How different musical traditions have shaped the identity and culture of Saudi Arabia

LONDON: While Saudi Arabia is writing the next chapter of its history, defined by the ambition of its Vision 2030, it rediscovers and accepts a past that will play a central role in its opening to the outside world.

Since 2008, Saudi Arabia has inscribed six sites of exceptional universal value on Unesco’s World Heritage List.

Ten other sites appear on the indicative list – sites whose inscription is envisaged -, notably the Hijaz railway, three historical pilgrimage routes and the archaeological zone of Al-Faw, at the north-west limit of Quart Vide This latter is a site of human occupation from prehistoric nomadic times; the second half of the first millennium before our era saw the rise and prosperity of an ancient caravan town.

Certainly, the sites that could be selected for future inscriptions are not lacking: the National Register of Antiquities of Saudi Arabia counts more than ten thousand historical sites.

Each of the six World Heritage sites is part of a fascinating mosaic that shows not only that the Saudi roots are much deeper than many could have imagined, but also that the Saudi heritage is an essential component of the history of humanity

Il s’agit d’une histoire vivante. Each site will play – and, in certain cases, already play – a crucial role in the opening of the Kingdom as a destination for the cultural tourists of the whole world.

One of the most breathtaking Unesco sites is the archaeological site of Hégra, pièce maîtresse des projects de la Commission royale pour AlUla. Ces derniers ont pour objectif de transform judiciusement more than 22 000 km2 the spectacular landscape of the AlUla region, with its luxuriant oasis valley and its imposing mountains, is a major destination.

The jewel in the crown of AlUla is the ancient city of Hégra, the southern capital of the Nabataeans, who also built Petra, in present-day Jordan.

And the amazing collection of more than a hundred hand-sculpted tombs, many of which have elaborate facades and inscriptions carved into outcrops of stone, is only the visible part of a veritable archaeological iceberg.

A dozen international archaeological teams are currently exploring the ancient cultures of AlUla and the neighboring volcanic field of Harrat Khaybar. The amazing volume of discoveries that they have already documented, from prehistory at the beginning of the XXe siècle, incites a radical rethinking of the prehistory of the Arabian peninsula.

A team from the University of Western Australia spent the last four years identifying and cataloging all the visible archeology of the county of AlUla and Harrat Khaybar. The tens of thousands of structures discovered, most of which are between four and seven thousand years old, tell the story of a magnificent landscape and an ancient temperate climate.

In total, the aerial archeology project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has allowed the identification of thirteen thousand sites in AlUla and, in the county of Khaybar, no less than one hundred and thirty thousand from all periods, from the age of pierre au XXe century The great majority of them go back to prehistoric times.

À AlUla, currently the “central” zone of 3,300 m2 has been studied separately by the British society Oxford Archaeology, which, in collaboration with the personnel and students of the University of King Saud, in Riyadh, has been able to identify more than sixteen thousand other archaeological sites.

Dr. Hugh Thomas, principal researcher at the University of Western Australia, explains Arab News que dans le passé, les archéologues s’était concentré sur le Croissant fertile.

“However, as the research advances, we realize that this region counts more than small independent communities that did not have much means and did not do much in an arid zone.

La reality, c’est que, au néolithique, ces régions étaiten nettement plus vertes; very large human populations and animal herds would be displaced.

Among the most intriguing discoveries recorded by the Aerial Arachaeology team in the Kindgom of Saudi Arabia (Aaksa) are the mysterious mustatils – often immense and rectangular structures built by an unknown prehistoric people more than eight thousand years ago. These buildings, probably unique in the Arabian Peninsula, would have had ritual functions.

On en compte aujourd’hui more than a thousand and six cents on a surface of 300 000 km2 in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, mainly in the surroundings of AlUla and Khaybar.

Other evidence of Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric past can be found in the immense, particularly impressive collections of Neolithic rock carvings or petroglyphs. They are located in the province of Haïl on two sites 300 kilometers apart, both of which were inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 2015.

The first is found in Jabal Umm Sinman, a rocky outcrop that lies west of the modern city of Jubbah and whose origins date back to the dawn of Arab civilization. Some six thousand years ago, the surrounding hills gave way to a lost lake today under the sands of the Néfoud desert.

According to the terms of the Unesco nomination document, it is on the hills of Umm Sinman that the ancestors of today’s Saudis “left traces of their presence, of their religions, of social perspectives , cultural, intellectual and philosophical of their beliefs on life and death, and of their metaphysical and cosmological ideologies”.

