A Saudi aerial photographer’s passion for history has won him global acclaim for images revealing the secrets of AlUla Old Town.
Ali Al-Suhaimi’s eye-in-the-sky portrayal of the famous Islamic city has helped to provide a fresh insight into the past lives of the inhabitants of the now deserted settlement.
AlUla Old Town, located in the north of the Kingdom about 20 km from the archaeological site of Mada’in Salih, is seven centuries old and filled with mosques and markets that reflect its beauty and heritage.
Rich in history, the region was an ancient trade station linking the north and south of the peninsula and one of the main stopping-off points for pilgrims traveling between Syria and Makkah.
Al-Suhaimi told Arab News that his inspiration to photograph the area from the air came from his deep-rooted desire to find out more about the country’s ancient civilizations.
“The idea from the onset revolved around simulating the history of AlUla region, which has become one of the most important heritage attractions on a local and international level.
“The location includes stone landmarks and high mountains which set a breathtaking rocky harmony depicted by the drones of aerial photographers.
“It was the place of people who set the link with us on architectural and human levels.
They built a town which bears witness to the magnificence and cultural depth and momentum of its human legacy,” he said. Studies of AlUla’s castles have proved that the site was once a thriving community, Al-Suhaimi added. “Photographing these places in all their detail only adds to my enthusiasm for transmitting images to a world craving for the secrets of these places of old times to be unveiled.”
The high-flying lensman has snapped all of AlUla Old Town’s castles and villages, as well as the castle of Musa bin Nusayr, and the Aja and Salma mountains which rise to 1,000 meters.
By using drones, Al-Suhaimi has been able to get close-up pictures of the houses and buildings that occupy the site. “There are monolithic houses that reflect the depth of relationships that linked those people who fused with each other as if they were one family.”
He pointed out that although the houses seemed to be randomly clustered together, they were actually “architectural enigmas” which had been cleverly designed to ensure a smooth flow of air in and around them.
Aerial photographs of the town had also raised questions about how its people had been able to move around from building to building in such a close-knit environment.
Al-Suhaimi said he had gained all the necessary licenses to operate drones in the area. “We were keen on taking pictures and transmitting them to the whole world, as internationally it is one of the most outstanding Islamic cities. Its mud houses are living witnesses that resisted time.”
He added that he had been astonished by the positive global feedback from his photographs of the region. One notable feature of AlUla Old Town is the Tantora sundial. The shadow that it cast was used to mark the beginning of the winter planting season.
“They set stones atop one another so that the shadow would be projected on the tip of the stone once per year, which is evidence of the astronomy legacy of the people of the region,” said Al-Suhaimi.