Monday, January 28, 2019

Madein Saleh - Stairway to Heaven

The tombs at Madein Saleh were carved by hand with crude tools into the gigantic sandstone rocks outside of Al Ula, Saudi Arabia.  Some tombs were never completed, but those that were all have one design element in common - above the entry door into the tomb, were stairsteps which were to lead the occupant of the tomb to heaven.

Historically this whole area was in a strategic trade route location linking southern Arabia with important locations to the north, like Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Jordan.  This region comprised the Nabataean Kingdom, running from south Arabia along the Red Sea all the way up through Jordan to Damascus, Syria.  The Nabataeans were nomadic Bedouins who became wealthy from levying taxes on the trade caravans that routed through their territory.

When compared with its sister site of Petra in Jordan, which was the Nabataean civilzation's capital city, Madein Saleh is unique in that it is considered more of a wealth of information and an archaeologist's dream, as it is virtually untouched and preserved.  Inscriptions were actually carved into the stone at the tombs of Madein Saleh, providing much more information than is available at Petra.  The inscriptions at Petra were apparently made out of wood, which long ago rotted and along with it valuable historical information.

Madein Saleh is home to more than 130 such tombs, many of the large rocky mountains housing several tombs on one rock.  Once the Nabataeans were taken over by the Roman Empire, cheaper and faster alternate transport using the Red Sea became the preferred method for trade shipments, as opposed to struggling with the harsh elements of the desert caravan conditions.  As desert trade dropped off, the once prosperous Nabataean civilzation suffered and dwindled.

Madein Saleh has been closed to the public in preparation for the development of the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia.  It will be interesting to see how tourism develops here when the site is expected to reopen in 2020.  I'm curious to see how the religious and cultural aspects of life in Saudi Arabia will be affected or bent in order to accommodate interested travelers from the outside world.

My friend Laura of the amazing blog Blue Abaya has written a fabulous comprehensive guide and history of Madain Saleh with lots of fantastic photos - CLICK HERE to access it.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the phenomenal Winter at Tantora Festival going on now through Feb. 23rd, with special weekend concerts and tours of the area, including access to Madein Saleh just for attendees of the event.  Tickets may still be available, and visas are apparently easy to obtain for those wishing to come from outside Saudi Arabia for this very special and unforgettable event.  Information and tickets are available at this site:  Winter at Tantora 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Winter at Tantora: A Magical Mystical Tour

Winter at Tantora is an incredible event like none other ever before here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Amidst the stark picturesque beauty of the city of Al Ula, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Winter at Tantora Festival started on December 20th and will run through February 9th.  Each weekend concert over the eight weeks features a different theme high quality entertainment spectacular followed by a magnificent feast matching the theme of the evening.

The venue for the concerts is a brand new stunning concert hall named Maraya (Arabic for "mirror"), built among the unusual and ravishing natural landscape of Al Ula. Set amidst the gigantic sandstone rocky mountain formations and drifts of soft sand dunes, the beauty of Maraya lies in its simplicity.  The visible exterior surface of the structure is encased in large mirrored panels, which create a wondrous illusion reflecting its breathtaking setting.

The concert hall seats only 500 and the seats are comfortable and cushy white leather chairs. There are no bad seats in this theater, as the aisles between rows are extra wide, and the acoustics, audio and lighting technology are state of the art. To the right, left and in front of the stage, dramatic digital imagery is projected onto the walls and floor, creating a magical experience for the audience.  Behind the stage is an enormous window revealing the backdrop of huge sandstone rocks behind the building. The rocks are lit with colored lighting during the show. The overall experience is one of undeniable wonderment. 

I was fortunate to attend the truly magnificent performance of Lang Lang, a supremely talented and gifted world class concert pianist.  Seeing and hearing Lang Lang perform the amazing pieces he played was an incredibly moving experience.   It was as though the music was actually coming through him to the piano.  He is an animated performer, with tremendous depth and precision.  His concert was flawless perfection.

An additional ongoing fine art exhibition at Maraya during the Winter at Tantora Festival is a visual delight featuring the artwork of Van Gogh. It is a show in itself with his masterpieces projected onto the walls in the large gallery, engulfing the entire hall.  It's almost as if the paintings come to life with imagery and movement.
Van Gogh Exhibition at Maraya, Winter at Tantora - Model: @ParisVerra 
Among the other amazing talents still left to participate in the festival are: Um Kulthum (Jan. 25th); Andrea Bocelli (Feb. 1st); and Yanni (Feb. 8th).  If you are interested in attending any of these events or to learn more about Winter at Tantora, CLICK HERE For the Yanni event, you can get a 20% discount by using this code:  BlueAbaya7   Hurry!!! Availability is limited.

Packages are available for just the one day of the concert or for the whole weekend, including cool tent accommodations (with all the comforts of home!), a variety of inspiring tours, transportation, helicopter rides and hot air ballooning over the amazing landscape of Al Ula, and much much more.

Thanks to my awesome pal Laura / @BlueAbaya, we had an incredible time we will never forget. She knows more about places to visit in Saudi Arabia than anybody I know. You should check her out on Instagram and Twitter - @BlueAbaya, or on her blog Blue Abaya.  I'll be writing more about our adventures from this past weekend so stay tuned!

Laura has also written a fabulous comprehensive guide and history of Madain Saleh, the historical archaeological site outside of Al Ula, with lots of fantastic photos - CLICK HERE to access it.