September 17, 2023

A Cultural Carnival with a Saudi Imprint

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The City of Jeddah as a Museum Rooted in Antiquity

Since the end of June, my social media accounts have not stopped buzzing. All of them have been flooded with messages: Layla, where are you? Where are you travelling?

When I respond that I am in Saudi Arabia, in the city of Jeddah in particular, my friends are amazed. The same surprise filled my home when my family learnt that I had received an invitation from a cultural organisation in Saudi Arabia. For years, my visits to the Kingdom involved only two cities: I went to Mecca to perform Umrah and to Medina to visit the city of the Messenger and pray in the Prophet’s holy mosque.

I was overcome with excitement that the city to which I was invited was Jeddah: I have always wanted to visit it. Perhaps this is because of the phrase that was written in bold in the MBC channel advert several years ago, showcasing the outstanding historical monuments that made the city worthy to be included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: “A new Jeddah.”

The pictures I shared of the city of Jeddah – of its roads, landmarks, sea and historic buildings – attracted a lot of interest from friends. Jeddah, with its ancient lanes and mosques, its long-established markets and rest houses, and the overlap of modernity with heritage, stands as a museum rooted in tradition. Jeddah, with its ancient lanes and mosques, its long-established markets and rest houses, and the overlap of modernity with heritage, stands as a museum rooted in tradition, or as a cinematic panorama offering scenes of everything related to heritage and architecture with impressive originality. Its tall houses – with their warm, grassy and blue colours, with their wooden structures – have not been abandoned, despite the departure of their owners. Rather, they have become cultural platforms and cafés that welcome visitors from far and wide.

Jeddah, with its ancient lanes and mosques, its long-established markets and rest houses, and the overlap of modernity with heritage, stands as a museum rooted in tradition.

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