Hima Cultural Area: Discover Saudi Arabia’s Latest Addition to UNESCO World Heritage Site List
Saudi Arabia’s Hima Cultural Area was recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in late July, making it the sixth site in the Kingdom on the list.
Located between Najran and Wadi Addawasir in southwest Saudi Arabia, it features on one of the Arabian Peninsula’s ancient caravan routes. It contains significant collection of rock art inscriptions, dating back to 7,000 years.
The Cultural Rock Arts in Hima Najran is located approximately 80 km to the north of Najran, the
regional capital, in the western part of Najran Region.
Topographically, Najran is a region of contrasts. The western side of Najran is characterized by the
Sarawat mountain range, whilst the eastern area of the region is part of the Ar-Rub’Al-Khali (The Empty Quarter), one of the most arid deserts in the world.
The national reserve of Uruq Bani Ma’arid is to the north east of the Hima, spanning both Najran and
Riyadh Regions. Abha and Jazan, the regional capitals of Asir and Jazan, are to the west of Hima.
Tourism Development Areas in Hima Cultural Area
Wadi Najran area that contains the capital Najran, several important tourist attractions and
where most regional tourist facilities and services are located.
The zone incorporating the Cultural Rock Arts in Hima Najran site, Uruq Bani Mu’arid and
Qariyat Al-Faw with a new tourism center proposed on the highway next to the entrance to Uruq Bani Mu’arid Reserve.
Najran is a modern city of 300,000 people, with hotels at all levels of comfort, and many
restaurants and shops. It is intended to develop Najran as the gateway to the country’s major rock art and inscription corpora. This will be accomplished by building on core aspirations and goals of Najran Regional Tourism Plan of 2004.
A new provincial museum with a section dedicated to the local rock art is at present
being constructed, to replace the existing museum. It will incorporate a special rock art gallery relating to Hima. The initial estimated cost of the museum is about 20 million riyals.
The Amarah Building was built on the site of an ancient well in 1363 A.H/1944 A.D. Its
original purpose was to host the new governor and it also acted as the telegraph post and the police headquarters. It is open to the public as a museum.
Al-Ukhdood Archaeological Site
The large archaeological site of Al-Ukhdood on the south of the modern city testifies to the
city’s rich past. The name of Al-Ukhdood, which means the ditch/trench in Arabic, comes from
the Surat Al-Burooj of the Quran which praises a group of early Christians who were burnt alive
by the “People of the Ditch” because they refused to renounce their belief in God.
Al-Ukhdood was sacked by the Himyarites in 523 CE, an event recorded in rock inscriptions
in the Cultural Rock Arts in Hima Najran. Today, the site is in the process of restoration and is open to visitors.
Built in 1100 AH by Sheikh Mohammed bin Ismail Al-Makrami, the palace is owned by the
Almkarma tribe. The four story palace was built of mud on stone foundations and is surrounded by a mud wall with four towers and a main gate.
King Abdul-Aziz Park
Located to the east of Al-Ukhdood, the park is divided into two sections: the first is dedicated to the public and the second is for national and governmental events.
Najran is considered to have one of the most important commercial markets in the Arabian Peninsula. It includes specialized markets for livestock, grains and cereals, as well as craft industries. Shops are arranged in long rows of small units. Among the famous products sold in the markets of Najran: Arabian coffee, dates, pottery, wood, textiles and there is a traditional women’s market devoted to the sale of women’s products.
Ar-Rub’ Al-Khali (The Empty Quarter)
Ar-Rub’Al-Khali is the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, encompassing most of the southern quarter of the Arabian Peninsula.
Uruq Bani Mu’arid Reserve
Uruq Bani Ma’arid is a protected area located on the western edge of the Ar-Rub’ Al-Khali. The area is divided into three sections: a core nature reserve; a controlled grazing area; and an animal breading zone. The reserve has been chosen for the reintroduction of the famous Arabian oryx that have been bred in a captivity. It has also been selected as being suitable for the re-establishment of herds of Arabian sand gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa marica), mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella) and
ostrich (Struthio camelus), all of which have historically inhabited the area.
Uruq Bani Ma’arid has been designated as an Important Plants Area because of the richness of its plant life as compared to other parts of the Empty Quarter, and the presence of many plant species endemic to the Arabian Peninsula.
The limestone escarpment of the Al-‘Arid mountain range has little vegetation but the wadis crease the sides of the escarpment and support a variety of shrubby growth including Acacias, grasses and perennial legumes.
Between 1995 and 2013, some 149 Arabian oryx were released into the reserve, and it was
estimated in 2013 that about 500 individuals were present. The reserve is unfenced, so this is currently the only population in the wild.
Arabian sand gazelle and mountain gazelle have also been successfully re-introduced since 1995.
Other animals that may be seen in the reserve include the Rüppell’s fox, sand cat, red fox, Cape hare, desert hedgehog, Cheesman’s gerbil, lesser Egyptian jerboa, desert monitor, other reptilias, and feral dogs. 104 species of bird have been recorded in the reserve but there are only about 16 resident species.
Qaryat Al-Faw archaeological site
Qaryat Al-Faw is located on the outskirts of the Empty Quarter, 160 kilometers north of Hima Najran.
The settlement originated as a result of its strategic location on the ancient South Arabian trade route
heading towards the Arabian Gulf and from there to Mesopotamia and the Levant, and later becoming the capital of the Kingdom of Kinda.
Archaeological excavations have uncovered a city that reflects its high economic, political and social
status. Al-Faw layout is divided into three main zones, the residential area, the commercial area (Souq) and the funeral area.
Inscriptions, writings and drawings, together with many archaeological finds, reflect the progress made in the development of industries and crafts including wood and blacksmithing, textiles, coin minting, jewelry, pottery and the manufacture of soap stone utensils. The site is on the UNESCO ‘tentative list’
or World Heritage Site status.
The small township of Hima is located about 80 km from the capital Najran and is connected to
Najran and the wider area by paved roads. The trans-national highway 177, connecting Najran to
Riyadh, passes Hima 11 km to the east.
Two of the core sites, Hima Wells and Saidah, are located within the township of Hima. The Centre combines a site management facility, with accommodation, as well as two reception spaces for entertaining and hosting senior visitors. There are two potential locations for a new Visitor Centre, both of which are within existing structures with scope for adaptation and refurbishment.