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The Living Museum: A conversation with Khaled Azzam

Hello, and welcome to the second episode of the Living Museum with me Arsalan Mohammed, in which we will be taking you into the hearts of AlUla in Saudi Arabia, a historic site in the northwest of the Kingdom, filled with stories of the past. The ancient city of AlUla is home to a unique and dynamic cultural heritage, dating back millennia, stunning natural landscapes, timeless archaeological wonders, and unique desert ecosystem of flora and fauna. All within a living museum of civilizations stretching back millennia, and today, offering us inspiration for our future.

Since the launch of the Royal Commission for AlUla in 2017, the regeneration of the site has encapsulated a fascinating microcosm of history and in this series of podcasts we will be inviting you to join us for intimate and insightful conversations with some of the experts connected with the AlUla project. In this second episode of the Living Museum, we're excited to be talking to Dr Khaled Azzam from the Royal Commission for AlUla’s board of directors. A renowned architect and the director of The Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts in London.

At AlAula, Dr Azzam brings together his extensive architectural experiences, which have over the course of his career, seen him masterminding structures ranging from lavish houses, offices and schools, to mosques and royal residences across the Arab world and beyond. Alongside an illustrious teaching career, dedicated to empowering and inspiring students worldwide, through his teachings of Islamic design, architecture, crafts, and aesthetics. As a member of the AlUla’s board of directors, Dr Azzam has formulated the Royal Commission's charter, which acts as a crucial blueprint of the regeneration of the historical site as a living museum. In the charter, he poses the fundamental question, how do we fulfil our destiny as guardians of this planet? The charter sets out a number of guiding principles and pledges which integrate the site's natural and cultural heritage as one living environment and frames the exciting developments of AlUla as the Kingdom's premier example of a living Arabian wilderness and protected landscape.

In this conversation, recorded whilst in lockdown in London, Dr Azzam and I discussed his approach to creating the charter and the master plan for the region's development. The challenges of making the site accessible for visitors without damaging the unique ecosystem, and how he personally is inspired by the land, the people, the traditions, culture, natural history, and the profound spiritual peace that he finds in AlUla.

Interviewer: Dr Khaled Azzam, thank you very much for joining us today.

Thank you for having me.

Interviewer: You are somebody who is fundamental to the vision and the growth of the AlUla project. Before we really get talking about AlUla, could you tell us a little bit about your own background and how your experiences to date have led to your current role here at the RCU Board of Directors?

I qualified architect I have my own practice. I have been practising architecture for 20-30 years now. But I also have a background in education. I’m currently the Director of The Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts in London, and through the school, we engage with many communities around the world. We work in Saudi Arabia. And I've been working Saudi Arabia for a good 10 -15 years. But the purpose of the school is not just to teach the arts and traditional arts and crafts. It's also to understand the principle behind these arts, we use the language of the arts as just the means. But the real purpose is to inspire young people to understand who they really are, what they really should be doing, how do they relate to something that is more than just a physical piece of work? How does it affect themselves on the inner level? How does it fix themselves in terms of their spirit in terms of the community in terms of culture, but also in terms of building bridges between cultures because we really believe that ultimately, we all come from the same source we are of the same, the same origin. So that is my real interest in this work.

Could you tell us a few examples of how in that role as an educator, you've been facilitating these exchanges of culture through craft design and heritage?

