TEHRAN, Iran: The United Nations cultural organization on Sunday added many of Iran’s caravanserais, roadside rest stops for travelers along the country’s ancient trade routes, to its World Heritage List.
The decision to register the 56 caravanserais, just a small percentage of the structures built in Iran, was made in Riyadh during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee.
Caravanserais provided “shelter, food and water for caravans, pilgrims and other travelers,” UNESCO said its website.
Iran boasts more than 200 caravanserais on historic trade routes that traverse the country linking Asia and Europe, including the Silk Road.
“They are considered to be the most influential and valuable examples of the caravanserais of Iran, revealing a wide range of architectural styles, adaptation to climatic conditions, and construction materials, spread across thousands of kilometers and built over many centuries,” said UNESCO.
Among them are the caravanserais of Qasr-e Bahram near the city of Semnan, Deyr-e Gachin near Qom, and Anjireh Sangi near Yazd.
Iran now has 27 UNESCO-listed historical sites, including the ancient city of Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire, Armenian monasteries in the northwest and the historic city of Yazd itself.
The two-week event celebrates local history and heritage through a diverse range of activities by AlUla Moments
Updated 19 November 2023
JEDDAH: The Ancient Kingdoms Festival has returned to AlUla in celebration of the region’s history and heritage.
Organized by AlUla Moments, the two-week festival is being held until Dec. 2 and offers a series of exciting experiences that transport visitors to the heart of AlUla's captivating past.
The festival’s program includes cultural celebrations, evening tours, historic culinary experiences, and trips to archaeological and historical sites.
This year’s festivities mark the 15th anniversary of Hegra’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Nabataean city sprawls over 52 hectares, standing as a testament to Saudi Arabia’s rich history. Initially untouched for over 2,000 years, the city has revealed its treasures, allowing archaeologists and experts to delve into its ancient mysteries.
Ibn Battuta, the legendary Arab explorer, visited Hegra in the 14th century, noting in his memoirs that its tombs were also passed by travelers, traders, and pilgrims en route to Makkah over the centuries.
• The two-week Ancient Kingdoms Festival in AlUla celebrates local history and heritage.
• This year’s festival marks the 15th anniversary of Hegra’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
• The ‘Life in Al-Hijr Exhibition’ showcases 15 archaeological discoveries in the region.
• For more details about tours and cultural activities, visit experiencealula.com.
Another famous explorer who made the journey was Charles Montagu Doughty. Regarded to this day as one of the greatest of all Western travelers in Arabia, Doughty’s visit to Hegra was referenced in his 1888 book “Travels in Arabia Deserta.”
However, Hegra is now open to the world as one of Saudi Arabia’s iconic landmarks, welcoming tourists from all walks of life as they explore a distinctive, untouched part of the Kingdom.
“The stories and secrets within Hegra have withstood … time and as we uncover them in the present, they only enforce that the city remains as significant as ever,” Phillip Jones, chief tourism officer at the Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News.
“Modern-day Saudi Arabia and its people are just as pioneering, innovative, and transactional with communities in near and distant lands as the ancient Nabataean and Roman civilizations that inhabited Hegra, whose legacies endure through our culture and heritage. This year’s Ancient Kingdoms Festival casts a unique spotlight on this legacy through a series of world-class activations,” Jones explained.
Its legacy interweaves the stories of the Nabataeans with those of the Dadanites and Lihyanites, all of whom left indelible marks within this historic locale — marks illustrating timeless cultural exchanges in architecture, decoration, language use, and the caravan trade.
Visitors to the festival can uncover Hegra’s secrets through new and exciting points of access, allowing them to witness history through innovative, thoughtfully designed experiences.
“Hegra After Dark” is a history-inspired immersive experience in the shadow of some of the most spectacular tombs located at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors start their journey on a Nabataean-inspired horse-drawn carriage to discover the “Secret Garden of Khuraymat,” a curatorially imagined sensorium where they can explore the history and culture of incense use across the ancient world. Meanwhile, “Theatre of Life” is an experience blending historic storytelling with entertainment.
