Like much of the rich and diverse vernacular architecture of Saudi Arabia, the historic towns of the Red Sea Coast, many of them the product of various cultural influences, are in serious danger of being lost forever. Lack of maintenance, insensitive interventions and development pressures and the abandonment of entire historic districts has become a common occurrence across the wider region. Since the 1950s a new era of wealth following the exploitation of the region’s oil resources amongst other factors has led to the decline and wholesale abandonment of most traditional settlements across the Kingdom. Meanwhile the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the region, including historic towns, is being recognised as a significant component within Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning tourism development programme. This in turn is opening up new opportunities to revitalise some historic settlements in coastal regions through linked tourism initiatives. Tourism and cultural heritage, though increasingly linked in urban conservation discourse and practice are not necessarily mutually compatible. This paper evaluates how tourism can play a role in the conservation of a unique architectural heritage and the regeneration of historic urban quarters, which have been abandoned. The aim is to acknowledge the challenges facing conservation and the development of tourism in a unique set of circumstances including significant levels of decay and abandonment, local disengagement with tangible aspects of cultural heritage and social norms that dictate tourism practices. The paper is based on research, in-depth field work and on-site observations most of the coastal and inland historic towns of the Red Sea Coast undertaken between 2002 and 2008.
School of Architecture
Year of publication: 2017Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-06-01
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