In 2018, France and Saudi Arabia signed a cultural partnership agreement and created the French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula). 

AlUla is a spectacular natural and archaeological region. This unknown site inhabited for millennia is located 1100km from Riyadh in the North West of Saudi Arabia. The region has enjoyed prosperity since Antiquity thanks to the fertility of its oasis. AlUla was a crossroads on the caravan routes of myrrh, incenses and aromatic plants which crossed Arabia from the South. The birthplace of Arabic writing, this immense area of 23,000 km² is the witness of an extraordinary natural and human cultural heritage.

The geological formation of the valley with its lush oasis offers towering sandstone mountains and ancient civilization and architectural sites like the Nabataean from Petra. 

For nearly thirty years, Franco-Saudi archeological teams have done intense research inside thousand years old history, from the first human settlements seven thousand years ago to contemporary times.

Last Fall, French renowned architect Jean Nouvel announced his new extraordinary project in the Sharaan Nature Reserve near the Nabataean wonders of Hegra, UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first Saudi archaeological site listed on the UNESCO World Heritage in 2008. Hegra – A 52-hectare ancient city- was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom. It includes more than 100 well preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut into sandstone outcrops. Current research suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Romans after conquering the Nabataeans in 106 CE. 

Jean Nouvel’s works offer a modern design vision on this 2,000-year-old architectural legacy since the Nabataeans carved into the region’s millions of years old sandstone rock. “The coming together of a landscape and history, the history of past civilisations in an extraordinary landscape – the only place to create such a masterpiece.” said Jean Nouvel. The architect wants to preserve this unique landscape. “AlUla is a museum. Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archeological site deserves the greatest consideration. It’s vital we keep all its distinctiveness and its attractiveness which largely rests on its remote and occasionally archaic character. We have to safeguard a little mystery as well as the promise of discoveries to come.” He added. 

He is adapting old ways of life to our modern world  minimizing the impacts on natural and urban landscapes. To do this, genius Nouvel has introduced a new typology of architecture never seen before, using abstraction, sculpting within the landscape itself rather than competing with it. Inspired by the Nabateans, it plays on the old ways of living to build on the present and meet the challenges of the future. Jean Nouvel integrates the way Nabateans interacted with their environment, both with verticality and horizontality, to reconnect with the earth and build sustainable habitats, away from the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.

The resort will bring emotional experiences from nature, architecture and art. Jean novel invites us to embark on a thousands of years journey where civilisations and geographical strata will be found in every detail of his designs, from the permanent feel of the rocks to the soft comfort of the armchairs, sofa, and seats. 

The sound, musicality, harshness, tactility, power and complexity of nature are everywhere, from finely chopped stones on balconies to the singular granularity of each rock wall, everything becomes an artwork in itself.

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel is scheduled to open in 2023. The resort will feature 40 rooms, three villas and 14 pavilions carved into a sandstone outcrop, each suite having a balcony that looks out across the stunning surrounding AlUla scenery landscape. The hotel’s entrance will be from a circular courtyard that will be carved into the sandstone hillside. From here a series of rooms will be arranged around a central 80-metre high lift shaft.

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel Resort is a major part of the Royal Commission of AlUla’s strategy to develop in a long term commitment AlUla as a global destination for culture, heritage, and eco-tourism. “These concepts, which showcase Jean Nouvel’s masterly innovation in architecture, underscore our commitment to developing AlUla as a global tourism destination without compromising the history, heritage, and landscape of AlUla. We are a destination built by artists. Sharaan by Jean Nouvel will build on that legacy to become a timeless landscape-architecture that will last forever – a gift to the world.” told Amr AlMadani, CEO of RCU.

To learn more about Saudi Arabia. Assouline just released a beautiful book Crafts of the Kingdom: Culture and Creativity in Saudi Arabia curated by author HRH Princess Najla bint Ahmad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

This book celebrates Saudi Arabia unique craft traditions and the master artisans who produce the Kingdom’s rich handicrafts. It highlights the abundant traditions which still exist in each of the Kingdom’s regions while revealing each craft’s historic roots and modern interpretations. A rich portrait of Saudi Arabia as a nation whose cultural heritage and diverse creativity have been proudly cherished, reverently preserved, and profoundly influential from ancient days to modern times.



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