AlUla… Land of Civilizations and Largest Open Museum in the World

22-07-23

 

AlUla… Land of Civilizations and Largest Open Museum in the World

 

AlUla, SPA 

AlUla Governorate, situated to the northwest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is located in an area rich with a history of living evidence and cultural backgrounds that were formed by successive civilizations dating back to more than 200,000 years ago. AlUla has been a destination for journeys of travelers and explorers and is still one of the most important locations for historical explorations due to what it enjoys of antiquities.

Before Islam, AlUla was known as Dadan, as mentioned in the books of the Assyrians and old Arabic books. It was also known as Wadi Al-Qura, but its name was connected to the heritage of the Nabataeans, Dadans and Lihyans.

AlUla also houses human and historical monuments, including the Hegra site that was built by the Nabataeans, which was registered as the first UNESCO world heritage site in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. AlUla includes the two kingdoms of Lihyan and Dadan, over two consecutive eras spanning between the 9th century BC till the end of the 2nd century BC or the start of the 1st century BC, in addition to “AlUla Old Town” that was a hub for Hajj caravans around 1,000 years ago.

AlUla combines all elements of historical and geographical attraction for its being one of the most important archaeological sites in the world whose monuments tell the history of human civilizations and are characterized by a natural beauty and qualitative human heritage, which all make it a main target as the biggest living museum in the world and allow it to provide a unique global tourist experiment as per the work of the Royal Commission for AlUla.

A new chapter of the history of AlUla…

As per the Saudi Vision 2030 to maximize benefits of the historical heritage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Shawwal 26, 1438 Hijri (corresponding to July 20, 2017) issued two Royal Decrees to establish the Royal Commission for AlUla and form its board of directors under the chairmanship of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, where the commission aims at developing AlUla in a way that accords with its historical value and civil status and what it enjoys of archaeological sites and to realize the economic and cultural interests emanating from the Saudi Vision 2030.

On Shaban 25, 1442 Hijri (corresponding to April 24, 2021), His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Royal Commission for AlUla, launched the design vision of the “Journey Through Time” Masterplan, with the aim of reviving and rehabilitating the main archaeological site in AlUla in a responsible and sustainable manner amidst a unique cultural and natural environment, where the project is considered a main station under the program to develop AlUla and change it into a pioneering global destination for arts, heritage, culture and nature, in realization of the Saudi Vision 2030 targets.

The “Journey Through Time” Masterplan consists of three main phases and its first phase is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023, where the development strategy, upon completion in 2035, aims at providing 38,000 new jobs and contributing SAR 120 billion to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s GDP.

The Masterplan also provides a special historical map for civilizations that inhabited AlUla Oasis over 7,000 years of the human history through utilizing the heritage, cultural, natural and geological richness of the area through the participation of its distinguished community with the development process to preserve AlUla heritage and draw the future via opening new chapters to explore its untapped history and build a future heritage that can be a source of pride.

Under the Masterplan, five districts over a distance of 20 kilometers of AlUla center will be established in inspiring and main stations through the courses of the Journey Through Time, starting from the center of the AlUla Old Town in the south passing through Dadan Oasis center, Jabal Ikmah Oasis and the Nabataean Oasis till reaching the Hegra Historical City in the north.

The Journey Through Time Masterplan constitutes a national investment in AlUla community through the commission’s commitment to supporting and empowering the community participation, where the Masterplan includes providing community services, amenities and a set of cultural and educational facilities in a bid to realize a cultural economy and improve the living conditions of individuals and families. Also, the Masterplan will contribute to the revitalization and rehabilitation of the cultural oasis, and the sustainable development of its agricultural community, as a commitment to developing the agricultural sector in AlUla.

The Masterplan also stresses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to preserving and protecting world heritage, especially that it is based on intensified scientific studies on human patterns and the environmental and geological development in AlUla under the supervision of a team of Saudi and international experts over the past four years to realize integration with the nature and celebrate the cultural and historical heritage of the governorate. 

The Kingdoms Institute, one of the plan’s flagship components, is located in Dadan Oasis, where its design is inspired by the Dadan civilization to be one of the top engraved buildings in mountains opposite to the archaeological site.

The institute includes seven basic programs and archaeological research areas, the top of which being: preserving rock arts, inscriptions, languages, agriculture, sustainability in the prehistoric times, archaeological communications and records, supervising archaeological sites and preserving them, and administrating the site and archaeological elements.

The institute will be specialized in studying and analyzing archaeological pieces, contents and their stories, in addition to the top advanced scientific methods and global practices to explore antiquities and maintain heritage. 

Also, 80% of the total AlUla area will be allocated for nature reserves to revive plants and restore ecosystems, including protecting wild animals and relocating them and preserving their natural habitats.

Earlier this month (June, 2022), UNESCO, during its recently held 34th meeting, registered the Harrat Uwayrid Reserve in the Man and the Biosphere Program, after the reserve met all standards required for its registration.

The Harrat Uwayrid Reserve is considered the biggest nature reserve in AlUla among other five reserves, and it contains 19 endangered species of animals, 43 bird species (including 8 kinds of birds of prey) and 55 species of rare plants.

A research study by the University of Cambridge, through the biggest archaeological excavations in the world that are still ongoing, revealed the historical importance of AlUla, where the study reached a conclusion that the mustatils, which translates to “rectangles” in Arabic, (prehistoric monuments made of sandstone walls) that were found in AlUla are older than Egypt’s pyramids and UK’s Stonehenge.

According to the field research work that was published by the University of Cambridge, these mustatils belong to prehistoric times.

According to the study, these mustatils have not received considerable attention until field research showed that these antiquities are complex in terms of architectural point of view more than it was believed in the past, and that they include chambers, entrances and sanding stones that can be interpreted as being facilities to perform rituals dating back to the end of the sixth millennium BC, where recent excavations have uncovered the oldest evidence for worshipping cattle in the Arabian Peninsula, where the mustatils are considered among the oldest stone antiquities and one of the oldest archaeological construction methods that the world has ever known about.

AlUla, through several events, attracts visitors and tourists from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and abroad, where the development of AlUla International Airport to match international requirements has contributed to receiving visitors, where passengers using the airport increased from 100,000 people annually to 400,000, in a move that aims at meeting the increasing demand of tourists from around the world to visit AlUla, which is also considered an important step towards realizing the comprehensive strategic Masterplan to develop AlUla and the commission’s target to attract almost two million visitors to AlUla by 2035.

There are several events organized by the commission, such as AlUla Season that is full of experiments that enrich the journey to the governorate and allow discovering the cradles of history and heritage along with artistic and cultural concerts.

AlUla has also hosted regional and international events, including the leader summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council for Arab States in 2021 and Hegra Conference of Nobel Laureates, among other global events.

The Maraya Hall (Maraya: meaning mirror or reflection in Arabic) that hosted AlUla Gulf Summit reflected the beauty of nature in AlUla, where the design was a cube-shape with its outer walls were fully covered with mirrors to form an architectural extension of the breathtaking nature of AlUla that inspired architects, artists and creative people over long centuries, which made the hall the largest mirrored building in the world, according to Guinness World Records.