Asir: Exploring the Cultural Heritage of the Arabian Highlands

عربی AR

Several times in the last decade, I travelled to the then-closed Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the Executive Vice President at the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

In 2019, the Kingdom opened its doors and actively started encouraging tourism as part of its Vision 2030 strategic initiative. Increasing numbers of visitors are now discovering that Saudi Arabia is unexpectedly diverse.

There are mountains, beaches, coral rifts, grasslands and forests. Let alone the largest sand sea in the world. It has a human history that stretches back in time more than 7000 years. Tourism and travel bridge people, time, and cultures, leading to deeper understanding.

With the encouragement of HRH Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, I recently spent 10 weeks traveling throughout Saudi Arabia.

I explored the Kingdom with the purpose of photographing and writing about Riyadh, AlUla, Madain Saleh, Tabuk, Neom, Jeddah, Taif, Jubbah, Hail, Al Khobar, Dammam, Al-Hasa, and Abha in the Asir Region.

This is the first in a series of articles about the Kingdom. It begins in Southwest Arabia – The Asir Region.

Location of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a globe

Saudi Arabia is approximately the size of France, Spain, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom (twice), Greece, and Portugal combined. In reference to the United States, its land area is roughly equal to all states east of the Mississippi River.

Administrative divisions of Saudi Arabia

The area of modern-day Saudi Arabia formerly consisted of four distinct historical regions: Hejaz, Najd, Alhasa and Asir. The Asir Mountain range runs north to south, parallel to the southwestern coast of Saudi Arabia. Asir has a short border with Yemen and a coastline on the Red Sea. It is the fourth largest region in Saudi Arabia and encompasses four thousand villages. There are more than 2.2 million residents. Asir is the size of the country of Austria.

Springtime flowers in Southwest Saudi Arabia

It’s spring in Southwest Saudi Arabia, and green buds are popping on the bushes. Bougainvillea of all colors thrive. Almond and cherry trees are in bloom.

Jacarandas in Abha, Saudi Arabia

Jacaranda trees line streets in Abha, Saudi Arabia. Photos by Nourah Ayedh Alshahrani.

When I arrived in Abha, “The High City,” I reached out to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ International Advisory Board Co-Chairman, HRH Prince Abdulaziz Bin Talal Al Saud. (I am a member of the National Council’s Board of Directors.) His brother, HRH Prince Turki Bin Talal Al Saud, is the governor of the Asir Region.

Prince Abdulaziz called his brother. The next call was from a deputy in the Governor’s office: Would I join the Governor that evening at 8 pm in his forest camp? Of course.

My driver made his way through a checkpoint. I was greeted and escorted to a large tent where twenty men were seated. They all made eye contact with me, and were warm and welcoming. I greeted them with my right hand on my heart. In turn, each put his hand on his heart. A slight bow of the head. Tradition.

I was seated next to Rahmah Yahya Alrabeai, a professor and a Ph.D. candidate in geography at King Khalid University.

Individuals sit inside a large tent

Our seats were draped in sheepskins. The design of the seating was a traditional sturdy red triangular pattern. The tent was lined in black goat hair. Rugs covered the sand. The tent was warmed by tables holding long-burning smokeless tube-shaped charcoal. A hard-black suitcase containing wireless radio communication equipment, office supplies, and personal items was set by the corner seat.

Continue reading »

عسير: استكشاف التراث الثقافي للمرتفعات العربية

English

سافرت عدة مرات في العقد الماضي إلى المملكة العربية السعودية التي كانت مغلقة آنذاك، بصفتي نائب الرئيس التنفيذي في مؤسسة هانتسمان للسرطان.

في عام 2019، فتحت المملكة أبوابها وبدأت بفعالية نشطة في تشجيع السياحة كجزء من مبادرتها الاستراتيجية لرؤية 2030. تُظهر الأعداد المتزايدة من الزوار حالياً تنوع بشكل غير متوقع للمملكة العربية السعودية.

هناك جبال وشواطئ وشِعب مرجانية ومراعي وغابات. علاوة عن أكبر بحر رملي في العالم. لها تاريخ بشري يعود إلى أكثر من 7000 عام. تشكل السياحة والسفر جسر بين الناس والزمن والثقافات، والذي يؤدي إلى فهم أعمق.