It's very fascinating because we've learned this as we as we went along. I mean, we didn't embark on a major mission, and we've tested them out now in about 20 - 25 countries. We have centres established centres in six countries from China to Karachi to Jeddah to Cairo, to Azerbaijan, and we've worked in Jamaica, we've worked with the First Nations communities in Canada, the one principle we believe in is that we are very different on one level, but whether we are of a certain faith or no faith or whether we are Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Hindu, we all exist within the same order of nature of which we are nature. We are part of this natural system. Whether we believe that this order is of a divine origin, Divine Will has made it happen and controls it or whether we just believe in that there is no Divine Will to It, we don't really care about that we don't focus on that we just say we just observe and learn from this natural order. The one thing we cannot deny, we can't step out of this order of nature, we have no choice. You know, the sunsets and rises, the moon rises and sets, there's phases of the moon or the seasons, there's a process of birth and growth and decay, the source of rejuvenation of life, you know, there are planets that move in a certain way. There are certain plants that grow certain formations, our DNA structure, all that exists and has an order to it and cervical healed order, we have no choice but to learn from it. We find one of the most important languages that we can teach through this is the language of geometry. We believe that geometry is the language of the creation of this order of nature. It is the language in which we understand this creation, whether we're looking at cellular structures, whether we're looking at growth patterns, whether we're looking at proportions. We find all these things within the order of nature. They all emanate from the origin. And all the great civilizations understood this and all the great religions have left their landmarks based on this. When you look at the Gothic cathedrals, we look at the proportions of the Hindu temples, when you look at the great mosques and Islamic geometric patterns, those are in us. Our DNA structure is pentagonal. It's a geometric shape of pentagons and Plato said, you know, geometry is the language of the ever true. So we start wherever we are in the world, we get people to understand their proportions, the proportions around them, the rhythm, how something emerges from an origin and goes back to this origin, and then how it manifests itself on many different levels. So certain flowers grow in an AlUla and they grow nowhere else. We do a lot of analysis with students. So it's not just about form and pattern it is but how the things that we do emanate this order of nature, and how they return to it, and then the students all over the world start sinking in with the same consciousness. And it's very important that this consciousness becomes the driving force. So that actions that our understanding of this world and when we first went to AlUla, my first engagement with AlUla was to give some advice and to look at a few things, I suddenly realised this is a great opportunity here, because AlUla was so pure, so powerful, so beautiful, and the impact it had on myself, on my heart, and my being was so profound. And I said we have to address this in the right way. We have to understand what is the order of nature of AlUla? What is it that we learn from here, and how do everything every action we take in this place has to come from that order of the natural world.

The charter begins with a preamble in which you ask how do we fulfil our destiny as guardians of this planet? So bearing in mind, what you've just been telling me was this idea of the key factor in your developing the vision to restore and present in AlUla

I felt we had to write the charter. Because through my discussions with His Royal Highness, His Highness Minister of Culture and Governor of AlUla, and the senior management, they said, whatever you do in AlUla has to be a statement to the world. AlUla physically belongs to us. But on a higher level is part of the natural environment that sits across borders and across cultures and countries. And therefore, we cannot do something here that does not address the world. And this is an opportunity of showing the world what we can do as Arabs and Muslims and as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and how we address one of the most crucial issues facing the world is what do we do with the natural environment? What is the message here which is good to hear? So to start off, we said, we have to write this charter, we have to write the statement of intent, which in a sense, is a commitment on our behalf to what we're going to do here. But it's also an explanation to the world of how we want to approach this work to bind ourselves to this discipline. You know, we knew that we would face a lot of challenges, we knew that we will face decisions that we might not like. And we had to create a sort of reference, that this is where we come from for this project. And this is what guides us and if we deviate from it, we know why we deviate from it, and we know how to return to it. So it's like a binding spine through all this work that we're doing together.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with the site. Could you expand on this and give us examples of the geological formations, wildlife habitats, the agricultural history and the treaties of the past that we can find on the site.

One of the things that we wanted people to understand about AlUla, which I learned, is the true meaning of landscape. When people talk about the landscape, what do they mean? It's not just a natural scene of a few mountains. The proper definition of landscape is how the natural order and the order of humanity interact together in a place. So we talk about the landscape of Rome, the landscape of Venice, the landscape of, you know, AlUla. This is a particular landscape, we're talking about what defines that landscape is how humanity has interacted with the natural environment. Otherwise, it's just nature. You know, nature exists everywhere, but it becomes a landscape when we as humans interact with it. AlUla was a prime example of that because, over the centuries, we have seen through the archaeology that this has been a landscape that has engaged humanity over many, many centuries. And they have all interacted with it on its own terms, there has been great respect for it. There has been a great deal of beauty and knowledge left behind for us. But what we've understood is that this is landscape in its proper meaning, and how and the interaction between humanity and the natural world AlUla is so, so obvious. And the Messenger of AlUla was really quite beautiful in a way that it was a sign. It was a message that was left for those people who knew they were leaving this world. You know, we find very little in AlUla of how they lived in day to day lives. But we know quite a lot about where they were going into the next world and the messages that we're leaving behind. When you look at Jabal Ikmah, which is the source of beautiful carvings of wisdom. It's a message to the world that people who are carving stone for those who are coming behind them. When you look at the major architectural features where their tombs and the temples it was nothing of swirl at all, it was an eternal message, because nature was eternal. And therefore they had to engage with that natural world, as it is when we started looking at the nature of AlUla as well, or at least what we call the area of the journey through time, which is from the old town of AlUla up to Hegra we found very interesting landscape. We found that within this order, we had five different geological typologies coming into the same area, which is very strange and very unique. I'm not a geologist, I don't know but I've never seen it before. When we started looking at how do we define the architecture, how do we define the form, how do we define the materiality of what we are going to do? We started looking at the geology and we discovered that the colour the geology was different, but it was all amalgamated throughout that nature area.

