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Committee Decisions

34 COM 8B.15

Cultural Properties-At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah (Saudi Arabia)

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Documents WHC-10/34.COM/8B and WHC-10/34.COM/INF.8B1,

2. Inscribes At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah, Saudi Arabia, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (iv), (v) and (vi);

3. Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

Brief Synthesis:

At-Turaif District is located on a low limestone plateau in the wadi-based oasis in Ad-Dir'iyah. The site is an urban an architectural monument extending over some 29 hectares. Ad-Dir'iyah became at the end of the 18th century, a powerful centre under the rule of the House of Saud, who developed it with imposing palaces built in a distinctive and confident style.    

Criterion (iv): The property is a unique example of the Najdi architectural and decorative style, which only developed in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula. It illustrates the ingenious use of adobe, a universally employed material used here with great originality to cope with the extreme desert climate of central Arabia and to provide acceptable living conditions.

The site of at-Turaif bears witness to great urban coherence, whose social, political, spiritual and religious functions have developed simultaneously and organically alongside the property.

The citadel district of at-Turaif is evidence of an original architectural and decorative use of adobe, forming a clearly identified regional style, consists of a large and diversified urban and palace ensemble in an oasis setting and bears witness to the combination of a building method that is well adapted to its environment, the use of adobe in major palatial complexes, along with a special sense of geometrical decoration. 

Criterion (V): The site of at-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah illustrates a significant phase in the human settlement of the central Arabian plateau, when in the mid-18th century Ad-Dir'iyah became the capital of an independent Arab State. At-Turaif District in Ad-Dir'iyah is an outstanding example of traditional human settlement developed in a desert environment.

Located along one of the major wadis of Arabia, the settlement of Ad-Dir'iyah exemplifies the intimate link between landscape, natural resources and the human efforts to use the land. The rich water table close to the surface and the fertile lands of the banks of Wadi Hanifah permitted the growth of a large wadi-based oasis settlement that created its political and administrative centre in At-Turaif.

The clay used to build the houses and palaces of at-Turaif was directly obtained from the Wadi Hanifah bed, whose alluvial deposits are composed largely of adhesive clay naturally mixed with silt and sand, while the water was drawn from wells dug down to the water table. These wells were operated by donkeys and camels.

The wells represent the evolution of an age-old system whose origin might reach back to the second millennium BC, and some of them are still visible in the site, a living memory of the traditional farming techniques.

Criterion (vi): The significance of at-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah, is also intimately connected with the teaching of the great reformer Shaikh Mohammed Bin Abdul Wahab who lived, preached and died in the city. From ad-Dir'iyah, following the alliance with Mohammad Bin Saud in 1745, the message of the Reform has reverberated through the Arabian Peninsula and the Muslim world.

The followers of this movement saw themselves as adherents of the faith and practices of the early Muslims and called for the return of Muslims to the pure and original teachings of the Qur'an and the sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Mohammad) and for the purification of the religious beliefs and practices from the innovations and deviations (bida) that accumulated over the centuries and were added to the teachings of Islam.

The Reform produced a formidable state and central authority that unified Arabia and imposed peace and order on its nomads and settled people for the first time since the time of the caliphs. It also brought about reforms that influenced the social practices of the Arabian people, and inspired the thoughts of many Muslim reformers since the 18th century.

Integrity and authenticity

The landscape surrounding the site has also been mostly preserved from the rapid and dramatic urban development that characterizes the Kingdom and its capital Riyadh some 20 km afar. At-Turaif has been able to preserve its wadi-oasis nature with large plantations of date palms forming a green screen around the city vestiges reminding of its very origin as an agricultural settlement. The immediate desert environment of the site has also been preserved from urban development that took place further afar where lies modern Ad-Dir'iyah.

At-Turaif was destroyed in 1818, left abandoned for a century and a half, then briefly and partially re-settled in the second half of the 20th century, to be finally completely evacuated in 1982. It shows therefore an extraordinary degree of authenticity, with no modern incongruous addition to its traditional earthen architectural pattern and no substantial modifications of the city's original street network.

Protection and Management requirement

The management of the property, during and after the end of the site work, has been a constant concern for all the stakeholders involved in the site, since the preliminary phases of the large-scale planning effort being developed by ADA to establish the new at-Turaif Living Heritage Museum.

A comprehensive and detailed management plan for the property is being prepared jointly by the planners of the Living Heritage Museum and by SCTA aiming at guaranteeing the respect of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and the sustainable development of the project. This plan has a double and intimately interwoven objective: to permit the proper and smooth management of the Living Heritage Museum on the one side, and to meet UNESCO standards for World Heritage properties on the other.

4. Requests the State Party to:

a) Ratify the new Anquities law and the urban plan of ad-Dir'yah;

b) Enhance the cultural interpretation of the remains of the property in the framework of a conservation policy which gives priority to safeguarding the property's attributes of architectural integrity and authenticity;

c) Ensure that the Management Plan and other programmes which guide future actions aimed at communicating the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including the Living Heritage Museum project, respect the attributes of authenticity and integrity;

d) Put in place, under the auspices of the overarching management authority of the property, a scientific committee in charge of the conservation policy for the property, aimed at verifying that it is implemented, and monitoring the conservation process. This committee could equally function as a scientific evaluation body for tourism and cultural development projects and for the management of the property;

e) Confirm the presence of the overarching property management authority at local level;

f) Carrying out preventive excavations when any major conservation works are undertaken, in order to document the remains of the earliest structures, which in some cases have served as the foundations for later buildings;

g) Ensure that the groundwater of Wadi Hanifah is well managed;

h) Strengthen the monitoring of the development in the buffer zone and in the immediate vicinity;

Themes: Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
States Parties: Saudi Arabia
Session: 34COM