JEDDAH: The Festival of Ancient Kingdoms has returned to AlUla in celebration of the region’s history and heritage.
Organized by AlUla Moments, the two-week festival runs until December 2 and offers a series of exciting experiences that transport visitors to the heart of AlUla’s captivating past.
The festival program includes cultural celebrations, nighttime tours, historic culinary experiences and trips to archaeological and historical sites.
This year’s festivities mark the 15th anniversary of Hegra’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Nabataean city spans 52 hectares, standing as a testament to Saudi Arabia’s rich history. Initially untouched for more than 2,000 years, the city has revealed its treasures, allowing archaeologists and experts to investigate its ancient mysteries.
Ibn Battuta, the legendary Arab explorer, visited Hegra in the 14th century, noting in his memoirs that its tombs were also visited by travelers, traders and pilgrims on their way to Mecca over the centuries.
Another famous explorer who made the journey was Charles Montagu Doughty. Regarded to this day as one of the greatest Western travelers to Arabia, Doughty’s visit to Hegra was referenced in his 1888 book “Travels in Deserted Arabia”.
However, Hegra is now open to the world as one of Saudi Arabia’s iconic landmarks, welcoming tourists from all walks of life as they explore a distinct and untouched part of the Kingdom.
“The stories and secrets within Hegra have stood the test of time… and as we uncover them in the present, they only reinforce that the city remains as significant as ever,” Phillip Jones, director of tourism at the AlUla Royal Commission, told Arab News .
“Modern Saudi Arabia and its people are as pioneering, innovative and transactional with communities in lands near and far as the ancient Nabataean and Roman civilizations that inhabited Hegra, whose legacies endure through our culture and heritage. This year’s Ancient Kingdoms Festival shines a unique spotlight on this legacy through a series of world-class activations,” explained Jones.
Their legacy intertwines the stories of the Nabataeans with those of the Dadanites and Lihyanites, all of whom left indelible marks on this historic site – marks that illustrate timeless cultural exchanges in architecture, decoration, language use and caravan trade.
Festival visitors can discover Hegra’s secrets through exciting new access points, allowing them to witness history through innovative and carefully designed experiences.
“Hegra After Dark” is a historically inspired immersive experience in the shadow of some of the most spectacular tombs located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors begin their journey in a Nabataean-inspired horse-drawn carriage to discover the “Secret Garden of Khuraymat,” a curated sensory space where they can explore the history and culture of incense use throughout the ancient world. Meanwhile, “Theatre of Life” is an experience that combines historical narrative with entertainment.
Hegra’s stories and secrets have stood the test of time, and as we discover them in the present, they only reinforce that the city remains as significant as ever.
Phillip JonesRoyal Commission tourism director for AlUla
Jones added: “These activations promise to take visitors on a journey through time and introduce Hegra to the world in a way never before experienced.”
“Noite de Pedra” is inspired by the history of the province and takes visitors on a journey to its most important cemeteries. It also features the “Life in Al-Hijr Exhibition” which showcases 15 archaeological discoveries in the region, as well as the region’s wildlife and natural life.
During the opening weekend, the festival kicked off on November 16 with the “Journey Through Time Parade,” illuminating the stories, legends and legacies of the ancient incense road and the life and memories of AlUla.
Another experience is “Ikmah After Dark”, which celebrates the recent recognition of Jabal Ikmah on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, where visitors encounter the spirit of this ancient place in an experience that combines Arabic hospitality and refreshments, hands-on carving activities and a spectacular show – all inspired by the inscriptions left by historic civilizations.
Other activations launched are the “King Nabonidus Parade”, where visitors can celebrate all things Tayma in a dramatic show starring the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Visitors will witness the intertwining of the past with the present as they explore the legendary landscapes and connection of AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma – three ancient interconnected oases of northwest Arabia.
Khaybar is where geological wonders and natural treasures take center stage. Immersive activations like “Khaybar Camp” invite visitors to explore traditional food, crafts and family-friendly heritage performances. The “Oasis Soundscape” celebration combines music, nature and landscape in a unique setting, while Takya Restaurant offers the opportunity to taste traditional Saudi Arabian dishes with panoramic views of Khaybar forts and oases.
Tayma, another important site, invites visitors to immerse themselves in historically inspired experiences, revealing the richness and complexity of the ancient kings, queens and communities that flourished in the region.
Among these experiences, “Tayma Camp” offers a delicious mix of food, authentic crafts, cultural performances, camel rides and falconry, while “Tayma Live” presents a fascinating re-enactment show, narrating the history of the “Land of Kings”. ”Through music and performing arts.
The Ancient Kingdoms Festival features several new Oases Discovery activations. The “Sanctuary of Memory”, created in collaboration with the residents of AlUla, pays homage to the oasis through a multi-sensory experience. Guests can create nostalgic desserts, enjoy liquid nitrogen slushies and taste 3D-printed wafers in an experimental dessert lab.
Additionally, two extraordinary picnic experiences, “Ancestral Baskets” and “Chest of Life and Memory”, are inspired by memories of the harvest season at the Oasis. Visitors can opt for portable, family-friendly picnic baskets to enjoy in the shade of the trees or indulge in an elevated gastronomic feast served in a premium, cozy venue.
A series of cultural and artistic workshops will be held under the theme “Programs for Ancient Futures”. Designed for young minds and their families, these activities were created through extensive consultation with archaeologists by the Academy of Ancient Inscriptions.
For more information, visit experientialula.com.