Old Town AlUla architectural survey and conservation guidelines

Project information
Project partners
  • RCU (Royal Commission for AlUla)
  • HCC Heritage Conservation Consulting Inc.
  • AFALULA (Agence Française pour le Développement d’AlUla)
  • CRATerre

Project description

AlUla is a county covering an area of 23,301 km2. AlUla city, the capital, is approximately 325 km north of Madinah, 1,100 km from Riyadh, and 110 km southwest of Tayma. AlUla is located in the Wadi Al-Qura, a famed and important valley since ancient times. Now called the AlUla Valley, it and the surrounding area constitute a place of extraordinary human and natural heritage. The landscape includes a lush oasis valley and spectacular sandstone mountains that have influenced thousands of years of human history. At the centre of this vast territory, well anchored in the history of this region, AlUla was the capital of the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, which controlled the caravan trade. The site of Hegra, modern Mada’in Salih, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the main city in the south of the Nabataean kingdom, famous for its spectacular monumental tombs.

Al-Deira, the old town of AlUla, covers a built area of approximately 67,286 sq.m, with a total of 908 housing units and public buildings connected through a network of narrow streets (more than 3135 linear meters of streets) and about 260 covered alleys (Tayara or Skifa). The dense urban fabric is composed of two historic neighbourhoods: one to the south of the citadel ‘Qalat Mussa Ibn Nussair’ is Al-Halaf quarter and the second north to the Citadel is Ashqaiq quarter. 

In July 2017, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was formally established by Royal Decree to reinvigorate this region of extraordinary natural, historical, and cultural significance, as an important cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. The Commission will be considering many factors. With respect to the cultural heritage of AlUla – both traditions and archaeology – its aims include protecting the site, evaluating its potential for tourism and steps required, and working towards a global profile. AlUla Old Town will be an important component in AlUla’s future projects.

In October 2019, The Royal Commission for AlUla appointed HCC Heritage Conservation Consulting Inc. to implement a conservation program at AlUla Old Town including associated structures in the adjacent oasis. Work started in October 2019 to carry out a 3D laser scanning survey of the entire site, study selected areas, identify and correct causes of deterioration, and implement preventive conservation works. 

The program proposed by HCC aims to develop studies and implement restoration and preventive conservation work in the selected areas. This innovative program consists of bringing together all the specialists and stakeholders at the same time and on the same site to test, experiment, and establish an appropriate methodology and precise protocols for each stage of intervention. Since the start of this major operation, conservators, heritage architects, engineers, archaeologists, and specialists have been working simultaneously and in partnership to propose and implement best conservation practices and standards on how to plan and execute a large-scale restoration and consolidation campaign.

Given the extent of the site and the huge number of buildings to be conserved and stabilized, this project can be considered a challenge of a scope rarely attempted before. 

The main objectives of this innovative project are:

  • To develop a survey and studies for the documentation of the current condition of the urban and architectural fabric of AlUla Old Town and its adjacent Summer Farms. This will be achieved by using state-of-the-art methods and techniques in the field of 3D laser scanning surveying to ensure each area is fully documented and assessed. If required, preventive conservation work can start once the survey of each zone is completed.
  • To conduct a detailed building inventory and condition assessment (full inspection, building by building) comprising an examination of historic structures to identify the exact sources of threats and to map all the decay processes.
  • To develop a hydrogeological/geotechnical and structural study to assess different environmental, hydrological, hydraulic, geotechnical, and structural parameters that affect the historical site, and to study the traditional surface water management (TSWM) and practices that evolved over the centuries.
  • Select a pilot area including 30 houses, a street portion of the Old Town (Blue Street), and two historic mosques to carry out immediate preventative works on buildings presenting extreme risk of collapse whilst the survey is carried out.

Other information

  • Project: Conservation studies & 3D laser scanning architectural and topographical survey & implementation of remedial conservation work: (Pilot Project – Blue Street and 2 historic Mosques)
  • Project area: about 119,084 sq.m for the extent of the Old Town, about 67,286 sq.m for the built area, and about 2,788,872 sq.m for the adjacent summer farms

HCC sub-consultants

  • Geokali (France)
  • Oxford Archaeology North (UK)
  • EVEHA International (France)
  • ADAD – Advanced Design, Assessment & Development Inc.  (Canada)
  • Archaios (France)