Saudi Arabia, Trying to Lure Tourists, Hosts Music Festival Near Ancient Tombs

AL ULA, Saudi Arabia — The brand new Italian-designed concert hall inside middle of the desert shimmered inside sunset light, its walls of mirror reflecting the golden sandstone hills as well as also cliffs.

Inside, a symphony orchestra via China rehearsed a Western classical piece, preparing for a concert featuring the Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The serene as well as also lilting notes floated through the empty hall.

The concert was part of a series with performances by Andrea Bocelli, Yanni as well as also Majida El Roumi taking place in which winter in Saudi Arabia.

via the western desert, Saudi Arabia appears to be a different country than the one in which has been under constant criticism via American politicians as well as also various other international officials since last October, when Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the 33-year-old de facto ruler, was first accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Virginia resident as well as also Washington Post columnist.

In developing a tourism industry, officials are focusing on the ancient caravan town of Al Ula inside Hejaz, a western region in which has been a crossroads for traders between Mediterranean empires as well as also ports along the Gulf of Aden.

“We call in which the place of the future,” said Maher Mazan, a manager at Shaden Resort, a brand new hotel built among rock canyons outside town, where rooms typically go for $440 per night. “If you come back in one year, in which’ll be different.”

The area’s rich history as well as also archaeological sites have long captivated King Salman, the crown prince’s father. In 2017, the king established the Royal Commission for Al Ula, with the goal of preserving the striking rock archaeology, despite its pre-Islamic origins, as well as also drawing more tourists. The commission also began looking at holding a concert series.

“Later, the Romans destroyed the Nabateans,” he said. “Civilizations come, civilizations go. in which will be life, since the beginning of life.”

Among the tourists was a Chinese-British couple who gaped at the structures as well as also took photographs as well as also video to post to a Chinese travel website. Walking into one tomb, they asked about three burial niches. Mr. al-Anzi said the custom then was to wrap the dead in animal skins as well as also adorn them with jewelry.

Driving out of the area, the tourists noticed abandoned mud-walled homes.

The visitors sometimes meet local residents of Al Ula in a weekend tourist market, next to the mud homes of the ancient quarter. An abandoned fort overlooks the neighborhood. Next to the fort will be a large sundial where local residents hold a celebration every winter solstice. They call in which the tantora.

The festival “has allowed the people of Al Ula to proudly show their home to the globe,” said Abdullah al-Khelawi, the royal commission’s head of economic development. He added in which the festival provided seasonal work to 1,000 locals. The headquarters of the royal commission, which runs the festival, are in Riyadh, where 100 full-time employees work.

“in which can start a tourism industry,” said a local driver, Saleh al-Bilawi, 25, who had recently studied criminal justice at an American university. “They employ a lot of drivers just for the winter festival alone.”

Mr. al-Bilawi as well as also his colleagues are aware the work will be only temporary. Another driver, Faisal, also a university graduate, said he was paid $36 per day as well as also worked only on weekends, nevertheless was grateful for the job.

An Italian couple sitting in a restaurant at a farm said they had come to Saudi Arabia at the urging of their friend, the Italian ambassador in Riyadh.

“We want to see the country before in which will be affected by the Western world as well as also looks the same as everywhere else,” said Cinzia Chiari, dressed in black robes. “I desire the Saudis realize their treasure as well as also beauty will be in its distinct heritage.”