Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Arabia officially received Wednesday a certificate of registration for the Al Hijr Archaeology Site also known as Madaen Saleh in Al Ula, which was included on the UNESCO world heritage list in 2008. A UNESCO delegation visited the town of Al-Diriyah before heading to Ul Ula earlier this week.
A ceremony for potential and registered world heritage sites in Saudi Arabia was held and attended by Saudi Prince Sultan Bin Salman, Secretary-General of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, and Koichiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO.
During the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee held in 2008 in Quebec, Canada, UNESCO announced that Madaen Saleh would be the first Saudi site to be included on the list of 851 world heritage cultural and natural sites.
The UNESCO General-Director visited Ul Ula in Medina and the old town, the local market, the Al Hijr site in addition to the Hejaz railway station that has been renovated and the location of the Inscription of Zuhayr, which is considered the oldest Arabic inscription in Saudi Arabia.
After a reception for Koichiro Matsuura, who visited Saudi Arabia at the invite of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities ahead of a delegation of several UNESCO ambassadors, Prince Sultan Bin Salman stated that the visit represented the close cooperation between UNESCO and the Commission. One result of such cooperation is the exhibition of Saudi antiquities held at UNESCO’s headquarters in 2007, Prince Sultan said.
Prince Sultan added: “The kingdom is as rich in civilization and culture as it is in oil. The Commission and UNESCO together are studying and renovating archaeological sites.”
The importance of including the kingdom’s cultural and natural heritage sites on the World Heritage List is crucially important as it increases awareness of these sites amongst the Saudi citizens who travel to different parts of the world to visit other sites whilst they are unaware of their own country’s heritage, explained Prince Sultan. Moreover, it promotes these sites internationally. Prince Sultan also pointed out that the enlisting of national sites as a world heritage site will further guarantee their development and transformation into cultural and economic sites, thus safeguarding and maintaining them.
On his part, UNESCO’s Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said, “We fully appreciate your enormous efforts to preserve the kingdom’s cultural heritage, and I was very pleased to visit the great historical Al-Diriyah site that reflects the roots of this country that has come to be of international political, economic and cultural significance. I’m fully convinced that Al-Diriyah deserves to join the UNESCO World Heritage List.”
Matsuura praised the kingdom for its efforts in preserving and developing international heritage sites and for the importance that it gives to heritage in all its forms. He also praised the kingdom’s efforts in protecting heritage and raising public and official awareness regarding these sites through the media.
Matsuura stated that investing in the younger generation is a significant development tool to promote culture, commending the international review programs and the visits that the Commission arranges for officials to closely review international heritage sites. He expressed his appreciation for the kingdom nominating Madaen Saleh, which he described as “the kingdom’s gift to international heritage.”
Furthermore, Matsuura commended the kingdom’s efforts in link cultural heritage with local communities and economic activities. He emphasised his full support of the kingdom’s enormous efforts in preserving, promoting and developing of cultural sites.
The UNESCO delegation also visited the historical city of Jeddah this week.