The vast Red Sea project encompasses urban development, mass tourism and the âgreeningâ of an entire region – in addition to the cultural dimension: a major potential for around 7 million diving tourists to Saudi Arabia.
No less than 1,600 archaeological sites have been identified in the region, 20 of which have been identified as potential tourist attractions. These include Nabataean and pre-Islamic remains as well as ports and castles from the Islamic era.
Perhaps the most important of these is an early 18th century wreck, discovered in 2016 and most likely of Egyptian origin. The ship’s construction apparently has no parallel or continuity with current traditional Arab boats, judging by the massive dimension of its frames and the presence of unusual architectural elements.
âWe don’t know much about this period of Saudi history,â Michael Slage of the Red Sea Development Company told Arab News, âor what the life of sailors was like crossing the Red Sea region at the ‘era, which is why this wreck is extremely important to dig, as this will give us a better picture.
The relatively large size of the ship indicates that it was able to travel to China and India to bring back goods ultimately destined for the Ottoman Empire and Europe.
The TRSDC works in partnership with the Heritage Commission of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and a team of archaeologists from the University of Naples âL’Orientaleâ, the oldest school of sinology and oriental studies in Europe. The UN team has investigated the wreckage and will undertake the laborious and delicate work of salvaging the wreckage and ultimately displaying its fascinating contents in a purpose-built museum.
âOur plans are to create a unique destination unlike any other in the world,â said the Senior Director, Business Development and Innovation at TRSDC. âAccess to the wreck treasures will be either by diving in the site or viewing them in the museum, and our goal is to put them in place when the rest of our development is ready to welcome large-scale visitors. “
Of particular interest is a horde of more than 2,000 Chinese porcelain cups and pots, possibly for sale to pilgrims in Mecca for the purpose of collecting sacred “ZamZam” water. Many are still in excellent condition, even after hundreds of years at the bottom of the sea. These objects represent, for example, a junk on a river, a multi-story pagoda and human figures.
Other artifacts include items reflecting the daily lives of the crew, including their Ottoman pipes, leftover meals and the plates they ate from, and even a perfectly preserved coconut.
âWe believe this will be a unique dive site,â Slage said, âattracting many of the 7 million dive tourists around the world. For non-divers, we are looking for other ways to access the site. through submarines and glass bottom boats, as well as visiting the museum to see the artifacts kept and on display.
The wreck and its associated museum will contribute to Saudi Arabia‘s position as an important cultural hub.
âAccording to UNESCO, 60% of visitors’ choice of destination is influenced by the placement of heritage assets,â Slage said. âAnd 40 percent will stay longer than in places without heritage assets. We therefore believe that by developing the accessibility of our heritage sites, of which the shipwreck is only the first of many, we will be able to attract a significantly higher number of visitors.