Al-Hasa Oasis, SAUDI ARABIA
- Keywords: Saudi Arabia, Cultural Landscape, Oasis, palm groves, Al-Hasa, Al-Ahsa'a, Jebel Al-Qarra, Judas cave, Ghar Al-hashab, important bird area,
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Al-Hasa Lagoons is recorded in the “Directory of Wetlands in the Middle East” (IUCN, WWF, IWRB, BirdLife International and RAMSAR, 1994) Country: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia The lagoons have been identified as an “Important Bird Area” by BirdLife International.
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Al-Hasa is a traditional oasis region in eastern Saudi Arabia whose name is used by the Al-Ahsa Governorate, which makes up much of that country’s Eastern Province. The oasis is located about 60 km inland from the Persian Gulf. In general, oases are considered by UNESCO and Med-O-Med as sample of the human genius in action. Skills, and particularly traditional know-how in coping with a hostile environment that is scarce in resources, appeared in the development of techniques enabling water (and land) to be used more judiciously, whether available permanently or cyclically. Basis on the UNESCO definition of Cultural Landscape (UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Article 1, 1972, Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, 2008), considering this region as a result of “the combined works of nature and of man”, Med-O-Med resolve to value this site as a Cultural Landscape because of: -Its Natural Heritage Components: The area is classified as a RAMSAR site (Al-Hasa Lagoons) because of its ecological values. This, the only large freshwater system in the Eastern Province, is formed primarily from run-off from al-Hasa oasis, but is lightly enriched by sewage water from Hofuf, Abgaiq and a plethora of small towns. Judas Cave, also called Jebel Al-Qarra, is located at Hofuf. This is a beatiful mountain rock formation where there is a limestone cave, called Ghar Al-hashab. The rock formation outside the cave is so stunningly beautiful, and it was formed millions of years ago. -Its Cultural Heritage Components: Al-Hasa runs back deep in the history. It witnessed civilizations existed four thousand BC. Many nations and ethnicities lived in it. The economic history of Al-Ahsa’a is associated with agriculture. Al Hasa is the biggest dates palm plantation in the kingdom. Practicing a broad agricultural activities included growing of different crops such as rice, corn, vegetables and some fruit. Because of the existence of such agricultural wealth and its proximity to luxury pearl diving places and its location in the middle of a group o ancient civilization centers, it had a tangible role in strengthening the commercial and cultural relations among the residents of the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, India and Asia. Al-Ahsa’a has a prominent role in propagation of cultural and literary movement in the Arabia Peninsula and the neighboring regions because of the presence of a number of poets.
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination Al-Hasa, Al-Ahsa, Hadjar (Arabic: الأحساء al-Aḥsāʾ).
- Current denomination Al-Hasa, Al-Ahsa, Hadjar (Arabic: الأحساء al-Aḥsāʾ).
- Original denomination Al-Hasa, Al-Ahsa, Hadjar (Arabic: الأحساء al-Aḥsāʾ).
- Popular denomination Al-Hasa, Al-Ahsa, Hadjar (Arabic: الأحساء al-Aḥsāʾ).
- Address: Al-Hasa is a traditional oasis region in eastern Saudi Arabia whose name is used by the Al-Ahsa Governorate, which makes up much of that country's Eastern Province. The oasis is located about 60 km inland from the Persian Gulf.
- Geographical coordinates: Al-Hasa oasis: 25°25′46″N, 49°37′19″E Al-Hasa lagoons: 25°30'N, 50°00'E, altitude: 100-150 m.
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: Al-Hasa region derives its name from the oasis at its centre. The region is bounded on the north by Kuwait, on the east by the Persian Gulf, on the south by the desert Rubʿ al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, and on the west by the Dahnā sand belt. The region’s low coastal strip is separated by a thick belt of large sand dunes from the steppe-desert of the interior. Al-Hasa lagoons are located near the towns of Hofuf and Abqaiq in Eastern Province covering an area of approximately 7,500 ha.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: Saudi Arabian Government.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: Management authority and jurisdiction: Al-Hasa Irrigation and Drainage Authority.
