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French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula)

French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula)

In 2018, France and Saudi Arabia signed a cultural partnership agreement and created the French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula) writes Cécilia Pelloux, Contributor Travel in this Forbes article.

The picture above is of Design displaying the view from within the resort over the landscape of Sharaan “Every urban act is … [+] ROYAL COMMISSION FOR ALULA

A New Era In Architecture Jean Nouvel Unveiled Masterpiece Resort In AlUla

17 February 2021

AlUla is a spectacular natural and archaeological region. This unknown site inhabited for millennia is located 1100km from Riyadh in the North West of Saudi Arabia. The region has enjoyed prosperity since Antiquity thanks to the fertility of its oasis. AlUla was a crossroads on the caravan routes of myrrh, incenses and aromatic plants which crossed Arabia from the South. The birthplace of Arabic writing, this immense area of 23,000 km² is the witness of an extraordinary natural and human cultural heritage.

The geological formation of the valley with its lush oasis offers towering sandstone mountains and ancient civilization and architectural sites like the Nabataean from Petra. 

For nearly thirty years, Franco-Saudi archeological teams have done intense research inside thousand years old history, from the first human settlements seven thousand years ago to contemporary times.

Last Fall, French renowned architect Jean Nouvel announced his new extraordinary project in the Sharaan Nature Reserve near the Nabataean wonders of Hegra, UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first Saudi archaeological site listed on the UNESCO World Heritage in 2008. Hegra – A 52-hectare ancient city- was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom. It includes more than 100 well preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut into sandstone outcrops. Current research suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Romans after conquering the Nabataeans in 106 CE. 

French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula)
Concept rendering showing an aerial view of the resort built into the majestic Sharaan Nature Reserve.
Concept rendering showing an aerial view of the resort built into the majestic Sharaan Nature … [+] ROYAL COMMISSION FOR ALULA

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Jean Nouvel’s works offer a modern design vision on this 2,000-year-old architectural legacy since the Nabataeans carved into the region’s millions of years old sandstone rock. “The coming together of a landscape and history, the history of past civilisations in an extraordinary landscape – the only place to create such a masterpiece.” said Jean Nouvel. The architect wants to preserve this unique landscape. “AlUla is a museum. Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archeological site deserves the greatest consideration. It’s vital we keep all its distinctiveness and its attractiveness which largely rests on its remote and occasionally archaic character. We have to safeguard a little mystery as well as the promise of discoveries to come.” He added. 

French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula)
Concept rendering of a pool area displaying the interaction of modern designs mixed with the Nabatean way of using light, shadow and rocks. Concept rendering of a pool area displaying the interaction of modern designs mixed with the Nabatean way of using light, shadow and rocks.
Concept rendering of a pool area displaying the interaction of modern designs mixed with the … [+] ROYAL COMMISSION FOR ALULA

He is adapting old ways of life to our modern world  minimizing the impacts on natural and urban landscapes. To do this, genius Nouvel has introduced a new typology of architecture never seen before, using abstraction, sculpting within the landscape itself rather than competing with it. Inspired by the Nabateans, it plays on the old ways of living to build on the present and meet the challenges of the future. Jean Nouvel integrates the way Nabateans interacted with their environment, both with verticality and horizontality, to reconnect with the earth and build sustainable habitats, away from the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.

These concept renderings show the resort’s luxurious embrace of AlUla’s natural colours, light, shapes, and materials.
These concept renderings show the resort’s luxurious embrace of AlUla’s natural colours, light, … [+] ROYAL COMMISSION FOR ALULA

The resort will bring emotional experiences from nature, architecture and art. Jean novel invites us to embark on a thousands of years journey where civilisations and geographical strata will be found in every detail of his designs, from the permanent feel of the rocks to the soft comfort of the armchairs, sofa, and seats. 

The sound, musicality, harshness, tactility, power and complexity of nature are everywhere, from finely chopped stones on balconies to the singular granularity of each rock wall, everything becomes an artwork in itself.

French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula)
Design of one of the resort’s rooms with terrace: “Our design principles will guide us as we explore new typologies that reconcile heritage alongside the subtle transformation of the existing architecture.” Jean Nouvel
Design of one of the resort’s rooms with terrace: “Our design principles will guide us as we explore … [+] ROYAL COMMISSION FOR ALULA

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel is scheduled to open in 2023. The resort will feature 40 rooms, three villas and 14 pavilions carved into a sandstone outcrop, each suite having a balcony that looks out across the stunning surrounding AlUla scenery landscape. The hotel’s entrance will be from a circular courtyard that will be carved into the sandstone hillside. From here a series of rooms will be arranged around a central 80-metre high lift shaft.

