Friday November 16, 2018

UNESCO declares Al ‘Ula as Saudi’s First World Heritage Site: The 2,000-year-old town is made of mud and stone

The Incense Route which helped in transportation of spices from India, ‘lapis lazuli’ from Afghanistan, gold from Nubia, myrrh and resins from Saba, now suffers erosion and decay

Al Ula, an old town in Saudi Arabia. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • About 2,000 years ago, Al ‘Ula was once a flourishing city, bustling with life and activity
  • Al Ula or the ancient site of Al Hijr was the capital of the kingdom of Dedan, said an Saudi archaeologist
  • Dedanites were the lords of the land during the 6th and 7th century BC

Saudi Arabia might boast of a potpourri of architectural marvels and grand mosques, men and women dressed in modestly long gowns in the scorching heat of the desert, but going deeper inside the land of ‘Sheikhs’ might amaze one beyond measure.

Known for its stringent laws and moderated lifestyle, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rich in historical magnificence. Located 110 km southwest of the town of Tayma, surrounded by thick walls and narrow corridors is the ancient capital of Dedanites – Al ‘Ula. The old city, representing a maze-like construction has attracted archaeologists and historians for a long time.  Al ‘Ula, surrounded by Maid –ain Saleh, crowns the desert as the first Saudi World Heritage Site declared by the UNESCO, said a Altasobscura report.

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Charles Doughty in 1876, discovered the city while he was travelling with a caravan of travellers on their way to Mecca and Medina. He studied the inscriptions found at the site and came across “Al ‘Ula, the chief town of the area.”

Further research revealed that the Dedanites were the lords of the land during the 6th and 7th century BC. Nabonidus, the king of Babylonia had once raised a military campaign to the north of Arabia around 552 BC to conquer Tayma, Dedan and Yathrib (the present-day Medina). The Nabateans in 106 AD had lost the region to the Romans who gained the entire kingdom along with Petra.

According to a well known Saudi archaeologist, Abdel Rahman al Ansary, “Al Ula or the ancient site of Al Hijr was the capital of the kingdom of Dedan, one of the principal settlements of Arabia established around the 6th century BCE, and mentioned in the Old Testament and Assyrian inscriptions as DDN.”

The complete geography of the region comprised of ‘Al Khurayba’, ‘Al Hijr’ and ‘Mada-in Saleh’, which are ruins of Dedans, and those of the Qurh. While many Europeans surveyed the site, it was only properly brought into light after an expedition by the Institute of Archaeology of the University of London, in 1968.

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Al ‘Ula was once a flourishing city, bustling with life and activity, some 2000 years ago. Concretely built mud-houses and sand structures dotted the beautiful landscape of the oasis in the Arabian desert. Trading of silk, spices, luxury items thrived through this route between the Arabian nation and those in the Gulf, as far as India.

Al Sinya chariot and lion in Al Ula. Image source:
Al Sinya chariot and lion in Al Ula. Image source:

Once the hub of commerce and industry, Al ‘Ula also found mention in Islamic history as a city that the Last Prophet, Muhammad (S.A.W) had crossed in 630 AD en route to the Battle of Tabuk, fought between the Arabs and the Byzantines.

According to atlasobscura, most Arab writers have written accounts on how “in the 13th century with the fall of the Abbasid dynasty, and the spread of unrest throughout the peninsula, Qurh declined and eventually its name was forgotten.”

In  ‘Al-‘Ula (Saudi Arabia): A report on a Historical and Archaeological Survey’, Abdallah al-Nasif writes how “trade routes changed as dynasties grew and declined over the years.” The town, although it remained inhabited till the 1980s, is now decaying despite measures of reconstruction under the Royalty.  The last family to live here was in 1983 with the last mosque service in 1985.

The Incense Route which helped in transportation of spices from India, ‘lapis lazuli’ from Afghanistan, gold from Nubia, myrrh and resins from Saba, now suffers erosion and decay.

In spite of the huge popularity among tourists as a uniquely built Arab town, Al ‘Ula today lies in ruins under the brutally hot desert sun. Its’ structures that were once a major tourist attraction and its’ people who welcomed guests are now disappearing like the town itself.

-prepared by NewsGram team with assistance from Maariyah


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  • Paras Vashisth

    This invention will be very helpful for understand many things.