بتشجيع من صاحبة السمو الملكي الأميرة ريما بنت بندر آل سعود، سفيرة المملكة العربية السعودية لدى الولايات المتحدة، قضيت مؤخراً 10 أسابيع في السفر في جميع أنحاء المملكة العربية السعودية.

استكشفت المملكة بغرض التصوير والكتابة عن الرياض والعلا ومدائن صالح وتبوك ونيوم وجدة والطائف وجبة وحائل والخبر والدمام والأحساء وأبها في منطقة عسير.

هذه هي المقالة الأولى من سلسلة مقالات عن المملكة. تبدأ في جنوب غرب شبه الجزيرة العربية – منطقة عسير.

Location of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a globe

تبلغ مساحة المملكة العربية السعودية تقريباً حجم فرنسا وإسبانيا وألمانيا وإيطاليا والمملكة المتحدة (مرتين) واليونان والبرتغال مجتمعة. وبالإشارة إلى الولايات المتحدة، فإن مساحة أراضيها تساوي تقريباً جميع الولايات الواقعة شرق نهر المسيسيبي.

Administrative divisions of Saudi Arabia

كانت منطقة المملكة العربية السعودية الحديثة في السابق تتكون من أربع مناطق تاريخية متميزة:
الحجاز ونجد والأحساء وعسير.
تمتد سلسلة جبال عسير من الشمال إلى الجنوب، بالتوازي مع الساحل الجنوبي الغربي للمملكة العربية السعودية.

عسير لها حدود قصيرة مع اليمن والساحل على البحر الأحمر. وهي رابع أكبر منطقة في المملكة العربية السعودية وتضم أربعة آلاف قرية. وهناك أكثر من 2.2 مليون نسمة. عسير هي بحجم دولة كالنمسا.

Springtime flowers in Southwest Saudi Arabia

إنه فصل الربيع في جنوب غرب المملكة العربية السعودية، حيث تظهر براعم خضراء على الشجيرات وتزدهر الجهنمية (البوغنفيلية) بجميع ألوانها وتتفتح أشجار اللوز والكرز.

Jacarandas in Abha, Saudi Arabia

أشجار الجاكرندا تصطف على شوارع أبها بالمملكة العربية السعودية. صور: نوره عائض الشهراني.

عندما وصلت إلى ابها “المدينة العالية” تواصلت مع صاحب السمو الملكي الأمير عبد العزيز بن طلال آل سعود، الرئيس المشارك للمجلس الاستشاري الدولي للمجلس الوطني للعلاقات العربية الأمريكية، (أنا عضو في مجلس إدارة المجلس الوطني). وشقيقه صاحب السمو الملكي الأمير تركي بن طلال آل سعود أمير منطقة عسير.

اتصل الأمير عبد العزيز بشقيقه. وكانت المكالمة التالية من مكتب المحافظ يسألني المندوب: هل سأنضم واشارك المحافظ في مخيمه بالغابة في ذلك المساء الساعة 8 مساءً؟ بالطبع نعم.

مضى السائق في طريقه الى المكان. تم الترحيب بي واصطحبوني إلى خيمة كبيرة كان يجلس فيها عشرون رجلاً. رحبوا بي جميعهم، وكانوا لطفاء ومرحبين. حييتهم بوضع يدي اليمنى على قلبي. في المقابل وضع كل واحد يده على قلبه مع انحناءة خفيفة للرأس (من التقاليد).

جلست بجانب رحمة يحيى الربيعي. أستاذة ومرشحة لدرجة الدكتورة في الجغرافيا بجامعة الملك خالد.

Individuals sit inside a large tent

كانت مقاعدنا مغطاة بجلود الغنم وكان تصميم المقاعد على شكل مثلث أحمر قوي تقليدي. كانت الخيمة مبطنة بشعر الماعز الأسود والسجاد يغطي الرمال. تم تدفئة الخيمة بواسطة طاولات تحمل فحماً على شكل أنبوب لا يدخن طويلًا. تم وضع حقيبة سوداء صلبة تحتوي على معدات اتصالات لاسلكية ولوازم مكتبية وأغراض شخصية بجوار مقعد الزاوية.