The stories and secrets within Hegra have withstood ... time and as we uncover them in the present, they only enforce that the city remains as significant as ever.
Phillip Jones, Royal Commission for AlUla chief tourism officer
Jones added: “These activations promise to take visitors on the journey through time and present Hegra to the world in a way that hasn’t been experienced before.”
The “Evening of Stone” is inspired by the province’s history and takes visitors on a journey to its most important graveyards. It also features the “Life in Al-Hijr Exhibition” showcasing 15 archaeological discoveries in the region, in addition to the wildlife and nature life in the area.
During the opening weekend, the festival kicked off on Nov. 16 with the “Journey Through Time Parade,” illuminating the stories, legends, and legacies of the ancient incense road and the life and memories of AlUla.
Another experience is “Ikmah After Dark,”celebrating Jabal Ikmah’s recent recognition on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, where visitors encounter the spirit of this ancient place in an experience that blends Arabian hospitality and refreshments, hands-on carving activities, and a spectacular show — all inspired by the inscriptions left behind by historic civilizations.
Other activations launched are the “King Nabonidus Parade,” where visitors can celebrate all things Tayma in a dramatic show starring the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Visitors will witness the intertwining of the past with the present while exploring the legendary landscapes and the linking of AlUla, Khaybar, and Tayma — three interconnected ancient oases of Northwest Arabia.
Khaybar is where geological wonders and natural treasures take center-stage. Engaging activations like “Khaybar Camp” invite visitors to explore traditional food, handicrafts, and family-oriented heritage performances. The “Oasis Soundscape” celebration combines music, nature, and landscape in a unique setting, while Takya Restaurant offers an opportunity to savor traditional Saudi Arabian dishes with scenic views of Khaybar forts and oasis.
Tayma, another significant locale, invites visitors to delve into history-inspired experiences, unveiling the richness and complexity of the kings, queens, and ancient communities that once flourished in the region.
Among these experiences, “Tayma Camp” provides a delightful blend of food, authentic handicrafts, cultural performances, camel riding, and falconry, whereas “Tayma Live” presents an enthralling re-enactment show, narrating the story of the “Land of the Kings” through music and performing arts.
The Ancient Kingdoms Festival introduces several new Oases Discovery activations. The “Memory Sanctuary,” crafted in collaboration with AlUla’s residents, pays homage to the oasis through a multisensory experience. Guests can create nostalgic desserts, enjoy liquid nitrogen slushies, and savor 3D-printed wafers in an experiential dessert laboratory.
Furthermore, two extraordinary picnic experiences, “Ancestral Hampers” and “Life and Memory Chest,” draw inspiration from memories of the harvest season in the Oasis. Visitors can opt for the portable, family-friendly picnic hampers to enjoy under the shade of trees or indulge in an elevated gastronomic feast served in a premium, cozy spot.
A series of cultural and artistic workshops will be held under the theme “Programs for Future Ancients.” Designed for young minds and their families, these activities were created through extensive consultation with archaeologists by the Academy of Ancient Inscriptions.
Egypt’s ancient city of Madi gives visitors a glimpse into the past
Items and buildings on display narrate the history and civilization of past eras, distinguished by their unique architectural details
Updated 11 November 2023
CAIRO: The archaeological city of Madi in Egypt, which contains the largest Middle Kingdom temple ever found, is giving visitors a glimpse into the past.
Located in Fayoum Governorate, about 100 km from Cairo, Madi is home to an array of ancient sites.
Items and buildings on display narrate the history and civilization of past eras, distinguished by their unique architectural details.
Madi has attracted high interest from multinational foreign delegations and visitors interested in Ancient Egypt.
It also boasts the longest archaeological road from Ancient Egypt and contains distinctive artifacts, such as sphynx statues.
Dr. Ahmed Refaat, a professor of archaeology, said that the ancient city of Medinet Madi is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Fayoum.
It has put Fayoum on the map of governorates with important antiquities visited by researchers and tourists from around the world.