French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula)
A scenic express lift will bring guests to the heart of the resort, allowing them to travel through millions of years of geological stratas.
A scenic express lift will bring guests to the heart of the resort, allowing them to travel through … [+] ROYAL COMMISSION FOR ALULA

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel Resort is a major part of the Royal Commission of AlUla’s strategy to develop in a long term commitment AlUla as a global destination for culture, heritage, and eco-tourism. “These concepts, which showcase Jean Nouvel’s masterly innovation in architecture, underscore our commitment to developing AlUla as a global tourism destination without compromising the history, heritage, and landscape of AlUla. We are a destination built by artists. Sharaan by Jean Nouvel will build on that legacy to become a timeless landscape-architecture that will last forever – a gift to the world.” told Amr AlMadani, CEO of RCU.

To learn more about Saudi Arabia. Assouline just released a beautiful book Crafts of the Kingdom: Culture and Creativity in Saudi Arabia curated by author HRH Princess Najla bint Ahmad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula)
CRAFTS OF THE KINGDOM Culture and creativity in Saudi Arabia published by Assouline
CRAFTS OF THE KINGDOM Culture and creativity in Saudi Arabia published by Assouline ASSOULINE

This book celebrates Saudi Arabia unique craft traditions and the master artisans who produce the Kingdom’s rich handicrafts. It highlights the abundant traditions which still exist in each of the Kingdom’s regions while revealing each craft’s historic roots and modern interpretations. A rich portrait of Saudi Arabia as a nation whose cultural heritage and diverse creativity have been proudly cherished, reverently preserved, and profoundly influential from ancient days to modern times.

Follow Cécilia Pelloux on Twitter or LinkedIn

Earliest Evidence for Homo sapiens on Arabian Peninsula

Earliest Evidence for Homo sapiens on Arabian Peninsula

Prehistoric desert footprints are earliest evidence for Homo sapiens on Arabian Peninsula and are elaborated on by Richard Clark-Wilson, Royal Holloway.

Humanity originated on the African continent at least 300,000 years ago. We know from fossil evidence in southern Greece and the Levant (modern-day Israel) that some early members of our species expanded beyond Africa around 200,000 years ago, and again between 120,000 to 90,000 years ago. They likely travelled through the Sinai peninsula, which formed the only land bridge connecting the continent of Africa to the rest of the world, before moving north into a landscape with a Mediterranean climate.

But it was not known at what point humans turned south after crossing the Sinai peninsula, reaching modern day Saudi Arabia. It is also often assumed that they may have taken a coastal route, avoiding the currently harsh desert interior. Previous fossil finds show this was not the case, with humans moving into the heart of Arabia at least 85,000 years ago. Now, new research pushes this date back even further.

Colleagues and I discovered human and other animal footprints embedded on an ancient lake surface in the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia that are around 120,000 years old. These findings represent the earliest evidence for Homo sapiens on the Arabian Peninsula, and demonstrates the importance of Arabia for understanding human prehistory.

Map of modern day Saudi Arabia.
Key locations for early Homo sapiens outside-of-Africa (red stars). The Nefud Desert is highlighted inside the black rectangle. Google Maps

The Nefud Desert in modern-day Saudi Arabia lies around 500km to the southeast of the Sinai Peninsula. Today, the Arabian deserts are some of the most inhospitable environments in the world. They would form an impassable barrier for prehistoric humans or large mammals. Imagine standing at the foot of a hyper-arid desert equipped with stone tools and not much else. Could you get across? Probably not.

Scientific analysis shows that for most of their recent history, they were climatically similar to today: hyper-arid and impassable. But there is also evidence to show that at certain times in the past, the deserts transformed into savannah-like grasslands littered with freshwater resources. These “green” phases were likely short, probably lasting no more than a few millennia. Nonetheless, they provided windows of opportunity for humans and other animals to move into a new green landscape.

We know from fossil lake sediments that the Nefud Desert was one of those that periodically transformed into a more attractive landscape in the past, and the new footprints prove that early humans took advantage of one such window.

Faint footprint in yellow rock.
First human footprint discovered at the Alathar ancient lake. © Klint Janulis, Author provided

Fossilised footprints

We were able to date the footprints by using a technique called luminescence dating to a period of time 102-132,000 years ago. Based on wider regional evidence for increased rainfall, we suggest they date to a period roughly 120,000 years ago, called the last interglacial.

