Saudi Celebrates 7th UNESCO World Heritage Site 

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Saudi recently marked the inclusion of Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve in the  UNESCO World Heritage List. Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve is Saudi’s first UNESCO Natural Heritage Site, and  its seventh site with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Located at the western edge of ar-Rub al-Khali (The Empty Quarter), the 12,750-square kilometre Uruq  Bani Ma’arid Reserve is a largely untouched desert ecosystem that has more than 120 plant species and  526 animal species including endangered animals. The reserve provides natural habitats for iconic desert  animals such as gazelles and the Arabian Oryx.

Uruq Bani Ma’arid Reserve has been a protected area by Royal Decree since 1996 and its inscription on  the UNESCO World Heritage List as a Natural Heritage Site underscores the significance of preserving  natural heritage. The Saudi Government funded a three-year management plan that kicked off in 2021 to  transition the property from a protected site to a World Heritage site. There are now more than 140 staff  managing the site as well as a ten-year plan to ensure the long-term integrity of the site which has been  zoned according to use: wilderness zone (54%), sustainable resources use zone (44%), nature-culture  ecotourism zone (2%), general use zone (less than 0.5%).

Alhasan Aldabbagh, President of Asia Pacific Markets at Saudi Tourism Authority (STA), said: “The  recognition of Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve as a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site is a testament to Saudi’s dedication to preserving our ecosystems and championing our natural heritage. The goal is to achieve a  balance between conservation and sustainable development, which is in line with the objectives of Saudi  Vision 2030.”

Saudi has six other sites that have been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in recognition of their  cultural significance and Outstanding Universal Value:

Ḥimā Cultural Area (2021)

In addition to housing some of the Middle East’s most significant ancient desert wells, some of which are 3,000 years old and yet still functional, Ḥimā Cultural Area in southwest Saudi Arabia has possibly more  than 100,000 petroglyphs (prehistoric rock carvings) and rock inscriptions in various scripts including  Arabic, Aramaic-Nabatean, South-Arabian, Thamudic, and Greek. These date as far back as 7,000 years.  Well preserved, the spectacular markings provide a visual history of the area, across which ancient armies  and caravans once traversed.

Al-Ahsa Oasis (2018)

Al-Ahsa Oasis is the largest oasis in the world. Located in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, it  includes springs, a network of canals, more than 2.5 million palm trees, gardens, historic buildings, and  archaeological sites that illustrate the history of human settlement and the evolution of cultural traditions  in the area.

Rock Art in the Hail Region (2015)

Jabal Umm Sinman at Jubbah, Jabal Al-Manjor and Jabal Raat at Shuwaymis, located near the city of Hail,  have a large number of well-preserved rock inscriptions and rock art. Carved using stone hammers, these  markings include depictions of humans and desert animals, chronicling 10,000 years of life in an area that  used to have a lake, as well as how ancient inhabitants were affected by environmental challenges.

Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah (2014)

An ancient port established in the 7th Century, Historic Jeddah on the Red Sea’s eastern shore was the  gateway to Mecca for pilgrims arriving by boat as well as an important port along the Indian Ocean trade  routes. With a cityscape that reflects its vibrant commercial and cultural history, Historic Jeddah is one of  the few remaining places with buildings that showcase Red Sea architectural traditions.

At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah (2010)

Located near Riyadh, the At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty. Dating  back to the 15th Century, the district encompasses a historic citadel that was once the centre of power,  as well as the remains of many palaces.

Hegra Archaeological Site (al-Hijr / Madā ͐in Ṣāliḥ) (2008)

Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage property, Hegra Archeological site is one of the largest conserved  Nabataean sites in the region. It includes monumental tombs and facades dating as far back as the 1st Century BC, inscriptions that are even older, and wells that illustrate the ingenuity of the Nabataeans.




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