The Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) announced earlier a partnership with Aman hotel and resort.
Culture Minister and RCU Gov. Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Farhan Al-Saud has signed the agreement on Monday with Vladislav Doroni, Aman Chairman and CEO.
This partnership includes the development of the first ever three Aman resorts in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Prince Badr said that Aman’s choice to develop its first Middle Eastern property in Al Ula “shows the promise and progress of the vision for AlUla to become a worldwide destination for those seeking unique experiences. I believe this partnership will be the next step in the development of the yet-to-be-discovered masterpiece that is AlUla.”
Doronin, CEO and chairman of Aman resorts expressed her excitement saying: “Many of our existing Aman destinations are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty and rich history. With the addition of spectacular AlUla, this takes us to 10 properties situated near or in UNESCO heritage sites, making it a fitting location for our first destination in the Middle East.”
The property will be a spa resort including 30 luxurious tents based in the beautiful mountain valley and close to several heritage and cultural areas of Al Ula.
This partnership comes in light of the RCU’s goals of transforming Al Ula into a top destination for tourists, and that is by welcoming potential investors and giving the opportunity to business owners to help transform the city.
New app reconstructs the ancient glory of Baalbak’s Roman ruins in Lebanon
DUBAI: In 1898, an unlikely royal visit was made to the 10,000-year-old city of Baalbek, a jewel in the crown of Lebanon’s archeological history. As part of his grand tour of the Orient — an expedition that involved 100 coaches, 230 tents and 10 guides — the last emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and his wife Augusta Victoria were awestruck by Baalbek’s famed Roman ruins. Although the Emperor spent just a few waking hours in the ‘City of the Sun’ — his last stop before heading back to Potsdam via the Port of Beirut – he was so captivated by what he witnessed that he decided to commission German expeditions to excavate the site.
Commemorating the centenary of the Kaiser’s consequential stay in Baalbek, a local museum was inaugurated in 1998 by the Lebanese General Department of Antiquities (DGA) and the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) to display a collection of pre-Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine artifacts. The Lebanese-German cultural relationship continues to grow to this day. In fact, thanks to a collaboration between the DGA, the DAI and the US-based virtual-tourism company Flyover Zone, a new smartphone and tablet app has now been developed that lets users view Baalbek virtually.
“Baalbek Reborn: Temples” allows you to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site — known as Heliopolis in Roman times — as it was in the past and as it is now. It provides a 38-minute guided tour with an audio track available in English, Arabic, French and German. It includes a map with 38 individual stops — some of which are inaccessible in reality — that can be ‘visited’ in panoramic, up-close, and satellite views. Highlights include the iconic six columns of the Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Baachus, considered by experts as one of the world’s best-preserved examples of Roman-era temples.
The app, released in late March, is another example of how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed tourism and travel. Since global lockdowns began a year ago, there has been increasing interest in the use of advanced technology and virtual reality to allow people to explore the world.
Advanced and impressive as such ‘travel’ may be, however, the app’s project manager Henning Burwitz is aware that it is a very different experience to actually going somewhere.
“This was never intended to replace an actual visit,” Burwitz told Arab News. “To learn about a World Heritage Site in a book, in an app, is great. But to be there is a different thing. We (see) this as a way to encourage people to learn about it, to get people to go there, or to maybe even hear about it for the first time.”
Burwitz recalled the first time he laid eyes on Baalbek back in 2002: “When you go there once, you want come back a lot of times. The size and the impression it leaves on you… It is anything but modest.”
In modern times, Baalbek has been a major artistic hotspot in the Arab region, hosting high-profile performers including Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Fayrouz and Umm Kulthum at the open-air Baalbeck International Festival. During the 1950s and 1960s, Baalbek’s temples were prominently featured in tourism and aviation posters. So aside from its historical importance, what is it about Baalbek that creates such a lasting impression on people?
“The fact that Baalbek and its sites are still preserved as they are today, after the civil war, after a lot of bad (times) this beautiful country has seen, is due to the people,” Burwitz said. “They love their site and they do this because it’s their life, it’s their wellbeing.”
