitors to shop in the Super Hero store, which includes a huge assortment of Marvel, DC and Comic-Con products, including collectibles and costumes.

Tickets can be booked via the link: https://ticketmx.riyadhseason.sa/en/d/2430/boulevard-world

Boulevard World is at the heart of the third Riyadh Season. It includes the 10 culturally-oriented subzones from all over the world, featuring customs and lifestyles, folklore, dances, and prominent aspects of design and construction.

Visitors can learn about the cultures of China, Italy, France, India, Morocco, Spain, America, Japan, Greece and Mexico.

For both families and individuals, Boulevard World is a premier entertainment destination, featuring a host of experiences, including rides in hot air balloons, submarines and boats.

It has the largest man-made lake in the world, where boats can travel between cities through 11 stations. It also offers the Area 15 experience from Las Vegas; The Sphere, the biggest spherical theater in the world; a city for gaming fans; comic book and anime-themed activities; and plenty of family-friendly entertainment options.

Visitors can enjoy a ride in a Venetian gondola, taste American cuisine, shop for the best Spanish products and watch flamenco shows.