Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape, is one of the largest natural agricultural palm oases in the world.
Al-Ahsa has been inhabited since prehistoric times, due to its abundance of water in an otherwise arid region. This is a serial site of 12 locations. They comprise palm groves, castles, urban centers, archaeological sites, villages, Jawatha mosque and Al-Asfar Lake.
Map of Al-Ahsa OasisLoad map
The Al-Ahsa Oasis is listed on the World Cultural Heritage List as a place that has been inhabited for a long time since the Early Stone Age. This was helped by the presence of water, which was later diverted by local residents to their fields using canals. Wells, forts, mosques and gardens were built in the area and water greatly helped the development of this region. Twelve different locations are included in the listing, which together form the largest oasis in the world, which has over two and a half million palm trees.
The mountain Jabal Al-Qarah in the city of Al Hofuf was probably the most interesting stop for us. On one side a jungle of palm trees, and across the road a nice parking lot, several restaurants and a huge Land of Civilizations sign. It's quite nice to see at least some place ready for tourists - it's been quite a different experience in Saudi so far and everything seems under construction. The mountain itself, which consists of several rock pillars that have created a natural cave, can be accessed through the visitor center, of course after purchasing a ticket. For your entrance fee, you get access to the museum that tells the history of the civilizations living in this place and to the very maze of alleys between the stones. The sidewalks are resurfaced, illuminated, and there are many interesting places for taking photos in the nooks and crannies of the stone pillars. There are said to be exactly 28 footpaths between the rocks and together they measure one and a half kilometers. An ideal place to hide from the scorching summer sun, or to take beautiful pictures during its sunset.
Unfortunately, some of the places we planned to visit were being reconstructed - a running theme of our entire trip of which I will be complaining more in my following reviews. One would expect that everything would be prepared first and then the nomination would be submitted, but no, why not do it the other way around? Never mind, many visits were all the more adventurous.
We drove to Jawatha Park, which is said to be home to the 7th century mosque of the same name (it's on my review picture), said to be the oldest mosque in the region. It is said that not much has been preserved from it, a few arches and walls, it has been renovated several times, the old foundations are surrounded by new clay walls, electric lighting has been introduced to the mosque. It was currently undergoing further reconstruction work, while unfortunately it looks too much like new. I hope that at least the interior retains some of its original components.
The nearby park is used by locals for walks and picnics. It has several merry-go-rounds, many food and drink stands, and even rents out rugs and cushions if the picnicking nation doesn't bring their own. I guess the fact there is an actual lake and an abundance of greens makes a testament to how blessed with water the oasis is, however that's just a rest stop, not part of the inscription. There is Jawatha Archaeological Park in the nomination file with GPS that points further northwest of the Jawatha Park, however google maps show nothing there.
We stayed the night in Al Hofuf, our hotel was across the road from the the Ibrahim Palace, another of the monuments inscribed. Unfortunately it was also under reconstruction, we did not see the inside, we only saw the perimeter walls. It looked very similar to the Jawatha Mosque, only considerably larger. It was built by the Ottomans in the sixteenth century AD, it was used as a barracks and there should be a mosque or a hammam inside.
Another of the palaces/forts were also being reconstructed, so we called it a day and returned back to Riyadh and further to explore more Saudi sites.
This inscription made me lose faith in the inscription process and although I haven't been following it for a long time, I watched the debate live stream and it basically had ICOMOS strongly disagreeing to include it, saying there isn't anything special being here. Then, using its political buddies it overturned the recommendation to a direct inscription, not even deferring it to next year for a second look or whatnot. This farce just makes you wonder why they spent all the money on the expert going there in the first place because apparently whatever you want to inscribe is going in, and not so much if you are a weak political state. Shame on you. But okay so you got your inscription and you are very proud of it, no judgement from my part yet, let me go and check it out.
After the long drive from Riyadh through trashed highways and a few pit stops to refuel and rest, and you get to the town of Al Ahsaa or actually a whole collection of “Al” towns merged together. There are a whole bunch of sites, some of them I don't even know where they are. I started with the Sahood Fort, mainly because the central highway was closed and this was first on the way. It's a very small block with thick replastered walls and a small entrance that probably says “no entry” because they are doing major renovation...AFTER the inscription?? Well so 5 minutes later I end up driving to the Khuzam Palace which was closed...next the Qaisariah Sooq, a traditional market. Still the best of the bunch of houses a few stalls but definitely not aimed at tourists. So the first hour here was disappointing but I thought leaving the national park, the meat of the inscription, for last would be the best way to get keep excitement going.
Wrong. The park is aimed at kids. They do have gates for some security, more on that in a second, and entrance is free, but I am not taken by the trees here. Sure they are in a desert landscape and it has its history, but it's still so barren with some areas just a bunch of bushes along the sand dunes. In the area near town the trees give some nice shade for the kids playing on the slides. I saw more slides than kids! This is unfortunately the main attraction. Not wanting to be let down by this I thought why not drive on into the park along a single road and end up at the Jawatha Mosque (also part of the inscription). The road was dirt and sand but no problem for a 2WD. However, the scenery was uglier by the minute and eventually you end up outside the park. Still, how can they have all this trash everywhere, pipes making the park ugly, not be a problem for them? Was this cleaned up when ICOMOS came or did they not care?
So I wish I could add something about the Jawatha Mosque but the road to it from the north side was abruptly blocked off with sand piles, the park's way of fencing off access without gates, and I had to double back all the way to the entrance (one could get try to get around with a 4WD but there is another fence and it may require some proper off-roading to get by). I cut my losses there and decided not to drive up to the mosque which could easily have been closed as well. 350km back to Riyadh to watch the Formula E race. Boo!
2018 Advisory Body overruled
From Not to Inscribe to Inscription (amendment prepared by Kuwait and others)
includes former TWHS Ibrahim Palace (Hufuf) and Sahud Palace (Al-Mabraz) both 1988
The site has 12 locations
The site has 17 connections
Religion and Belief
World Heritage Process
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