Refaat added that Rams Road — designed during the reign of King Amenemhat III in the Twelfth Dynasty and completed by his son, Amenemhat IV — is located within the city.
Dr. Nermin Atef, director of the Department of Archaeological Awareness in the Fayoum Antiquities Area, said that a mission from the University of Milan discovered the Madi temple in 1937.
She said the religious site comprises a single pillar supporting a roof with two columns and postal capitals, each representing a mail bundle.
The front of the building was decorated with an Egyptian cornice.
The entrance leads to a hall that runs perpendicular to the main entrance. The hall has three compartments, with the largest being in the middle. Inside the middle compartment, there is a one-piece statue of Renenutet, the goddess of the harvest.
Nermin added: “It is evident from the scenes and texts in this temple that some of them correspond to the stages of the temple’s founding rituals, such as the rope-pulling ritual.
“Some suggest that the first hall was called the Hall of Transfiguration, while the transverse hall was named the Hall of Offerings, featuring depictions of sacrifices made to the temple deities.”
The Italian mission uncovered the Way of the Rams, featuring lion statues, altars for sacrifices, several shrines and paintings.
The Rams’ Way is adorned with plaques honoring its creator, his wife and children. The shrine was recently opened to visitors.
Dooma in AlUla — crafting a connection to the Earth
Heritage-driven sustainability activities tap into ancient wisdom
Updated 07 November 2023
ALULA: In the heart of AlUla’s Oasis, Daimumah — a name derived from the Arabic word for sustainability — is the site of an attraction for visitors looking for an experience that combines local heritage, art and nature.
Dooma, a subsidiary of Noma Hub that crafts “inclusive sustainability experiences,” offers the chance to participate in restoration work in the belief that “the best kind of travel is travel with a purpose.”
The word “dooma” is derived from the Nabatean language and refers to anyone who works with mud. Yahya Allawati, the cofounder of Dooma, said during a recent visit to AlUla that the mission was deeply tied to preserving the region’s deep-rooted and rich heritage.
Dooma’s immersive experiences provide visitors with a hands-on approach to learning about the mud houses and building techniques of AlUla, focusing on the raw materials, their origins, and fermentation processing techniques.
• Dooma offers tourists, visitors the chance to participate in restoration and sustainability activities.
• The experiences, available until the end of November, combine AlUla’s local heritage, art and nature.
Visitors not only learn about these processes but also actively participate in making mud bricks and renovating heritage sites. On arrival, visitors are given aprons and straw hats to prepapre for a mud-full experience.
Allawati stressed the dual benefit of this heritage restoration: “The restoration not only allows preserving the stories and values of the diverse societies that once thrived in AlUla, but it also allows us to tap into their timeless wisdom and intellect that led to their prosperity.”
One of the core attractions at Dooma is the opportunity to explore the ancient mud house building process, including making mud bricks, which differs significantly from the modern approach of using cement and blocks.
The mud used in this experience is made from pure AlUla oasis mud, mixed with water and straw by participants, offering an authentic connection to heritage. The process involves mud-mixing, texture assessment, brick-making using a wooden mold, then drying the fresh bricks in sunlight for two weeks.
Heritage is more than tangible materials that we can see or touch — it represents the ideas and sentiments that a people embodied.
Yahya Allawati, Dooma cofounder
“The mud used for heritage sites requires a minimum of 14 days of fermentation,” Allawati said. “In the visitor’s experience, the mud is not fermented to allow for hands-on mixing and a tangible connection to the Earth’s materials, making it unsuitable for heritage sites.”
The experiences at Dooma extend beyond the physical processes of heritage restoration; they delve into the core cultural values of communities that lived in simplicity and security, highlighting the worth of social amity and the willingness to help and be helped.
As Allawati aptly put it: “Heritage is more than tangible materials that we can see or touch — it represents the ideas and sentiments that a people embodied.”
As the immersive mud experience comes to a close, visitors are invited to take part in the ultimate indulgence — a soothing mud bath pool where they can play and relax.