We know that around this time that vast river systems spread across the Sahara Desert, with Middle Palaeolithic archaeology scattered along them. Other evidence for increased rainfall at this time comes from fossil stalagmites found in caves in desert regions in Arabia and ~500 km north of the Nefud in the Negev Desert. These features only grow in conditions where rainfall is greater than 300mm per year; substantially more than the amount (<90mm per year) they receive today.

While it is difficult to know for sure which species of human left these prints, we think they were most likely left by our own, Homo sapiens. This is based on the fact that Homo sapiens were present in the Levant, 700km to the north of the Nefud Desert, at a similar time. Neanderthals were absent from the Levant in this period and did not move back into the region until thousands of years later, when cooler conditions prevailed. Estimates of the humans mass and statue based on the footprints are also more consistent with our species than Neanderthals.

A man walks across a desert landscape.
Earliest Evidence for Homo sapiens on Arabian Peninsula
Researcher surveying the Alathar ancient lake deposit for footprints. © Palaeodeserts Project, Author provided

High-res history

In addition to human footprints, elephant, horse and camel prints were also found. These footprints, studied in detail by Mathew Stewart at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, provide a wealth of new information regarding prehistoric interactions between humans, animals and the environment.

Footprints are a unique form of fossil evidence as they provide precise snapshots in time that typically represent a few hours or days. This is a resolution we do not get from other records. They also allow us to understand the behaviour of their makers, which is something we cannot get from fossils.

This allows us to understand the relationship between humans and other large mammals at a geologically precise moment in time.

Environmental analysis on the lake sediments show that the lake contained fresh “drinkable” water, while the variety of footprints shows that humans, elephants, camels and horses were using this resource at a similar time. Human and large-mammal movements would have been closely tied to fresh water and the pattern of footprints show both foraged on the lake bed when it was temporarily exposed. Humans may have been drawn to the area as they tracked large mammals, who would potentially serve as prey.

Animal prints in stone.
Earliest Evidence for Homo sapiens on Arabian Peninsula
Animal fossils eroding out of the surface of the Alathar ancient lake deposit. © Badr Zahrani, Author provided

Surveys and analysis of fossils recovered from the site also shows that there are no stone tools or butchery of fossils. This indicates that the footprint-makers only very briefly visited the lake, foraging for resources before continuing on their journey.

It is not clear what happened to the people who left the footprints, but evidence suggests that they, along with the other early Homo sapiens explorers, either died out or retreated to more favourable environments as aridity returned to the desert.

Richard Clark-Wilson, PhD Candidate in Geography, Royal Holloway

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné

Replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné

The evening before the crépissage, the annual replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné, Balphady Yaro is throwing a party for his friends and neighbors in the town’s Konofia neighborhood.


06/2020 Escape


As militant attacks get closer, Katarina Höije tells the story of a Malian town defiantly continuing its annual tradition of replastering a mosque. Here is :

An Ancient Mud Mosque Annually Restored

Rickety plastic chairs and tables line the winding streets around Djenné’s main square, where the mosque looms over the town’s low mud-brick houses. There are plates of riz au grastasty rice with meat and vegetables—and chilled soft drinks. Ivorian Coupé-Décalé music reverberates on soft mud walls. Djenné, a town of about 35,000 in the central region of Mali, is famous for its traditional mud-brick architecture and its UNESCO-protected mosque. Fifty-two feet (16 meters) high and built on a 300-foot-long (90-meter) platform to protect it from flooding, the mosque is the world’s largest mud-brick building.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
Young men and boys run down the front steps of the mosque after dropping off baskets of mud. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)

Touching up its walls each year—crépissage, the French word for ‘plastering’—is a proud and exuberant ritual that involves the whole town. “The crépissage is the most important event of the year, even bigger than Eid al-Fitr, Tabaski (the Malian equivalent of Christmas), and marking the end of Ramadan,” says Yaro, a 30-year-old lawyer and host of the celebration known as ‘la nuit de veille.’ Sitting under a tarpaulin strung between two neem trees, Yaro watches as the crowds sway through the street.

The partygoers won’t sleep until after the event. The revelry will strengthen them ahead of tomorrow’s big task, Yaro claims, sipping a soft drink. “Tonight we party, and tomorrow we will celebrate our mosque and Djenné’s cultural heritage.” The residents of Djenné come together to put a new layer of clay on their mosque every April, just before the rainy season. The crépissage is both a necessary maintenance task to prevent the mosque’s walls from crumbling and an elaborate festival that celebrates Djenné’s heritage, faith, and community. It’s also an act of defiance.

