Closed to non-religious tourists until 2019, Saudi Arabia is now developing tourism and opening up its five UNESCO sites for visitors. This oil-rich nation is home to vast sand dunes, ancient cities and fertile mountains as well as having kilometres of coastline on the Red and Arabian Seas.
The Arabian Peninsular has history stretching back millennia, home to ancient civillisations and on vital trade routes including the Frankincense Trail. Traders passing through and citizens left their mark with rock art scattered across the country showing pictorial details of life at the time. Near Al Ula, the great Nabateans had their second city in Mada’in Saleh and epic rock cut tombs still litter the desert rising up from the sand on giant rock outcrops.
The birth of Islam has shaped the more recent history of the country as well as the architecture and now dictates everyday life. The holy cities of Medina and Mecca are haram to non-Muslims but there are still plenty of religious sights to visit as well as the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh. The Empty Quarter, or Rub al Khalili is the largest sand desert on the planet and occupies a third of the Arabian Peninsula.
As with so many countries, the image we see in our media is rarely representative of the lives of everyday people, by visiting Saudi we hope to be able to look behind the stereotypes, engage in conversation with different people, learn about life and exchange ideas and hopes for the future.