10-day festival offers a glimpse into Jeddah’s past

The festival is the first-of-its-kind to promote Jeddah’s rich and vibrant culture.

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The organizing committee of the 1st Jeddah Historic Festival announced on Tuesday that heritage, cultural and entertainment events will take place during the 10-day Spring Festival starting Jan. 16, under the patronage of Prince Mishaal Bin Abdullah, Emir of Mecca.

Speaking at a press conference at Jeddah Municipality house in Balad on Sunday evening, Muhammad Al-Amri, executive director of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) in the Makkah province, said the festival aims to provide an opportunity for Jeddawis and visitors, the possibility of closely relating to the tales of the past century.

He announced that SCTA has set a yearly budget of SR50 million to renovate historic Jeddah, which includes a number of monuments and heritage buildings of archeological interest, such as the Old Jeddah wall and its historical courtyards like Al-Mazloom, Al-Sham, Al-Yemen, and Al-Bahr Haras.

“I believe it is a very important historical area and it is our duty to preserve it. This festival comes at the right time to make residents of this beautiful city strengthen the position of Jeddah as a source of culture, literature and history,” he said.

Al-Amri noted that the festival would be a great opportunity for the SCTA to prepare a new file for Jeddah's historic area to be registered as a World Heritage site UNESCO after it failed a while ago.

SCTA President Prince Sultan Bin Salman has shown interest in preserving the Hijazi architectural style even before becoming the tourism body's chief, and used to appeal to local people and establishments to play their role in preserving the heritage features of the old buildings in Jeddah, said Al-Amri.

Zaki Hassanain, CEO of Benchmark, organizing company of the event, noted that the festival expects over 600,000 visitors to throng historic Jeddah daily to witness around 47 cultural, heritage and entertainment activities to be held in various parts of the area or otherwise called downtown Jeddah (Balad).

“The festival is the first-of-its-kind to promote Jeddah’s rich and vibrant culture. The culture and heritage of the city are embodied in Jeddah’s historic buildings and neighborhoods. These are important, not only as historical reminders of the way people used to live and the values they had, but also as attractions for tourists. These historic areas reflect the shared values that people choose to carry forward into the future,” Hassanain said.

Mohammed Zaki, events director, gave a brief presentation of the events.

“Visitors will enjoy a variety of events for entertainment such as theatrical performances, stand-up comedy shows, traditional competitions, heritage and cultural shows, a number of cultural competitions, family entertainment programs, antique cars exhibition and folk dances,” he said.

Abdullah Bin Dhawi, director of local Affairs at Jeddah Governorate and president of the executive committee said: “As well as giving Jeddah its special identity, this festival will attract residents, visitors and tourists and will also provide leisure and social opportunities as well as enhancing a sense of pride and belonging amongst residents.”

Sami Nawar, spokesman of Jeddah Municipality, said the municipality recognizes the importance of Jeddah’s unique culture and heritage and will ensure that it is valued and preserved.

“Jeddah Municipality has long been a leader in preserving the city’s heritage. In 1980 we became the only municipality in KSA to list historic monuments and buildings (in Al-Balad) and were the first to establish a preservation department as well as a culture and tourism department,” he said.

The municipality, Nawar added, plans to renovate 34 of the 557 historical buildings and will continue to support a wide range of events and festivals in Jeddah as a means of promoting the city's culture and identity.

Mazen Batterjee, vice chairman of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said together with being a modern city with a fast developing economy, Jeddah should be recognized as a global cultural center with rich cultural traditions and heritage sites.

(This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on Jan. 7, 2014)

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