The increasing instability in Mali’s central region—fueled by inter-tribal conflicts and growing numbers of militant and jihadist groups exploiting the absence of state security forces—now threatens Djenné and its sacred annual ritual. Local militants—some linked to the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), formed by the 2017 merger of several extremist groups operating in Mali—have invaded towns, destroyed markets, and spread their influence in central Mali.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
A group of women carrying water needed for the mud mixture. Men and boys are responsible for bringing the mud to the mosque, while and women and girls are tasked with bringing water from the river. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)

So far, Djenné and its mosque have been spared, but the security situation in the region continues to deteriorate, and more frequent attacks are being carried out in Djenné’s orbit. “We knew that the militants were getting closer to Djenné,” says town chief Sidi Yéya Maiga at his home the day before the crépissage. This year the town council even took the extraordinary step of debating whether or not to cancel their cherished tradition.

In an act of collective resistance, they decided the show must go on. On the day before the crépissage, Nouhoum Touré, the master among Djenné’s 250 masons, heads down to the riverbank to check on the mud that has been left to soak for 20 days.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
The crépissage is the most important event in Mali. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional

It’s the height of the dry season, and the river has shrunk to shallow puddles and inlets. The round pools that store clay until it’s time for the crépissage look like pockmarks on the riverbed. The mud comes from further down the river and is transported here by trucks and donkey carts. Younger masons then break the blocks into smaller chunks and mix them with water. In the final stages, rice husks are added to the mud, turning it into a soft and sticky paste. The rice works like a glue, holding the mud together and keeping it from cracking as it dries. The young masons then carry the mixture, in wicker baskets, to pits in front of the mosque in preparation for the event.

Early in the morning on the long-awaited day of the crépissage, Djenné’s residents gather by the mosque and wait for Touré to smear the first blob of mud on the wall. This is the starting gun.

There is a roar from the crowd as dozens of young men—some masons, some apprentices—run to the mosque. Smaller groups of boys raise wooden ladders against the mosque wall. Carrying wicker baskets full of dripping-wet clay from the pits next to the mosque, the young men begin scrambling up the façade, using ladders to reach the wooden poles protruding from the walls. Perching perilously on the wooden scaffolding, they pick up large blobs of clay and smear them on the walls.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
The Djenné mosque the day before the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional

Nientao, the mosque’s guardian, weaves through the crowd, his pockets filled with sweets for the workers. Thousands of muddy feet trample the paths around the mosque. As the sun begins to rise over Djenné, turning shapeless shadows into dark silhouettes, a group of boys and masons tackle the minarets from the roof of the mosque.

Four hours later, the morning sun shines on the newly plastered mosque. Dark, wet clay patches on the dried mud give it a sickly look. Touré is covered in mud all the way from his plastic sandals, which have miraculously stayed on his feet, to the top of his turban. “I think we did very well,” he says, sitting in the shade of the mosque. “Normally, we re-mud the mosque over two days. This time we managed to get it done in only one day.”

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
Residents carrying mud, from pits to the mosque ahead of the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)  

A little later, there is a crack as the loudspeakers come on, then the sound of Djenné’s mayor, Balfine Yaro, clearing his throat. Everyone looks on in silence as he makes his way to the front of the crowd. He declares Djenneka Raws the winning team. Djelika Kantao and Yoboucaïna have prevailed. For the winners, there is pride, honor, and a cash prize of 50,000 West African francs, or about $90 (€80). “With the money,” says Kantao, beaming with pride, “I will buy new solar panels for the neighborhood, so we no longer have to live in darkness.”


Delve into a world of traditions being kept alive unique individuals through The New Traditional. This story and images are featured in the book.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life

An eye-opener amongst all current development lines in archaeology would be this article dated 27 February 2020 that states that Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life and improve conservation.


Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life and improve conservation

Tarek Teba, University of Portsmouth

Around 3,300 years ago, the port city of Ugarit was a vibrant urban centre, located strategically on the overland network linking Egypt with Asia Minor and on the route between Persia and India in the east and Greece and Cyprus in the west. The city’s origins date back to 3000BC and the first alphabet and alphabetic writing system are believed to have developed there in the 14th century BC.

