Following a three-year hiatus for extensive restoration and conservation in sections of the town’s tightly packed stone and mudbrick buildings, AlUla Old Town, one of four significant heritage sites in AlUla, has welcomed its first visitors.
Established around the 12th century and inhabited until the 1800s, when the last residents left for more modern housing, AlUla Old Town was closed to visitors in 2017 by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU). Plans were then put in place to protect and restore it for the enjoyment of the local community and visitors for future generations.
Efforts have been focused on remedial conservation per UNESCO principles and international standards for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites.
After first repairing the Tantora Wall, the town’s sundial and a cherished landmark, the initial conservation program for the homes and mosques of AlUla Old Town was composed of three main phases: studies such as materials testing and site-wide drainage; a comprehensive survey of the buildings to include 3D laser scanning; and stabilising and conserving a set of homes, two mosques and two main streets.
The project’s latest phase commenced in November 2019, and the conserved area is now open for visitors. This includes Incense Road, running adjacent to the town, and now a vibrant area for shopping, eating and entertainment.
Phillip Jones, Chief Destination Management and Marketing Officer, RCU, said: “AlUla Old Town is an important chapter in AlUla’s journey through time. The site is key to the understanding, continuity, and evolution of the historic routes for trade and pilgrimage that made AlUla such a significant destination until the 20th century as it is for visitors again today.”
Today visitors can access AlUla Old Town to stroll along the Incense Road, which is lined with fruit and produce market stalls and arts and crafts, fashion and souvenirs. Visitors can relax at one of the open-air eateries along the road, including AlUla’s newest fine dining restaurant Suhail, offering traditional Saudi food, the more casual One o One Burger, or one of several traditional hangouts. A handicraft pavilion to see live demonstrations of ancient arts and craft and a day/night suq is also coming soon.
AlUla Old Town is open now and is free for visitors to pursue the market stalls and access Suhail. Tours on the restored pathways can be booked online at experiencealula.com. Visitors also have the option to do a self-guided or with a rawi, one of AlUla’s skilled storytellers.