How is it different?

When you find basalt and you find sandstone you find different types of stone merging together in a very, very interesting manner. It's not even you might travel in the area and you know you're travelling through the area of basalt or granite or sandstone or limestone, but this area of AlUla is quite unique because it has such very special geology, and therefore we have to say, yes, this is something we need to understand. Yeah, this is something we need to understand if we're going to make an impact here. We have to understand the first thing we did to understand that was, I asked my team because the colours of AlUla are so profound, so beautiful, so subtle.

Exactly. Yeah

I asked my team we have to make an analysis of what these colours are. So we spent days walking around picking up rocks and picking up you know, pieces of stone. And went back to our labs and we started grinding them and we made colour, we made pigment. So we said we have to define what is the colour of AlUla. And if anything happens here in the future it has to happen from within this natural palette. We can't impose things and I was started seeing artists coming in and expressing themselves in different colours, whatever saying, why are we not working from within the order of this natural world?? Why don't we work within? What the colour what the geology? What the flowers are, we started analysing the shape of the flowers. We started looking at the sky above us. And seeing that these planets are not moving randomly. They're moving with very precise geometric formation. So we started analysing information. So we created a sort of codebook that says, anybody who wants to work here, it's not just about reading the charter. It's about understanding the order that is here and working from within the order that is here

Could you tell me a little bit more about, for example, the pigments that you discovered for those of us who have yet to see AlUla

It's these beautiful yellows and oranges and reds that come to life when the sun hits them in the afternoon it is it glows with this face beautiful orange Earth colour and gradations like you seen the little spectrums of colour all coming together. And then you see veins of other rocks moving through them with dark greys and so forth. And you also see the green of the palm crows in AlUla has beautiful palm crows. So this visual experience is very, very profound. It's really very beautiful and moves you, you know, it's very much about this red Earth and then when you look at how they built their mud-brick, it is of the same Earth, how they express, you know, when they build them up because from the same earth so you see the architecture as well is of the same Earth, if you see the tombs, these rocky mountains. So, it's purely the shadow that's cut in the stone that creates the architecture. So there's a huge lesson.

Would it be okay if we spoke a little bit about wildlife, and also the tombs and the drawings?

Yes, I'm not an archaeologist, and I don't know much about wildlife, but it was a record. I mean, what we see there are animals that we don't see anymore. You know, we see ostriches, I was amazed to see ostriches, being carved on the rocks, and they really were ostriches in that area. And you see many, many other animals as well.


And it's very beautiful to see these carvings and you see flowers, you see, you know, and they're just depicting the world around them. The way the carvings are in the rock, the way the carvings of Jabal Ikmah with all the transcripts of the languages that people came through. It's very much of this understanding that we work within what we see around us and we integrate with what we see around us. And we portray what we see around us in terms of how we interact with this natural world. And we don't impose anything on it at all, we have to understand that AlUla or the wadi the oasis of AlUla was an agricultural zone. And therefore, if we are going to regenerate AlUla we have to understand that agriculture is a major part of AlUla. But also we have to understand that the environment is changing. And there's a major change in the environment that is happening and the scarcity of water. And we're understanding that the water levels are dropping and have dropped immensely since the old times. It's a changing environment. And we have to understand how do we adapt to this changing environment, the regeneration patterns that we want to achieve, but it's a major challenge at the moment.

This was once a thriving hub of agriculture of people, living communities and so on and then it gradually fell into well just fell by the wayside. Really than not pretty much was happening, is that accurate?

Yes, it is. Because I mean, this is what happened with places like that in olden days when you had certain trade routes. And this was very much part of the incense route. And this was very much part of the route that you know, within the Roman Empire, the incense route in the south and so forth. And then, you know, time moves on and other routes move on and, and, and, and things fade. The fact that it was left untouched for many years is a major discovery today because what the archaeologists are telling us, is they're seeing things over an amazing period of time over many civilizations, and it's becoming one of the most interesting architects' archaeological digs in the world today because of the variety of origins but also the variety of the extent of the time period.

So it really is a very special site for archaeologists to come and investigate, explore and discover things which they might not necessarily find at other sites in the region?

