JEDDAH/MAKKAH – The residence of late King Abdul Aziz, the historic Al-Saqqaf Palace in Makkah, has been taken over by the Supreme Commission of Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) for restoration and preservation, under an order from Crown Prince Sultan.
The palace will be open to the public when maintenance and renovation work has been completed. The Crown Prince has donated SR2 million to the cause.
Prince Sultan Bin Salman, President of the SCTA, said that work on the historic palace will start soon.
Shocked at its current “deplorable” condition, Prince Sultan Bin Salman said that major parts of the Al-Saqqaf Palace were damaged and many of its contents were stolen. “Urgent restoration is now needed to preserve the palace,” he said.
The donation of the Crown Prince has come in time to help restore and preserve the palace, he added. The restoration process will take place in stages, starting with a listing of all contents, collection of fallen stone artwork, and a major clean-up and restoration with the help of a professional team, the SCTA president said.
The president has called on the Ministry of Finance to add more funds to the project, to help turn it into a tourist destination under the supervision of the SCTA.
Asked whether the palace would be used in a similar way to that of Riyadh’s Al-Muraba Palace, which was constructed by late King Abdul Aziz in 1930 as his royal court, Prince Sultan Bin Salman said: “Al-Muraba Palace was handed over to the King Abdul Aziz Darah to be used as a public exhibition of its own contents. We will think carefully with our main partners about the ideal way to use the Al-Saqqaf Palace,” he added.
The palace was the royal court and headquarters of the government during the era of late King Abdul Aziz; and “during the times of King Saud, the palace reflected the traditional architecture of the Makkah region, but recently it has suffered because of poor maintenance and negligence,” he said.
The Makkah restoration comes in the wake of a threat to the old district in Jeddah.
Over the past five years, five major fires have broken out in the Jeddah downtown area, destroying over 200 historic buildings, Prince Sultan Bin Salman said.
Commenting on the recent fire, he said: “If it was my decision, I would have closed this area down to visitors because it is vulnerable to fires and doesn’t meet our ambitions as a tourist attraction.”
In a letter to Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Emir of Makkah, two months ago, Prince Sultan Bin Salman said: “I warned of a catastrophe in the making because of the slow pace of development in this historic area.”
The restoration and development plans of Old Jeddah started some 23 years ago when late Prince Majed Bin Abdul Aziz was the Emir of the region, he added. King Abdulaziz University was then tasked to carefully study the area for restoration and to produce a development plan. When late Prince Abdul Majeed was appointed Emir of Makkah, he also pursued restoration and development efforts. Now Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has also given the area special attention, Prince Sultan Bin Salman said.
According to the SCTA president, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has ordered authorities concerned to safeguard the historic area. Prince Misha’l Bin Majed, Governor of Jeddah, has ordered evacuation of the historic area of all foreign residents and to turn it into museums and tourist attractions, he added.
“In the past, the Jeddah Mayoralty fell short in its duty to restore and preserve the area,” the governor said, extending his thanks to the current Mayor of Jeddah Adel Faqih for his efforts to help maintain and restore the downtown area.
Prince Misha’l said he could not blame residents, or even the Civil Defense for the fires, “but we have reservations about using water to put out fires in mud houses in this historic area. This doesn’t happen anywhere in a historic area,” he said.
“We’ve decided to hold special firefighting sessions on how to battle fires in historic areas,” he added.
“We’ve also sent a proposal to the King to turn the historic Khuzam tower in Jeddah, where the first oil deal was signed during the era of late King Abdul Aziz, into a national center,” he said. The leadership of this country is responding quickly to restore and preserve historic and cultural sites, he said. – Okaz/SG