Continue reading »

Jeddah: Gateway to Mecca and A Living Cultural Artifact

Paige Peterson is the Executive Vice President of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and a board member of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in Washington, D.C.

This photo essay illustrates her visit to Jeddah’s Old City, on the Red Sea, in Saudi Arabia.

 

 

Health conferences are held everywhere but there is a special pleasure in attending one in Jeddah. Having visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia many times for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, I have experienced the genuine warmth of Arab hospitality. To have the opportunity to visit friends there and attend the Saudi American Health Care Forum in Jeddah was a double pleasure.

Accepting an award on behalf of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation from Adel A. Shakoor and HRH Prince Mish’al bin Majed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Governor of Jeddah.

While in Jeddah, I was invited to stay in the guesthouse of my dear friend Fawzia Algosaibi, wife of Saleh Alturki, a prominent Saudi Arabian businessman who was recently named Mayor of Jeddah. What was planned as a two week trip turned into a stay of almost two months but my hosts were beyond gracious. Their hospitality gave me precious time to tour the western seaboard of Saudi Arabia.

With Saleh Alturki, Mayor of Jeddah.

I spent time exploring and photographing the once walled-in city of Old Jeddah, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. It’s a cliché to say that a picture can be worth a thousand words. These pictures were worth more than that for me — this visit was like time travel, transporting me to another century. It’s a privilege to share my story here.

 

 

Continue reading »

Madain Saleh: An Archeological Marvel in the Saudi Arabian Desert

Paige Peterson is the Executive Vice President of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a board member of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in Washington, D.C.

This photo essay illustrates her visit to Madain Saleh, one of Saudi Arabia’s “hidden treasures.”

 

 

When he was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir gave me an extended visa. He had two good reasons for doing that. One was professional. I am the Executive Vice President of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, where one of my missions has been to build alliances with Saudi Arabia’s excellent cancer researchers. The other was personal. As a writer and photographer, I was endlessly curious about Saudi Arabia’s people — and its landscape.

It’s a cliché to say that a picture can be worth a thousand words. These pictures were worth more than that for me — they are the story of a rare and extraordinary adventure. It’s a privilege to share it here.

 

Map depicting location of Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located on the continent of Asia. It shares land borders with 8 countries: Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Saudi Arabia’s geography is dominated by the Rub’ al Khali desert, the second largest desert in the world with only the Sahara being larger. The Kingdom’s population is over 28,000,000.

Saudi Arabia is the 13th largest nation in terms of land area. The United States is about 5 times bigger than the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is four times the size of France, western Europe’s largest country.

Two bodies of water border Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Sea to the East and the Red Sea to the West.

The flight to Al-Ula was one hour and fifteen minutes from Jeddah.

Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz Airport.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by local nature photographers who had an exhibition of their work at the airport. Notice the distinctive ways men can wear their ghutra (headscarf).

Continue reading »

Oman: The Pearl of Arabia

Arriving in the Sultanate of Oman you feel as if you are on a Hollywood set. Orderly. Vast. Visually breathtaking. Often visitors liken it to Disneyland. Controlled. Well-organized, meticulously maintained public grounds. Friendly. Happy. Helpful. Tolerant. No litter. No vagrancy. No graffiti. No terrorism. No violence. No radicalism. No unsafe areas. Did I mention exquisitely clean…It is all this and more.

Oman is an Arabian dreamscape. I’ve never seen such well-planned urban development. Architectural details are carefully mandated here. Many of the buildings are 46 years young; they’re well thought out in placement and accessibility. Even the street lamps in the cities and on the highways are lyrically beautiful in their repetitive form. There is something calming and reassuring about this consistent elegance.

The Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development building in Muscat.

This tranquility is the hallmark of the capital city of Muscat. Muscat means “place of anchorage.” There you find a visual feast of stylish, controlled, and unified structures that underpin the deliberately skyscraper-free skyline. Here a hyper white Arab style of architecture is juxtaposed against the rough rocky landscape of the Hajar Mountains and the blue Gulf of Oman. Oman is an architectural treasure in Arabia.

Continue reading »