Another experience offered by Dooma is “Reviving Nature,” an innovative project that invites visitors to tackle palm frond waste by contributing repurposed frond petals to the dome sculpture called “Tanafaas,” meaning “breathing” in Arabic. It is a living artwork that allows air and light to pass through its petals, creating a stunning visual and sensory experience.
Visitors are invited to participate in weaving sessions with local experts, learning how to work with palm fronds to create boards that will form the sustainable dome placed within Daimumah. The dome’s exterior has 700 petals, expertly shaped to resemble the elegant trunks of palm trees.
Made using recycled palm fronds, each panel is adorned with personal stories written by participants. The exterior of the half-dome structure is crafted using locally sourced palm fronds from AlUla’s palm trees. Inside, the seating is made of wood, while the natural dirt floor adds a grounding element, allowing visitors to connect with the earth beneath their feet and feel a sense of belonging.
Najla Bokhari, one of the participants, said: “The experience helped me to explore more about the significance of how sustainability promotes environmental awareness and fosters a connection to nature.”
Allawati added: “Tanafaas is a testament to sustainability and the power of green buildings. It conveys a profound message about the importance of environmental consciousness and the creative use of recycled materials sourced locally.”
Both Dooma experiences are available to visitors until the end of November.
New Saudi graduates aim to revive Historic Jeddah’s architectural heritage
Al-Balad exhibition showcases work of first diploma holders in Traditional Building Arts & Crafts
Students had to demonstrate proficiency in woodwork, gypsum carving, architectural drawing, decorative painting
Updated 07 November 2023
JEDDAH: The Royal Institute of Traditional Arts and the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts have announced the first graduates of their inaugural diploma course, aimed at producing experts that can help protect and revive Jeddah’s cultural heritage.
The diploma in Traditional Building Arts & Crafts was completed by 11 students — 10 female and one male — from diverse backgrounds. Their names were announced at a ceremony in Al-Balad, Jeddah recently.
Their work is on display at the Traditional Building Arts Exhibition in Bayt Naseef, the museum and cultural center; and highlights the inspiration they drew from the architecture of Historic Jeddah, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Suzan Al-Yahya, CEO of the institute, said during the ceremony: “Our aim at the Royal Institute for Traditional Arts is to foster a creative and inspirational setting that nurtures and highlights the national talents within the realm of Saudi traditional arts. These arts hold a significant place in our cultural identity and heritage, and we endeavor to engage individuals in preserving them and recognizing their economic, historical, scientific and social significance.”
Khaled Azzam, director of the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, said: “The Building Arts & Crafts Diploma program in Al-Balad, delivered by the foundation in partnership with the royal institute, engages future generations with their historic heritage as a living tradition.”
• The Traditional Building Arts Exhibition in Bayt Naseef is being held until Nov. 18.
•Historic Jeddah’s architecture relies on three primary raw materials: wood, gypsum and natural pigments.
• The royal institute’s program is aimed at producing experts that can help protect and revive Jeddah’s cultural heritage.
The graduates had to demonstrate proficiency in a variety of traditional techniques, encompassing woodwork, gypsum carving, architectural drawing, nabati designs, color harmony, and decorative painting with natural pigments. They had to also participate in local heritage projects in Al-Balad, and offer perspectives on preserving tradition in modern times.
Graduate Mustafa Hassan told Arab News: “We grew up in the enchantment of the historical city, and now it’s our turn to discover the secret behind its astonishing architectural charm.
“I am a huge fan of Historic Jeddah and its architecture. The program has been fantastic (in) providing us with an opportunity to delve into the world and intricacies of the architectural design unique to Historic Jeddah, starting from the smallest architectural components.”
Historic Jeddah’s architecture relies on three primary raw materials: wood for a wide array of crafts and arts, gypsum for intricate sculpting and carving, and natural pigments for vibrant coloring.
