Saudi Arabia's Unesco-listed Al Ula announces reopening plans

Visitors will also have the chance to experience four newly open sites

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Four major areas in the spectacular desert site of Al Ula in Saudi Arabia will open officially in October.

These include Hegra, the vast complex of tombs that members of the Nabatean tribe carved into the sandstone from the first century BC to the first century AD. Established in 2008 as Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, Hegra, also known as Madain Saleh, is an exceptional are that will be accessible to tourists as an open-air museum.

The other areas to be opened are Dadan, the archaeological remains of a first millennium BC city that grew wealthy as a caravan way station; Jabal Ikmah, a trove of important wall-carvings; and the Old Town, where Al Ula residents lived since the 12th century AD.

The Royal Commission for Al Ula has plans to develop the entire area, which lies 700 kilometres north of Jeddah, into a vast museum and leisure area, with hotel offerings, activities and eight museums. The complex is expected to fully open in 2023.

October’s first four sites show the number of civilisations that have passed through the Al Ula area. Carved into the soft rock of Jabal Ikmah, for example, are inscriptions in a variety of ancient languages: Aramaic, Dadanitic, Thamudic, Minaic and Nabataean. The carvings depict ancient laws as well as images of everyday life.

Given their archaeological importance, the Royal Commission says it is keen to safeguard these sites from any potentially damaging effects of the new influx of tourism. Most of these tombs and carving have been left alone in the desert for centuries.

“We are developing immersive, light-touch experiences that harness the power and silence of the landscapes,” a representative said in a statement. “Experiences like guided stargazing in a desert night sky.”

Offerings will also include guided excursions with local Arabic storytellers, known as Rawi, as well as dune-buggy rides and trips in light aircraft to see the tombs and geological features.

The Royal Commission will also expand its Winter at Tantora festival, with food trucks surrounding the lavish Maraya concert hall, in a new Winter Park area. Despite worries over the coronavirus, Winter at Tantora will go ahead as scheduled, a representative for the Royal Commission confirmed. Its third season is due to begin in December.