Absolutely. I mean that’s the uniqueness of the variety of ethnicity, the archaeologists are saying this to us and we’re really paying attention to it, but also for the general public because there's, you know, it's interesting that every time you visit AlUla, there's something new happening there’s a new archaeological dig, there's a new experience, this new piece of an exhibition has been put up for something they've just found.

Why now? Why is it so crucial now to restore and present AlUla for the world? And what exactly is the concept of the living museum?

It is relevant now. Because maybe on many levels this, as I said earlier, at the first moment I became involved with this project, I said, this project is more than just what happens in an AlUla. This project addresses a lot of things that humanity and the world today are facing, and we have to face that. And if we look at this concept of a living museum, it's a very interesting concept because the way we portray history, the way we prepare knowledge, the way we show an experience is no longer within these buildings that we used to go and visit anymore. Museums have changed, the whole sort of art and science of museums has changed. There is a profound experience. I mean, museums bring together art and culture and heritage and history. AlUla brings us all together in an open space. And it places it within a landscape, it places within a context, which is very real. And therefore, that essence of working within this natural landscape and understanding the true meaning of what the landscape is, makes it quite unique because of the purity of the natural world. There's very little development that has come in. It's a moment to say, if we're going to do this, right, we better do it in AlUla now. And this is a message for the whole world.

So that's the idea behind the living museum. It's a place where we can show how things are being preserved and presented to the world, but also, it’s evolving, it's taking on a new lease of life.

and it's looking towards the future as well as the past. One of the interventions that we're looking at, for instance, from the old town, is that there are a lot of studies about how the old towns existed, how the summer farms across the roads are part of the living and how the Oasis and the way the old town all related in a way of life. And we're bringing that back again through something called, you know, the life in memory museum, which would be a series of galleries interspersed in the old town and in the summer farms of the Wadi, but at the end of it, there might be other galleries that are looking at contemporary lifestyles, and therefore we're not just looking backwards, we're looking forwards and history is continuous, and we have to make our mark this part of this continuation of history.

Do you see what you're doing here as a template for a new style of engagement with local and wider cultures?

Well, it is a sort of a new way of looking at it because we're saying, come and see these things in their own context. We're saying come and learn from the context come and learn from how the landscape and the people who interacted left these messages and left these artefacts and left these monuments for us, we don't have to transport these things to a museum to a building where you can come and learn,

...we actually create the museum...

...exactly – the museum is here through your movement through your discovery through discovering the different zones. And we call that central part of our master plan that we're developing called the journey through time. And it is when you explore that journey, there is a sequence of time unfolding through these objects through these mountains through these carvings and through these tombs, through the archaeology but also the nature and how they all interact. It really is a journey through time and you learn it through your living experience. It is in the natural world. It doesn't take the experience into an abstract context. It's in its natural context. And that's a great lesson to learn, but also it teaches you something about, it's not just a matter of, you know what these things were of the past, we have to be contemporary we have to be over time. And therefore, we have to learn how do we live in the natural world? What mark do we leave? You know, there have to be new buildings in the sun we're struggling with, what are the new buildings that will go up that will define this era in the history of this area? You know, what are the footprints that we are leaving behind? And people will learn from these things, as well.

You mentioned, just now, the master plan, the charter is your set of ideal set of goals for AlUla. What is the master plan?

We knew that the master plan was coming when we wrote the charter, because we knew that this area had to be developed in some way and there have been attempts there were attempts to do designs of master planning and so forth, and I'm quite sensitive about this word master plan because it sort of alludes to something that was controlled and developed by a few individuals. And I don't believe in that as well, I believe in the process of community to create these ways. But as I say we knew the master plan was coming. And we wrote the charter simply as a guideline. Because from the charter, emerged, a set of 10 guidelines of what we want to do in AlUla. And these guidelines, were the guidelines of our design the guidelines of the master, to do anything you need to have a guideline to do it, what am I doing here? What am I trying to achieve? So it was a step of the charter, then the guidelines and then these guidelines, you know, set the masterplan. The conclusion of this all was that we realised when we studied AlUla that the master plan was there. All we have to do is create a series of experiences that move through this master plan. You know, the old town is there, the Oasis is there, the Wadi is there, the mountains are there. The plains are there, the valleys are there, Hegra is there. And when we look at that sequence of the master plan of the journey through time, we had the building blocks. We want people to move between these mountains. We want people to experience the valley. We look at the Wadi and we said, the Wadi, the valley is the spine that holds this master plan together with these experiences and we call it the Valley of hospitality so Hospitality is the spine that holds it, you will stop here you will see this you will do that. Yes, we might add layers of hotels or food and beverage or, or some entertainment or leisure or museums or galleries. But the basis of the master plan was there and when we went back to the original charter saying we have to understand this order of nature, then when we implemented the master plan, it wasn't about building new roads and new structures and a new thing, we had to understand what is there and build a master plan from what is there? So we had to look at the cultural heritage, we had to look at the geographical heritage, we had to look at the layout of the land, we had to look at what the different experiences are. And one of the lessons was that as we were moving through, we started defining this area in this master plan in different zones. You know, we started understanding that you're leaving if you leave from the old town, which is the busy buzzing hub is a vibrant hub of today's life. As you're moving up the valley, you find these very high mountains are suddenly it’s about the verticality, the aspect of another world moving upwards of this constriction of the valley and the mountains overwhelming you. And then you move through that and suddenly you have this grand openness of the plane of the Wadi opening up and then you have the sight of Hegra which is a silence, a terrible silence. So the master plan was speaking to us. And we had to understand that we have to work and design within that. And the experience was there.

