Saudi Sharaan project to transform Al-Ula into cultural destination

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has launched the Sharaan project to turn the historic region of Al-Ula into a nature reserve and cultural tourism destination.

Plans include a resort designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve, both to be named after the surrounding Sharaan canyon with its ancient rock formations.

The resort, located in the mountains of Al-Ula, will include a summit centre, residential estates, restaurants and a spa, and will be sited in a valley inside the 925-square-kilometer Sharaan Nature Reserve.

The reserve itself will restore the region’s natural desert habitats, with local rangers trained by international experts helping conserve fauna such as the Arabian leopard.

Al-Ula is known for its striking sandstone rock formations, and is the archaeological site of Madain Saleh, designated as Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage site in 2008, the largest Nabatean settlement south of Petra, boasting the ancient civilization’s carved rock tombs.

The plans for the region’s sustainable development, launched at a ceremony at the Maraya theatre, are in keeping with Vision 2030. Saudi’s giga projects aim to develop the tourism sector and diversify the economy away from a dependence on oil, while preserving cultural sites and celebrating the country’s national identity.

The Shaaran project aims to attract 2 million visitors to the area 2035, creating 38,000 jobs and generating SR120bn ($32bn).

Construction is expected to begin in early 2020, with a completion date of 2023.

France to assist with Al-Ula cultural development project

Architect Jean Nouvel, who designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, roots his architecture in the local context, and with the Al-Ula resort, will take inspiration from the surrounding rocks.

Extolling the area’s natural beauty to Arab News he said:

“The area is characterised by the diversity and precision of its unique features that were defined by the movement of wind and water. For an architect to build a project on such a site is a rare and wonderful opportunity.”

In 2018, France and Saudi Arabia signed a 10-year deal through which France will assist in the development of the Al-Ula region as a cultural destination. The deal is one of a number of agreements worth $20bn to boost cultural cooperation between the two nations.

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