JEDDAH: While preserving and restoring national heritage sites is no easy task for any country, ensuring these treasures stand out on the world stage is a whole different ballgame.
Thankfully, the efforts made by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) have paid off for one village in the Kingdom’s famous Al-Baha region.
The village of Zee Ain, Arabic for “city of springs,” was included on a tentative list within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after King Salman approved its nomination in 2015.
The SCTH has since put forth a multimillion dollar comprehensive restoration plan for the village to make it tourist friendly and shed light on its famous, locally made products.
What makes the village of Zee Ain stand out is its strategic location atop a mountain offering impressive panoramic views of the region’s farms.
The village is home to dwellings made of polished stone, some four stories high, and a famous mosque. The area, which is said to be more than 400 years old, was given its name from the permanent water source that flows into the area from nearby valleys.
The SCTH development plan, which has been underway for several years, consists of two stages. The first is restoring several structures to create an open-air museum overlooking the waterfalls, as well as revamping an existing museum.
The second is constructing a village garden and a visitors’ center, which will eventually include an exhibition of locally made products.
The peak on which the village is built, which is also set against an impressive backdrop of mountain ranges, is renowned for fruit and spices, including banana, lemon, pepper and basil.
Tourists can also get a glimpse of the historic forts built around the village. Legend has it that the springs were dug inadvertently in search of a cane belonging to well-known local.
The development plan also includes carrying out research studies aimed at shedding light on the city’s unique architecture and the raw material with which doors and windows are made.
Zee Ain was home to many tribal battles before the establishment of the Kingdom. The area is also renowned for a battle in which two famous tribes defeated the Ottomans. As such, it is known among locals as the “site of Turks’ graves.”
Locals in Zee Ain have jumped on board the quest to get their hidden gem on the map. More recently, locals have introduced banana festivals in an attempt to attract farmers and tourists.
Its existence in a region already brimming with natural wonders, including Raghdan Forest, as well as traditional markets selling distinct handicraft, has no doubt boded well for the city of springs, which may one day rival the likes of France’s Mont Saint Michel and Italy’s Amalfi Coast thanks to the distinct vantage point it offers and the geophysical beauty with which it is surrounded.