Al-Ahsa: Innovatively preserving heritage among UNESCO creative cities

Al-Ahsa: Innovatively preserving heritage among UNESCO creative cities

RIYADH (RAHNUMA) : Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa has been named as one of the most creative cities in the world for the economic development of its arts and crafts by the world’s heritage body UNESCO. The city, of 1.3 million people in the southeast of the Kingdom, has been included in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

UNESCO said: “The city has an ancient tradition of handicrafts, considered as both cultural and social practices passed on from one generation to the next. Around 50 expressions of crafts and folk art have remained throughout the city’s history and bear witness to Al-Ahsa’s scenic wealth, including textiles from palm trees, pottery, weaving and joinery.”

Al-Ahsa, which also has one of the largest palm tree oases in the world, hosts 36 weekly open markets and stages several festivals a year.

These include the National Festival for Heritage and Culture Janadriya, which attract more than 68,000 visitors a year, according to the UN body.

It also hosts the We all are Producers Festival, the Harjer Market and the Okaz Annual Market for Innovation and Creativity.

The chairman of the Archeology and Heritage Society in the Eastern Province, Saud Al-Gosaibi, said in an interview with Arab News: “A lot of people from throughout Saudi Arabia have moved to the area and have enriched the city through their knowledge and backgrounds, which produces a lot of unique culture.”

He added that the discovery of oil and gas in the neighboring cities of Alkhobar and Dammam has opened up several business opportunities and has marked Al-Ahsa out as a strategic location, that attracts new traders and merchants.

Al-Gosaibi said this influx of new traders has lifted competition in the region causing creative businesses to raise their standards. He said: “That has opened up opportunities in the Eastern Province and all of Saudi Arabia so traders have extended their businesses to other areas. Some have moved to other areas, and some have stayed in Al-Ahsa.”

The chairman added: “There are a lot of plans, in terms of investments that are going to come to the area, and I think tourism will be a big part of the industrial base here in Al-Ahsa, as well as other areas such as construction and other areas, resulting from the improved business environment.”

In an interview with Arab News, the secretary general of Al-Ahsa’s Chamber of Commerce, Ibraheem Al-Shek Mubarak, said: “Crafts and folk art make a considerable contribution to the city’s economic development.

The city has implemented a specific National Project for Artisans and Handicrafts, as well as a Human Resources Development Fund aimed at reshaping the crafts and folk art sector.”

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was created in 2004 and includes around 250 cities around the world that work to “place creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.

UNESCO designated Al-Ahsa as a World Heritage Site in 2018, becoming the fifth Saudi area to receive the accolade following Madain Saleh (2008), the Tarif neighborhood in Diriyah (2010), Al-Balad, Jeddah (2014) and the rock art in the Hail region (2015).

Moreover, Al-Ahsa was chosen as the Arab Tourism Capital for 2019 by the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism.

The region contains prominent archaeological and historical sites — some that date back to 6,000 B.C. — and has achieved several Arab and international accolades.

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