- Legal protection: No conservation measures have been taken to date. Some pools are protected naturally by virtue of their inaccessibility, as they lie amidst sabkha and sand dunes. The lagoons have been identified as an "Important Bird Area" by BirdLife International. Conservation measures proposed: The site is proposed as a Special Nature Reserve, Biological Reserve and Resource Use Reserve in the NCWCD System Plan for Protected Areas.
Al-Hasa has been inhabited since prehistoric times, due to its abundance of water in an otherwise arid region. Natural fresh-water springs have surfaced at oases in the region for millennia, encouraging human habitation and agricultural efforts (date palm cultivation especially) since prehistoric times. Its early history is similar to that of the eastern Arabian historical region of Bahrain. In 899 A.D., the region came under the control of the Qarmatian leader, Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi, and was declared independent from the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad. Its capital was at al-Mu’miniya near modern Hofuf. In 1077, the Qarmatian state of Al-Ahsa was overthrown by the Uyunids. Al Ahsa subsequently fell under the rule of the Bahrani dynasty of the Usfurids, followed by their relatives, the Jabrids, who became one of the most formidable powers in the region, retaking the islands of Bahrain from the princes of Hormuz. The last Jabrid ruler of Bahrain was Muqrin ibn Zamil. In 1521, the Portuguese Empire conquered the Awal Islands (the islands that comprise present day Bahrain) from the Jabrid ruler Migrin ibn Zamil, who fell strongly in battle. The Jabrids struggled to maintain their position on the mainland in the face of the Ottomans and their tribal allies, the Muntafiq. In 1550, Al-Ahsa and nearby Qatif came under suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman I. Al-Ahsa was nominally the Eyalet of Lahsa in the Ottoman administrative system, but in reality was usually only a vassal of the Porte. Qatif was later lost to the Portuguese. The Ottomans were expelled from Al-Ahsa in 1670, and the region came under the rule of the chiefs of Banu Khalid tribe. Al-Ahsa, along with Qatif, was incorporated into the Wahhabist First Saudi State in 1795, but returned to nominal Ottoman control in 1818 with an invasion ordered by Muhammad Ali of Egypt. The Banu Khalid were again installed as rulers of the region but, in 1830, the Second Saudi State re-took the region. Direct Ottoman rule was restored in 1871, and Al-Ahsa was placed first under Baghdad Vilayet and with Baghdad’s subdivision Basra Vilayet in 1875. In 1913, Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, annexed Al-Ahsa and Qatif into his domain of Najd. On December 2, 1922, Percy Zachariah Cox officially notified Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Ahmad Al Sabah that Kuwait’s borders had been modified. Earlier that year, Major John More, the British representative in Kuwait, had met with Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia to settle the border issue between Kuwait and Najd. The result of the meeting was the Uqair Protocol of 1922, in which Britain recognized Ibn Saud’s sovereignty over territories claimed by the emir of Kuwait. In 1938, petroleum deposits were discovered near Dammam, resulting in the rapid modernization of the region. By the early 1960s, production levels reached 1 million barrels (160,000 m3) per day.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Wetland
- Site topography: Natural
- Geological and Geographical characteristics: The wetland comprises a long, narrow river, flowing in an east-southeast direction from Hofuf and Abqaiq towards al-'Uqair. Adjacent areas are composed of sand dunes in places and sabkhas and aeolian sand fields elsewhere.