  • AJ Krish

    These structures were once the pride of the nation and the center for culture. We not only need to preserve them but also make the people aware about its history .

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Visas Of Saudi Officials Revokes By The USA Following The Khashoggi Killing

Khashoggi had gone to the consulate to get documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Turkish national Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside in vain for his return.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington. VOA

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the United States had “identified at least some” of the Saudi officials involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and was revoking their visas.

“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable,” Pompeo said. “We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.”

The visa revocations were the first punitive actions the U.S. has taken against Saudi Arabia since news broke of Khashoggi’s disappearance on Oct. 2.

Pompeo, who made the announcement at the State Department, did not say who or how many Saudi officials would have their visas revoked. Saudi Arabia on Saturday announced it had already arrested 18 Saudis and fired several top intelligence officials in connection with Khashoggi’s death.

The secretary also said the U.S. was considering taking action, such as imposing financial sanctions, under the Magnitsky Act. That law was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison after he reported tax fraud involving government officials; it was aimed at punishing officials responsible for his death.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey. VOA

Earlier Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke for the first time about the Khashoggi case, saying the journalist was “murdered in a ferocious manner,” and contending that Saudi Arabia carried out the killing in its Istanbul consulate in a premeditated plot. He dismissed Riyadh’s claim that “rogue agents” were responsible.

“All evidence gathered shows that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a savage murder,” Erdogan told the Turkish parliament in Ankara. “To cover up such savagery would hurt the human conscience.”

The Turkish leader said “to blame such an incident on a handful of security and intelligence members would not satisfy us or the international community.”

Erdogan demanded that whoever ordered the killing of Khashoggi “be brought to account,” and that the 18 officials already arrested by Saudi Arabia in connection with the killing stand trial in Istanbul.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey during a bill-signing ceremony at the White House in Washington. VOA

In Washington, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Saudi authorities had staged “one of the worst cover-ups” in history with their response to the killing of Khashoggi, 59, a U.S.-based Saudi dissident.

“They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

When a reporter asked Trump if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader, should be held accountable, Trump said, “I spoke with the crown prince yesterday, and he strongly said he had nothing to do with this — it was at a lower level.”

Vice President Mike Pence said Erdogan’s assessment of the killing “underscores the determination” of the Trump administration “to find out what happened. The word from President Erdogan this morning that this brutal murder was premeditated, preplanned days in advance, flies in the face of earlier assertions that had been made by the Saudi regime.”

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. VOA

“The world is watching,” Pence said at an event at The Washington Post, where Khashoggi wrote opinion columns that were critical of the Saudi crown prince. “The American people want answers, and we will demand that those answers are forthcoming.”

Erdogan told Turkish lawmakers that “Saudi Arabia has taken an important step by admitting the murder. As of now, we expect of them to openly bring to light those responsible, from the highest ranked to the lowest, and to bring them to justice.” The Turkish president described Khashoggi’s death as a “murder” 15 times in his speech.

Erdogan never mentioned Salman in his speech and did not play an audio recording of the killing that news accounts have cited.

jamal Khashoggi
This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and made available on Oct. 9, 2018 claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. VOA

Erdogan gave new details surrounding the killing — which involved 15 Saudi agents who started arriving in Turkey on Oct. 1, the day before Khashoggi was killed — while largely confirming earlier news accounts of Khashoggi’s disappearance, including that Saudi agents deployed a body double with Khashoggi’s clothes, glasses and beard to walk out of the consulate to make it appear as if he had left the diplomatic outpost alive.

The Turkish president said that on Oct. 1, a team of Saudi consular staff scouted out two separate locations in a forest outside Istanbul and at Yalova, 90 kilometers south of the city. Turkish authorities have searched the locations, theorizing that Khashoggi’s remains might have been disposed of there, but have not found his body. Erdogan said Saudi agents removed the hard drive from the consulate’s surveillance system.

Saudi officials at first said that Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate and that they did not know his whereabouts. Then they said he died in a fistfight in the consulate. Most recently, the Saudis said Khashoggi was killed in a chokehold when he tried to leave the consulate to call for help.

Turkish police crime scene investigators leave an underground car park, after looking for possible clues into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on a vehicle belonging to the Saudi Consulate found by authorities a day earlier, in Istanbul. VOA