Saudi AlUla Old Town heritage site reopens after 3 years of renovation work

By Shilpa Annie Joseph, Trainee Reporter
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AlUla Old Town
Representational Image

AlUla Old Town, one of four significant heritage sites in AlUla, has reopened for its visitors back after a three-year pause for comprehensive restoration and conservation in parts of the town’s densely-packed stone and mudbrick houses.

AlUla Old Town is estimated to have been established in the 12th century and was inhabited from then until the 1980s when the last residents left for more modern housing.

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) closed the site in 2017 due to the serious damages, and placed in motion plans to preserve and restore it for the enjoyment of the local community and visitors for future generations. Since then, restoration works have been focused on remedial conservation, in accordance with UNESCO principles and international standards for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites.

After first repairing the Tantora Wall, the town’s sundial and a cherished landmark, the initial conservation program for the homes and mosques of AlUla Old Town was composed of three main phases and they are studies such as materials testing and site-wide drainage, comprehensive survey of the buildings to include 3D laser scanning, and stabilizing and conserving a set of homes, two mosques and two main streets.

The latest phase of the project began in November 2019, and the conserved area is now open to visitors. In addition, the Incense Road running alongside the town has been activated and is now a vibrant shopping, dining, and entertainment area.

Phillip Jones
Phillip Jones
Chief Destination Management & Marketing Officer
RCU

“AlUla Old Town is an important chapter in AlUla’s journey through time. The site is key to the understanding, continuity, and evolution of the historic routes for trade and pilgrimage that made AlUla such a significant destination until the 20th century as it is for visitors again today. Visitors can access AlUla Old Town to stroll along the Incense Road which is lined with fruit and produce market stalls as well as arts and crafts, fashion and souvenirs. Visitors can dwell at one of the open air eateries along the road including AlUla’s newest fine dining restaurant Suhail, offering traditional Saudi food, the more casual One on One Burger or one of several traditional. A handicraft pavilion to see live demonstrations of ancient arts and craft and a day or night suq is also coming soon.”

Michael Jones, Cultural Heritage Conservation Manager said, “The team has been working on conserving the southern and eastern areas of AlUla Old Town and applying conservation best practice, experimenting with different mud brick and plasters and creating guidelines for best practice in conservation of earthen architecture in AlUla. The guidelines are in the final stages of preparation, but there is more yet to be done on the interiors of the houses along the street near the mosques, as well as the rest of Old Town.”

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