Work forges ahead on Saudi megaproject despite pandemic

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: With travel temporarily halted due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, virtual tours have become the safest form of travel, all from the comfort of one’s home. With a plethora of sites to visit, virtually, AlUla is one site that should not be missed.

The Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU) has created a series of 360-degree videos, which allow visitors to recreate the experience of visiting some of the city’s most iconic landmark locations. The six videos, available at https://experiencealula.com/en/Pages/360_Tour.aspx, allow visitors to get a look at the Dadan Kingdom, Jabal Ithlib, Jabal AlBanat, Jabal AlAhmar, Jabal Ikmah, and the Old Town.

According to the RCU, the videos combine actual footage of the sites, along with animated illustrations depicting what life might have looked like for the ancient Nabataeans that used to reside there, to “share the rich depth of (the) stories of AlUla”. The team behind the videos worked closely with the archaeologists conducting excavations at the sites, inscription experts, museum staff and the Rawi expert storytellers, who all shared their valuable inputs. The excavations at Hegra also led to several new studies which provided new surprising insights to add to the tours.

Visitors who take the tours can find interactive text boxes, some linking to YouTube videos, with detailed explanations.

Philip Jones, chief destination management and marketing officer at the RCU said: “AlUla is a special place that you really need to visit to appreciate, but since that’s not possible right now, our interactive virtual tours offer a teaser of the real thing — a chance to take a deep dive into the stories, culture and heritage of the people of AlUla throughout time.”

The videos are part of ongoing efforts by the RCU to teach people about the ancient history of AlUla, and further people’s connections with the city despite the ongoing pandemic. The RCU’s primary goal is to preserve the history and integrity of the sites, while also making them accessible to a wide range of visitors.

The commission also launched an archaeological and heritage survey in 2018, in cooperation with the Art Jameel Foundation, to familiarize staff with the latest archaeological survey techniques which could allow them to recreate an accurate, highly detailed digital depiction of AlUla.

The videos are a welcome offering to those such as Riyadh resident Sarah Al-Issa, who has never been to AlUla, but has always wanted to visit.

“I’m sure it’s not as good as the real thing, but it is good enough for now. And I love the explanation videos and the animations, it’s a very nice touch instead of just a 360 degree picture with no context,” she said.

Sara Al-Fouzan, who has been to AlUla twice, agrees. Though she praised the efforts of the team, she told Arab News that while the videos did a good job of recreating the experience to a certain extent, nothing could ever compare to actually being in AlUla.

“It is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth, so peaceful and serene. I still recommend that people have a look at these videos, because the information in them is very interesting, and it’s all very well done, but I urge you not to think you’ve seen AlUla just because of them. Visit if you have the chance. You’ll be blown away, I promise you,” she said.

The RCU is embarking on a long-term plan to develop and deliver a sensitive, sustainable transformation of the region, reaffirming it as one of country’s most important archaeological and cultural destinations and preparing it to welcome visitors from around the world. Their efforts in AlUla have covered archaeology, tourism, culture, education and the arts, reflecting the ambitious commitment to cultivate tourism and leisure in Saudi Arabia, outlined in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan.

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