Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurates Sharaan Nature Reserve in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 10, 2019. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched on Sunday a set of development and conservation projects in the historic site of Al-Ula, in an attempt to turn the attraction into a worldwide cultural destination.
RIYADH, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched on Sunday a set of development and conservation projects in the historic site of Al-Ula, in an attempt to turn the attraction into a worldwide cultural destination.
The projects, which included a resort designed by an iconic French architect and a nature reserve, aim to integrate the natural and cultural heritage as one living environment.
The program, dubbed Vision for Al-Ula, includes mega projects such as the Sharaan Nature Reserve, Sharaan Resort, both taking their names from the surrounding canyon with its ancient rock formations.
Located in the kingdom's northwestern region, Al-Ula is one of the most fascinating vestiges of ancient Arabia. The small oasis town, some 380 km north of Medina, was founded in the 6th century.
Today, it serves as the gateway to Madein Saleh, the kingdom's first UNESCO World Heritage site. It dates back to more than 2,000 years ago and was carved from stone by the Nabataeans, the tribe that also built Petra in Jordan.
Madein Saleh is expected to become one of Saudi Arabia's premier tourist destinations as the kingdom forges a tourism and hospitality industry.
The project's main resort, designed by Jean Nouvel, the French architect who designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, will be located in a valley deep inside the newly-created Sharaan Nature Reserve, especially chosen for its dramatic landscape configuration made of high cliffs, rocky plateaus and spectacular sand dunes.
"The resort is an anchor for the development of Al-Ula as a major tourism destination for the world," Lisa Kolinac, Chief Development Officer of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (RCU) told Xinhua.
"It has been designed in a way that is completely integrated into nature. It respects nature and the heritage of the area, and has been built in tradition of the Nabataeans," she said.
The full design of the resort will be completed by the end of 2019 and the construction is expected to begin in early 2020 and be completed in 2023.
Committed to preserving the natural integrity of Al-Ula's landscapes and to re-establishing the rich diversity of plant-life and wildlife that once flourished here, the canyon area of Sharaan has been designated a nature reserve.
A number of endangered animal species, including Nubian ibexes, red-necked ostriches and idmi gazelles, were re-introduced into the reserve.
As part of this conservation initiative, RCU also announced the establishment of the Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard, the world's largest fund to protect the endangered big cat native to the mountains of the region.
Saudi Arabia launched Saudi Vision 2030 in 2016, a plan that aims at diversifying its economy and reducing its dependence on oil revenues.
Saudi Arabia has charted a future with some radical breaks from its restrictive past to make its economic growth no longer driven by oil revenues, but by a new model of infrastructure financing based on public-private partnership, entertainment, non-oil exports and so on.