UNWTO names Rijal Almaa as one of ‘best tourism villages’ worldwide

December 03, 2021

Saudi Gazette report

MADRID — The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has recognized Rijal Almaa, in Saudi Arabia’s Asir region, as one of the best tourism villages in the world, at a ceremony during the organization's General Assembly in Madrid, Spain.

The UNWTO's Best Villages Program which was announced at the Tourism Recovery Summit, held in Riyadh in May this year, aims to celebrate and recognize outstanding examples of rural tourism that combine cultural and natural assets, preserve and promote community-based values and sustain traditional lifestyles and production techniques.

The Best Villages Program builds on the AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development through tourism which was launched during Saudi Arabia's presidency of the G20, last year. The program celebrates a commitment to sustainability and the use of tourism as a force for positive change within communities.

Rijal Almaa was selected from among 175 nominations from 75 countries.

The village, which is 45 kilometres west of Abha, in the mountainous Asir region is a unique example of Saudi Arabia's diverse heritage and culture. The village consists of 60 multistory palaces built of natural stone clay and wood. The village stands at the heart of ancient trade networks linking Yemen, the Levant, Mecca and Medina.

Princess Haifa Al Saud, Assistant Minister of Tourism, received the award in Madrid on behalf of the chief of the village.

Princess Haifa said that: “The Best Villages Program aims to celebrate and recognize outstanding examples of rural tourism that combine cultural and natural assets. That is exactly what Rijal Almaa represents.”

“The village is unique expression of Saudi culture. Nestled in green mountains of the Asir region, in the south of the Kingdom. At the heart of ancient trade routes connecting the Yemen and the Levant, Mecca and Medina. And with a unique heritage."

“We are proud of the efforts that have been taken to preserve the village and its unique culture and to ensure that these can be shared with the world,” She added.

UNESCO, the UN body which recognizes and protects unique culture and heritage has included the village in its list of tentative World Heritage sites, and has compared it with France’s Mont Saint Michel, as an outstanding example of the preservation of unique architecture and history reflecting the unusual location of the village.

The village museum, nestled inside one of its six-story buildings, hosts a treasure trove of art and history, as well as a repository of photographs, artwork, and archaeological artifacts.

In 2017, all sixteen fortresses of the village were restored.

Men in Rijal Almaa traditionally dress in “futa” attire - a wraparound skirt with vibrant stripes. They are nicknamed ‘Flower Men’ as they adorn themselves with floral wreaths, a distinctive but lesser-known Saudi tradition.

The UN World Tourism Organisation is the multilateral body that oversees and promotes the development of the tourism sector globally.

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