Today Ugarit is a Bronze Age archaeological site in northwest Syria, first excavated in 1929. It can tell us a huge amount about the past, but Ugarit is also a place in its own right. The conservation of the site needs to help us understand the site’s history, as well as preserving and restoring what remains. Our work on virtual reality and reconstruction can meet both these goals.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 1: The location of Ugarit and its historic links. Google Map

Although only 30% of Ugarit has been excavated, the discovered areas give clues about the organisation of the city. The buildings include royal palaces, large houses, tombs, sanctuaries, public buildings and temples. Ugarit’s golden age was between the 14th and 12th century BC, and the excavated ruins show that interesting political, social and economic evolution took place in the city.

The royal area shows evidence of a developed political system, with complex defensive architecture and a well-structured palace. Domestic areas reveal important information about the Ugaritic people’s everyday life and their veneration of the dead. However, the structures are in a ruined condition and some are deteriorating, thanks to being exposed for more than 90 years with only minimal maintenance and repair work.

Virtual conservation

A shift toward using virtual technologies as preservation methods to document historic sites and provide educational opportunities has taken place in recent years. This prevents misguided architectural conservation, which can damage a site.

Augmented reality can project reconstructions onto archaeological ruins, such as at the medieval village of Ename in Belgium. Elsewhere, virtual reconstruction has produced 3D textured models, including of the “Sala dello Scrutinio” at the Doges’ Palace in Venice.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 2: A map of the city of Ugarit showing the excavated areas and the sacred route between the Royal Palace and the Temple. Latakia National Museum, Syria

We have used computer-aided design modelling to test out conservation options for Ugarit and to investigate the effects of possible conservation interventions on the ruins. This led to changes in design concepts and materials to better fit the aims of the conservation.

Preserving a sacred route

Excavations have revealed a key sacred route that linked the Royal Palace with the main Temple of Baal and passed through public areas of Ugarit. Researchers believe that the king followed this sacred path to practice cult sacrifices at the temple.

The route contains important tangible elements, such as the remains of the palace, houses, and the temple, for example. But the conservation strategy also intends to reconstruct the intangible aspects of the route – the monumental fortifications, the scale of the temple, and the experience of walking the sacred path, all of which cannot be easily grasped from the remaining ruins.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 3: Point A of the Sacred Route. The Author

Virtual reconstruction is an effective tool to assess these proposals and judge their ability to protect the ruins, as well as revealing intangible aspects, such as the atmosphere of a street, which are lost to time. We have developed virtual tours which create an opportunity for screen displays to be installed on the site before the actual proposal is implemented.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 10: Virtual reconstruction of interventions proposed for Point C of the sacred route – the Temple of Baal. The author, Author provided

These virtual tours include an area of the site that historically featured a plaza and tavern. Here the conservation approach includes the creation of a social and entertaining hub. This will allow the urban environment of the plaza and the dim and cosy interior of the tavern to be restored.

The tours provide reliable evidence for the second stage of the conservation proposal, the design stage and community consultation. However, the political situation in Syria has put the consultation process on hold.

This political situation also means that it is not possible to visit Ugarit at the moment – a position shared by hundreds of archaeological sites around the world. So the virtual reconstructions serve another purpose: they allow those interested a glimpse of this fascinating city and provide an opportunity to raise awareness of the site’s cultural importance with an international audience.

Tarek Teba, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly. The obelisk will be restored, assembled and erected in Tahrir Square.

By Nevine El-Aref, Friday 30 Aug 2019

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

In an attempt to develop Tahrir Square and to show the whole world Egypt’s unique civilisation, eight blocks of one of Ramses II’s obelisks, found in his temple at San Al-Haggar archaeological site in Zagazig, arrived in Cairo on Friday.

They will be restored, assembled and erected in Tahrir Square.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the transportation of the parts of the obelisk was carried out under tight security by the tourism and antiquities police, within the framework of the government’s plan to beautify and develop Tahrir Square as part of the Historic Cairo Development project.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

The obelisk is carved in red granite and decorated with scenes depicting Ramses II standing before the gods with his different titles written alongside. After restoration and assembly, the obelisk will be 17 metres tall and weight 90 tonnes.

Mohamed Al-Saeidy, director of the SCA’s Technical Office, said that the antiquities ministry completed the first phase of the development project at San Al-Haggar archaeological site last September.

A collection of two obelisks, two colossi and two columns from the temple of Ramses II were restored, assembled and re-erected in their original location.

Now, he continued, the ministry has started the second phase of the project, which aims to restore, assemble and re-erect more obelisks, colossi and columns.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

In collaboration with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo (IFAO), the antiquities ministry has recently launched a project to upgrade the facilities and services provided to the site’s visitors, including the establishment of a visitor centre, the installation of signage, and the development of a website for the site.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

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