(MENAFN - Arab News) Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, yesterday announced SCTA's plan to develop historical Islamic sites in the Kingdom, including those in Makkah and Madinah.
Addressing the First Conference of "Archaeology and Tourism in Al-Ula: Challenges and Aspirations," he said the project would be carried out in consultation with Islamic scholars and archaeologists.
"A number of prominent Islamic scholars have expressed their desire to visit archaeological sites in the Kingdom and last week two members of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars visited Madain Saleh in Al-Ula," he said, adding that SCTA would encourage such visits.
Prince Sultan commended Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman for their support to SCTA's efforts to preserve the Kingdom's heritage sites.
"It has a cultural dimension as these heritage sites reflect the great contributions made by the people of Arabian Peninsula to human civilization over the years and the Kingdom's heritage is part and parcel of world heritage," the SCTA chief said.
The three-day conference at Taibah University's Al-Ula campus is organized by the university in association with SCTA. Madinah Governor Prince Faisal bin Salman attended the opening session.
The conference aims at highlighting the cultural role of the people of Al-Ula, review appropriate means of preserving its cultural heritage and discuss practical experience and examples of sustainable development in archaeology and tourism, an SCTA official said.
Prince Sultan described Al-Ula as one of the important Islamic sites in the Kingdom. "We have signed an agreement with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments to renovate historical mosques. We have already renovated an old mosque in Al-Ula."
He said SCTA would work with the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques to preserve historical Islamic sites and museums under the presidency. He emphasized the cultural, archaeological and economic dimensions of the Kingdom's tourism development strategy.
Prince Sultan disclosed plans to develop 120 archaeological sites, establish five regional and six local museums, develop existing museums and preserve the Islamic historical sites in Makkah and Madinah as well as those sites related to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Caliphs. "We'll also transform historical palaces and government buildings into cultural centers."
He said 24 scientific missions, including Saudi and foreign archaeologists, are working in different parts of the Kingdom to explore antiquities.
"We'll work to enhance citizens' relations with their heritage and include the topic in the curriculum, conduct national and international heritage exhibitions, encourage private museums and promote heritage villages," he said while expressing satisfaction over the positive results of Saudi heritage exhibitions in Europe and the United States that attracted more than 1.5 million visitors including archaeologists.
Prince Sultan said SCTA was able to retrieve more than 14,000 pieces of antiques from abroad and 3,000 from inside the Kingdom with the support of government and private agencies. "Many citizens have handed over their artifacts to SCTA in order to take care of them properly," he pointed out.
The SCTA chief commended Prince Abdul Aziz bin Majed, former governor of Madinah, for his support to the commission's efforts to preserve historical sites in the region. He congratulated the new Governor Prince Faisal for winning the confidence of the Saudi leadership. "I wish him every success to serve the region as well as its citizens and visitors."
Dr. Adnan Al-Mazroue, president of Taibah, emphasized the importance of protecting the Kingdom's cultural heritage and archaeological sites. "Some of the archaeological sites in the Madinah region date back to the Stone Age," the president said.
Salim Al-Bulwi, supervisor of Taibah University campus in Al-Ula, said 40 research papers would be presented by experts at eight sessions of the conference. The papers will focus on Al-Ula Antiquities and History, Cultural Heritage Resources Management, Urban Heritage and Tourism Development.