AlUla, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: The unique landscape of AlUla showcases three distinct geological periods going back up to a thousand million years. While archaeologists and geologists have the opportunity to fly over AlUla as part of their work to understand and document this history, visitors to AlUla can also now appreciate the diversity, monumentality and global significance of the landscape by taking the Kingdom’s first helicopter tours.
Don Boyer, a geologist who was among the first to undertake research-based flights says visitors should expect to be ‘blown-away’ as he was the first time he took to the air.
‘While the rocks are mostly common rock types, the fact that you have these three completely different landscapes – the Precambrian Arabian shield rocks, the sandstone that was laid down over it and then the black basalt formed by volcanic eruptions – all in the one area, is what makes AlUla so special,’ said Boyer.
‘The weathering, the agencies of wind and water, have created drainages, such as the wadi that cuts through AlUla and the steep walled canyons nearby. These elements have sculpted the ridge-tops and created dramatic rough edges of basalt and interesting rock formations. Then you have the variety of colours and textures from the black basalt to the multi-layered sandstone. It’s an extraordinary geological journey that takes your breath away; it almost brings you to tears at times.’
Tens of thousands of archaeological sites have been identified in AlUla and very few of them have been closely investigated to date. The span of time that the archaeology covers is at least 7,000 years –including the Dadan period and the Nabataean period.
Boyer says it is clear that there was a lot going on even in the remote desert areas, which he says is remarkable given the apparent lack of evidence of settlements where these people might have lived.
‘The landscape we see today is more or less the same landscape those guys saw 7,000 years ago. The pleasure of flying over this part of Arabia as opposed to for example heritage sites in Europe is that there is no clutter. In AlUla, it’s vast, you see things in their raw state and the state of preservation is generally very good indeed,’ said Boyer.
The helicopter flights are available at 750 SAR per person and will operate twice a day. The 30 minute flight will take in seven major sites of significance including the monumental Jabal AlFil (Elephant Rock) AlUla’s most famous natural geological rock formation; Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the southern capital of the Nabataean civilisation; The Hijaz Railway and the modern-day marvel of Maraya, the world’s largest mirrored building shining brightly like a diamond in the desert.
The tour will also take in Jabal Ikmah (the open-air library) and Dadan, the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan kingdoms as well as AlUla Old Town, the 12th-century medieval city, before landing back at Fursan Village.
Don Boyer feels sure that anyone who can have the opportunity to see AlUla from the air won’t be disappointed.
Located 1,000 km from Riyadh, in North-West Saudi Arabia, AlUla is a place of extraordinary natural and human heritage. The vast area, covering 22,561km², includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years to when the Lihyan and Nabataean kingdoms reigned. The most well-known and recognised site in AlUla is Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 52-hectare ancient city, Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and is comprised of 111 well-preserved tombs, many with elaborate facades cut out of the sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement. Current research also suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Roman Empire after the Roman’s conquered the Nabataeans in 106 CE.
In addition to Hegra, AlUla is also home to ancient Dadan, the captial of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms and considered to be one of the most developed 1st millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Penninsula. And Jabal Ikmah, an open-air library of hundreds of inscriptions and writings in many different languages. AlUla Old Town, a labyrinth of more than 900 mudbrick homes developed from at least the 12th century, and Hijaz Railway and
Hegra Fort, key sites in the story and conquests of Lawrence of Arabia.
About The Royal Commission for AlUla:
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was established by royal decree in July 2017 to protect and safeguard AlUla, a region of outstanding natural and cultural significance in North-West Saudi Arabia. RCU is embarking on a long-term plan to develop and deliver a sensitive, sustainable transformation of the region, reaffirming it as one of the country’s most important archaeological and cultural destinations and preparing it to welcome visitors from around the world. RCU’s development work in AlUla encompasses a broad range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, education and the arts, reflecting the ambitious commitment to cultivate tourism and leisure in Saudi Arabia, outlined in Vision 2030.