Time-traveling has always been the passion of American digital archaeologist and professor Bernard Frischer, who was involved in the development of the app. Through his company, Flyover Zone, his team has virtually recreated the entire city of Ancient Rome and upcoming plans include sites in Egypt and Mexico. “The cultural mission of what we’re doing — of bridging time and space — is to help bridge people and show people each other’s cultures, starting from when they’re children,” Frischer said. “We have to show young people that there are many great monuments around the world and we have to make them easily accessible.”
The graphics of “Baalbek Reborn” were originally based on 20th-century German archaeologist Theodore Wiegand’s book documenting his findings at Baalbek. A 3D-model was developed and minor details that make the research more scientifically viable and accurate were later added, along with touches that gave the images of Baalbek, captured via drone, a richer look and feel.
According to Burwitz and Frischer, the app has been positively received in the region and abroad, with around 9,000 downloads within a few days of its launch.
The project also supports a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the Lebanese non-governmental organization, Arc en Ciel. This initiative will offer restoration training for 100 artisans and workmen in Lebanon, in an effort to rehabilitate Beirut’s heritage homes damaged in the August port explosion.
With the situation in Lebanon so desperate — with political turmoil, an economic meltdown, increased migration and the collective trauma caused by last year’s Beirut blast all exacerbating the issues caused by the ongoing pandemic — Burwitz and his team hope that this project, reconstructing a beloved architectural gem in remarkable detail, might provide the Lebanese people with something to smile about.
“We are all hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel and this might be the little torch trying to guide the people,” said Burwitz.
“We want them to feel that this is good news, which will make them happy and give them some hope,” added Frischer. “It should also give them a special sense of pride that they live in a country that was able to achieve the monumentality of a site like Baalbek.”
‘Winter is Around You’ Campaign Sheds the Light on the Kingdom’s Desert Life
The ‘Winter is Around You’ campaign, which has been recently launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority, will highlight the stunning desert destinations and position it as the ultimate choice for winter break.
Most of the Kingdom is desert and it’s divided to three part: Al-Dahna, Al-Nafud and the Empty Quarter. In these parts, visitors can find beautiful natural oases and parks, and also those interested in hiking can get to enjoy several activities at some of the desert’s cliffs.
The campaign is also highlighting the desert camps, known as Kashtas, and shedding the light on it as a popular destination during this time of the year, it offers the perfect escape for tourists who are looking to get away from the hustle of urban life.
Other activities that suit adventure seekers are and skiing, motorbike riding and “dune bashing.” If you’re the explorer type, then you can take the time to explore and look into the history and heritage of these desert areas or try some chill activities such as camel and horse riding or camping.
The Saudi desert truly is the ideal destination for individuals, groups and family, it’s a place worth promoting for and a place deserves to have people flood to from all over the world.
See AlUla Through the Lens of Young Photographers in CaptureAlUla Photo Competition
A photography competition kicked off earlier on World Photography day and five Saudi photographers were able through their lens to showcase the beauty of AlUla.
The winner of the #CaptureAlUla Photo Competition really did a wonderful job highlighting the beauty of the area that extends to 22,561km² and include a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and historical sites.
The competition, which the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) held in co-operation with Sony Alpha, aimed to support the local talents of the Kingdom. The winners were awarded with a compact Sony Alpha 6600M camera, which has the world’s fastest Auto-focus, and a commission of 10,000 SAR from RCU.
The winners will also get to cooperate with RCU on upcoming projects, which is considered as a great opportunity for them.
Ziad Alarfaj, Sony Alpha Ambassador in KSA and another #CaptureAlUla judge commented: “The participants are all very creative, we chose those winners based on who we believe will have a brilliant future in photography. Each winner has a valuable opportunity to share their artistry with to the world, each picture was chosen not only for showcasing the beauty of its subject, but in telling the story behind it.”
Aisha Alhjairi who loves cinematography, photography and listening to classical music, earned the Design grouping. “By using pottery and dry branches, using earthy colours, and through the harmony between the elements of this artwork and the harmony of lighting in it, I wanted to show and prove that from the drought we can create an artistic picture, as beauty is created from severity, and luxury is created from simplicity,” she said while commenting on her winning image. “I made this idea specifically to show the sensual heritage (the pottery) in a different way from what is customary to touch the feelings of the recipient and bring them back to the memory.”
Check out the incredible photos and see AlUla in a different perspective through the eyes of young talents!