The second site is located in Jabal al-Manjor and Jabal Raat, 220 kilometers southwest of Jubbah, near the village of Shuwaymis.

Together, the twin sites tell more than nine thousand years of human history, from the first pictorial traces of hunting to the development of writing, religion and the domestication of animals such as cows , les chevaux et les chameaux.

The rock art of the region of Haïl is considered one of the most important collections in the world. Il renferme “the visually stunning expressions of human creative genius, comparable to the messages left by condemned civilizations in Mesoamerica or on Easter Island […]d’une valeur universelle exceptionnelle».

Among the other sites of Saudi Arabia that figure on the Unesco list, we mention the cultural area of ​​Hima, inscribed in 2021. This is an important collection of rock art images made in more than seven thousand years by armies and voyageurs who passed through the region following an ancient caravan route in the desert, in the south-west of the country.

The cultural atmosphere of Hima. (Photo provided).

The historic city of Jeddah, inscribed by Unesco in 2014, was established in the VII centurye siècle as the main port of the Red Sea and has rapidly developed as a port of entry for pilgrims from Mecca who arrived by sea. Jeddah, which has transformed into “a flourishing multicultural center”, was “characterized by a typical architectural tradition, notably the tower houses built at the end of the 19the siècle par l’élite marchande de la ville”. Beaucoup d’entre elles exist encore aujourd’hui.

Al-Hassa, a “series of cultural landscapes”, in the province of Ach-Charqiya, opens the largest and without doubt the oldest oasis in the world. It is a tentacular ensemble of twelve distinct elements and 2.5 million palm trees scattered over a total surface of 85 km2.

Classified by Unesco in 2018 as “an evolutionary cultural landscape”, Al-Hassa “conserves material traces representative of all the stages of the history of the oasis, from its origins, during the Neolithic period, until today “Hui”.

Al-Hassa, which is located between the rocky desert of Al-Ghawar, to the West, and the dunes of the desert of Al-Jafurah, to the East, is associated with the Dilmun civilization, which flourished lors du troisième millénaire avant J.-C. dans ce qui est aujourd’hui l’Arabie saoudite orientale. The discovery of pottery that dates from the period of Obeïd, some seven thousand years ago, also suggests that the region of Al-Hassa could be one of the first in eastern Arabia to have been colonized by man. .

The first place, at least in the heart of the Saudis, goes to the district of Turaif, in Diriyah, considered the cradle of the Kingdom and inscribed on the Unesco list in 2010.

In a meander of the Wadi Hanifah, a few kilometers to the north-west of the modern metropolis of Riyad, are preserved the vestiges of an impressive ensemble of palaces, houses and mosques made of raw earth bricks. It is a prime example of the Najdi style, an important architectural tradition that developed in central Arabia. […] and contributed to the cultural diversity of the world”.

First colonized by the ancestors of the Al-Saoud dynasty in the XVe siècle, the oasis of Diriyah became the capital of the first Saudi state, established in 1744.

It was destroyed in 1818 after a six-year campaign led by a vengeful Ottoman Empire. This latter redoutait in effect that the first Saudi state threatened its domination over Arabia and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Finally, as history relates, it was the Al-Saoud dynasty that took it away. In 1902, Abdelaziz ben Abderrahmane al-Saoud, better known under the name of “Ibn Saoud”, reconquered Riyadh before reuniting the kingdoms of Najd and Hijaz in 1932 to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The district of Turaif, in the city of Diriyah, was destroyed by the Ottomans and will never be inhabited again. However, it has been carefully preserved and is today the flagship of one of the most important megaprojects in Saudi Arabia: the development of the expanded area by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, which has l’un des lieux de rassemblement culturel les plus incroyables du monde».

The plan of 50 billion dollars (1 dollar = 1 euro) which aims to transform Diriyah into a historical, cultural and global lifestyle destination will create 55,000 jobs and attract 27 million visitors each year. These latter will be able to discover the history and culture of a kingdom that, less than three hundred years ago, has passed from an idea born in a small desert community to one of the most influential nations in the world.

Sur ce site d’une surface de 7 km2, visitors will find museums, galleries, hotels of international class, restaurants, boutiques, houses as well as educational and cultural facilities. All these buildings reflect the traditional architectural style of Najdi.

At the heart of the project is Turaif, which, like so many historical sites in Saudi Arabia, constitutes an invaluable element of the past. Il contribute aujourd’hui à façonner l’avenir du Royaume.

This text is the translation of an article on

Back to top button