The area probably supports a fair diversity of oasis fishes, including Aphanius dispar, and an important population of the frog Rana ridibunda and the pond turtle Mauremys caspica. Asiatic Jackals Canis aureus also occur. Houbara Bustards Chlamydotis undulata are reputed by local people to pass through the area regularly on migration and in winter. Significant numbers of Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus breed in the area, and about 200 are known to over-winter. The Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris occurs both as a winter visitor and passage migrant, while the Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca breeds in unknown, but possibly important, numbers. It is not known whether Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus breeds here, if not, this species is likely to be extinct in the Kingdom. Other breeding species include Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor, Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon (the only known breeding site in Saudi Arabia) and, probably, Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinioides. During a number of aerial surveys of the area, large concentrations of wintering and migrating waterbirds have been recorded, notably 50-60 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, up to 100 Little Egret Egretta garzetta, 10,000-15,000 ducks including 50 Ruddy Shelduck, 22 Common Crane Grus grus and small flocks of Ruff Philomachus pugnax and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa.
Land uses and economical activities:Intensification of cultivation is likely to occur.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:The economic history of Al-Ahsa'a is associated with agriculture as in many areas that are rich in water (underground and springs) and the fertility of the soil. Practicing a broad agricultural activities included growing of different crops such as rice, corn, vegetables and some fruit. In addition to high famous high quality dates such as: Al-Khulass, Al-Shishi, Al-Hilali, Al-Shahl and others.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
This, the only large freshwater system in the Eastern Province, is formed primarily from run-off from al-Hasa oasis, but is lightly enriched by sewage water from Hofuf, Abgaiq and a plethora of small towns. Judas Cave, also called Jebel Al-Qarra, is located at Hofuf. This is a beatiful mountain rock formation where there is a limestone cave, called Ghar Al-hashab. Also, Al Hasa is the biggest dates palm plantation in the kingdom. Practicing a broad agricultural activities included growing of different crops such as rice, corn, vegetables and some fruits.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
Traditional architecture using soil, palm trunks and leaf-heads.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
B) Related to ancient remains
- Historical routes:
Because of the existence of its agricultural wealth and its proximity to luxury pearl diving places and its location in the middle of a group o ancient civilization centers, it had a tangible role in strengthening the commercial and cultural relations among the residents of the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, India and Asia. It was a link in the exchange of goods and experiences among these regions.
- Traces in the environment of human activity: The agriculture system of the oases modify the environment of the arid territories.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Languages and dialects: Arabic
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: Traditional lifestyle.
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:Shooting and hunting disturb the RAMSAR site regularly, and at weekends the area is used heavily for recreational purposes by town dwellers for the al-Hasa region. A major threat may lie in the increased demand for sewage waste water for agricultural and other development uses, which will reduce greatly the amount of water flowing in the river.
Quality of the night sky, light pollution and possibility to observe the stars:Oases are privileged sites to breath in silence, to find ourselves and to observe the pure beauty of nature, including the stars that are brighting in the night sky, free of light pollution.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:
-The Al-Hasa oasis and all its villages. -The palm groves. -Judas cave and its surroundigs.
Authenticity:There are evidences of ancient civilizations that existed in the area four thousand BC.
Universality:-Med-O-Med describes the universality of the site according to the UNESCO criteria defined for Cultural Landscapes: iii) Al-Hasa bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition linked to the area. v) Al-Hasa oasis is a sample of a traditional human settlement and land-use, which is representative of its culture, and the human interaction with the environment. It is represented in the way of farming and the irrigation system. vi) The territory is strongly associated with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance (poetry). vii) The natural area contained in this Cultural Landscape, including the Al-Hasa lagoons, the Jebel Al-Qarra, and the Judas cave are of natural beauty and aesthetic importance. x) Those sites contain important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. The area is classified as a RAMSAR site (Al-Hasa Lagoons) an also as an "Important Bird Area" by BirdLife International. -According to RAMSAR criteria: Reasons for inclusion: ld, 2b & 3b. Even though poorly understood, this waterway covers a large area and, from the information available, must hold large number of waterbirds.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:-The agricultural style of the palm groves and other crops of the oases. -The irrigation system. -The artistic and literary works, the poets.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Al-Hasa Oasis Cultural Landscape is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Morocco which is included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
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Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.