Our aim at the Royal Institute for Traditional Arts is to foster a creative and inspirational setting that nurtures and highlights the national talents within the realm of Saudi traditional arts.
Suzan Al-Yahya, Royal Institute of Traditional Arts CEO
“Our education delved deep into the intricacies of Historic Jeddah’s architectural heritage. We meticulously studied, designed, and executed every facet of it, guided by our esteemed professors, who took great care to ensure the precision of the conveyed knowledge,” added Hassan.
One of the standout exhibits is a meticulously handcrafted wooden door created by several students. This showcases the art of “Tashiq” which includes woodwork, bone inlay, and brass work. “The endeavor was a month-and-a-half-long project that speaks to our dedication and craftsmanship,” Hassan explained.
Another graduate Hanan Bucklain, an architect, said: “During these two years at the royal institute, our horizons expanded as we discovered new crafts we were previously unaware of and acquired remarkable skills.
“Before embarking on the grand projects we have showcased, we learned to apply every existing craft by visiting the actual historical site through field trips. These excursions allowed us to witness the precision of execution in detail, and from there, we proceeded with drawing and application.”
The qualification equips designers and craftspeople with the knowledge and professional skills needed to deliver high-quality traditional work relevant to contemporary life.
Another highlight of the exhibition is the creation of a “Roshan” wooden architectural feature crafted by the students. It serves to filter light and air, and can be used to maintain privacy.
Students also showcased an intricate form of wood-carved screens, known as “Mangour,” that can be used to replace walls.
The exhibition also features traditional painting techniques using natural pigments sourced from plants, insects and stones.
The exhibition is open to the public until Nov. 18.
For more information about the royal institute’s courses, visit trita.edu.sa.
Egypt preparing for ‘promising’ winter tourism season
Starting in November each year, tourism traffic gradually picks up, reaching its peak during December and January
Luxor in the southernmost part of Egypt is the most popular destination for winter tourists
Updated 28 October 2023
CAIRO: Egyptian tourism authorities are expecting a 20 percent boost to revenue during this year’s winter tourist season.
Starting in November each year, tourism traffic gradually picks up, reaching its peak during December and January.
Tourism expert Abu Al-Hajjaj Al-Amari told Arab News: “The Tourism Promotion Authority has made great efforts. This year, as part of its plan, it will host 44 exhibitions and has added 18 new tourist markets, including Brazil, India, Jordan, South Korea and Kuwait.”
He said: “The winter season is thriving in the cities along the Nile, and this summer’s performance was good for Egyptian tourism.”
Luxor in the southernmost part of Egypt is the most popular destination for winter tourists.
Experts believe that hotel occupancy rates will reach up to 90 percent.
Osama Abdel Ghani, head of a tourism firm in Luxor, told Arab News: “This winter tourist season is expected to be the best in Luxor’s history since the 1990s, thanks to the government’s concerted efforts. Their support for the tourism sector was evident in the increased number of tourist visits during the summer.”
He added: “The majority of tourism companies and hotels in Luxor already have reservations from countries around the globe. The new tourist season is expected to surpass previous years by more than 20 percent. Preparations are underway to provide excellent services to tourist groups during their stay in Luxor.
“With increasing tourist demand, Luxor and Aswan stand as the most suitable cities to welcome visitors from various European countries.”
The Cultural Tourism Marketing Committee said that the season looks “promising” in the context of Egypt’s stability.
Its chairman, Mohamed Othman, told Arab News: “The tourism sector has been actively preparing for the upcoming winter season by participating in archaeological and tourism exhibitions, most recently the Russian exhibition, where participation increased by 60 percent compared to 2022.
“Joint trips between Hurghada and Luxor, which offer diverse tourist experiences, are among the attractions that the sector is focusing on for the next winter season.
“The English market is expected to increase the number of its flights to four per week. The Chinese market is also expected to make a strong comeback, particularly in the cities of Luxor and Aswan, along with other attractions along the banks of the Nile.”
Othman said that these inflows “are projected to raise the average tourist expenditure by approximately 20 percent compared to 2022.”