So it was all there, old town, up to the wild openness and via the mountains, and you see this fantastic scope of nature?

Absolutely, and all we had to do is by understanding this charter and writing these guidelines, every designer who works on this works from that understanding. And therefore, we're true to what we said we will we are part of the natural world we are part of nature, and therefore our actions have to stem from this order of the natural world.

How does one plan a dynamic visitor attraction whilst prioritising conservation, preservation and restoration of the historical aspects of AlUla? How will the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set a global precedent for sensitive and sustainable tourism?

When we talked about the master plan, we talked about understanding the nature of it. Mostly, we said, we have to make the process of the experience at the human scale. Within this vast master plan, where do we get on the human scale and at the speed of the human being? So, therefore, it's not about getting on a bus and visiting sites and jumping on and off the sites. We broke the master plan down to five hubs. And within each of these hubs, there is an element of hospitality where you can spend two-three days where you can investigate you can go into the Wadi, you can walk up the cliffs, you can visit history, and then move on to the next hub and the next hub and find this unfolding of the exploration at your own pace is that you leave the modern world behind. We do not rely on the car we do not rely on public transport, we have to preserve the night the purity of the night sky and the experience has to be whole and continuous. This idea of ecotourism has to be integral. And I cannot have this experience and then go back to my hotel and have a different experience. It has to be it has to be continuous.

So it’s a very holistic approach

It is a very holistic approach. It's about you know, when I'm embarking on this journey, when I'm walking in the Wadi, what I see, how things are displayed, how I eat, the pace at which I'm moving, the hotel I'm going back to, the gallery and visit has to be of the same nature. And we believe that is how people would interact with AlUla and we hope that that is what we can try to achieve. One of the things, the messages that came out to me when I was trying to explain this project, you know I said, we go in many places, and we have experiences and we have memories and we say, Oh, I went there and I remember this thing. If I wanted somebody to leave AlUla, and to say, what was it, they said, I found myself there. And it's this profound experience of what our humanity is in the natural world, that becomes the overwhelming experience of the visit to AlUla. We live in a world that is so fragmented. We live in a world of illusions being thrown at us all the time, of the speed of, you know, of multiplicity. And this idea of understanding who you really are being in a context like that for a moment to slow down, to understand the order, to understand the rhythm of this order, and that you're part of the rhythm of this order. And this is what the message our ancestors left for us.

Did you yourself find this when you first went there? Did you leave with this very profound response?

I did, and that's why I wrote the charter. I helped write the charter because I felt that this is a very special place and before we do anything we have to because of that experience I had. I had an experience of AlUla, I had a personal experience with AlUla - six, seven years before this project started. I was asked by somebody a long time ago, to go and look at possible developments in AlUla and look for a master plan for AlUla and what we can do with AlUla, and I spent two days on my own, and none of this was happening at the time, this was a completely different venture. I spent two days of my own totally in all of this place, it was even purer than it is now. It was very, very pure. And I just spent two days walking up and down the valley and discovering it and looking at it, and I felt this overwhelming, or a sense of responsibility. And I was scared. I said, whatever footprint we leave here is going to have to be so special. Am I really up to it? And I left and nothing happened. And in a way, it was a big relief because I said at least I didn't

Thank god I didn’t have to do this.

