Saudi Arabia has signed a 10-year agreement with France, during Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s recent high profile visit to Paris, to develop the Al-Ula region into a cultural tourism destination. The site includes the Al-Hijr archaeological site in Mada’in Saleh (pictured above) and its monumental Nabataean tombs, the first landmark in Saudi Arabia to be designated a Unesco World Heritage site.
According to the agreement, France will help create a blueprint for museums, research centre, university, archaeological digs and conservation in the region, as well as develop transport, hotels, crafts, education and training, urban planning and other infrastructure projects. The mega project is being described as “the most important ever seen in the Arab world”, and the estimated cost has been said to be more than $20bn.
The development will include a world class museum which is said to be bigger than the Louvre Abu Dhabi in scale, the cultural institution that is said to have inspired Prince Salman to embark on similar significant culturally-rich architectural monument. The undertaking also includes an archaeological museum on the Nabateans and cultures that inhabited the site thousands of years ago. The Nabateans carved directly into sandstone cliff faces in Mada’in Saleh, which was discovered during a French and Saudi-led archaeological excavation in 2003, and added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 2008.
The oil-rich kingdom has recently embarked on a string of monumental projects as it undergoes massive developmental changes, which have been welcomed around the world.
Photo: Veronique Dauge (UNESCO)