It was such an experience. I just said Thank God I don't have to do this. I didn't really know what had to be done. Yeah. And then years later on, when I came back that memory was in my mind, and I said, we have to be very careful about what we do here. And that's why, you know, his His Royal Highness was so enthusiastic that we do the right thing. And we agreed that writing this charter writing the guidelines, developing the master plan, dividing this whole experience has to be done in this way and inshallah it will be the right way.

How central is the policy of accommodating existing communities and empowering them?

It's very, very essential. I mean, I've seen in the Arab world because I've been working in the Arab World this process of let's move these people aside and do what we want here. Let's do an expropriation policy. Let's do, you know, restructuring communities. And from day one, we said, this cannot happen. You know, we have if we're going to honour the history of AlUla as the past, we have to honour the history of the people who are there now, because they are part of this continuous history. At the same time, you know, we had to engage them to become the living guardians of this idea. They're the ones who live there, we come and go. They're the ones who own this place, it is theirs. And as soon as we explain the ideas to them, as soon as we got them to engage in these programmes, they became the champions of this idea. You know, they're the ones who believe in it. They're the ones who do it. And the enthusiasm you find from the young people in AlUla who suddenly understand what is happening here, the role that they play in it, is phenomenal. Very early on, we had to make it very clear that we're not designing a resort here. We're working with a living community in a living environment. And then why would you want to go anywhere without meeting the local people and learning from that interaction with local people makes it real. Otherwise, it's a ghost town which is inhabited by tourists and that's exactly not the brief we wanted to achieve at all. So the engagement with the local community is amazing. We have programmes through the Prince’s school that I'm involved in. And I find the young people in AlUla astounding, you know, excited and enthusiastic and intelligent. And they are discovering as much as we're discovering the heritage of their ancestors. And it's very fascinating because sometimes we teach them how to do certain things like weave certain patterns or carves or feathers. And they come back the next day and they say, I showed this to my mother and she said, oh, she used to do this, and she started talking to me about things. And sometimes the parents come to the class as well then. So it's through doing these little exercises that we're letting the young people discover who they are, but letting them engage with the heritage of their parents. So it really is a living thing for them through these small programmes that we managed to do and more will come.

Can you tell me a bit about the people of AlUla, who are they?

They're people who've chosen to live there for a long, long time. They know their heritage. They know their genealogy. They know exactly who they're descended from this idea of who you are, and where you belong in that society is very, very important. And when we started talking, for instance, about the old town, everybody who'd say yes, although the old town is deserted, it's sort of this mud-brick map. Everybody knows where their house is where the ancestors' house is where their grandparents were born, where the grandparents used to farm, you know, so there's a very strong link to the land and to the heritage there. They know exactly who they are. On a personal note, I find them amazing because they have that generosity of spirit of a true human being. They're really opened, a very generous, very friendly, they're extremely intelligent and bright, and they understand they get it instinctively. You know, in the word in Arabic, there's something called the Fetrah, which is the natural, natural way of thinking. They have that Fetrah, which is very, very beautiful. When we show them something, they come to life right away, they understand it. So it's a very beautiful engaging community to be with. His Highness, the governor was very enthusiastic that we engage with a young community of AlUla to do something for them. So these, through these vocational training programmes or the arts and crafts programmes we're doing. The response has been amazing. Within a day, we've got 300 applicants for 25 places. And, you know, and it kept on going and going and going and enthusiasm for people to come and engage with this sort of programme is amazing. And, you know, we are now under the shift to start expanding and to grow it into a bigger audience.

What is the vision for the next five years as AlUla becomes a place of heritage for the world, but also a centre of cultural creation?

From what I see, we are developing the work in AlUla in a series of phases, and every year will be the release of new archaeological sites, new experiences, regeneration of the Wadi to bring it back to what it was, to be the Wadi of hospitality where people can go and engage with it. The Old Town and Jedidah which is this little town next to the old town will become regenerated, rejuvenated, the Hegra would have a new master plan with museums will be assumed museums of hotels and experiences coming up. But it will be hopefully based on this holistic experience that we spoke about. It will be an experience that always engages with you on all these levels, on the social level, on the cultural level, on the spiritual level on the physical level. It’ll be an experience that is always making you think, always making you understand who you really are. And yes, you could be entertained, but you could be entertained and educated and inspired at the same time. And that is the beauty of what AlUla has, that's the potential of AlUla. That's what we saw from day one. And that's what we're trying to build on.

Doctor Khaled Azzam, thank you so much for your time today. It's been an absolute joy to talk to you.

Thank you very much indeed.