Before October 2020, when the Royal Commission for AlUla formally opened Hegra for tourism, people could visit the ancient site but may not have had quite the same experience you can today. Part of the famed Vision 2030 initiative, the “opening” of Hegra has turned the ancient site into a living museum replete with passionate tour guides steeped in local knowledge, a brand-new rock art trail with hundreds of petroglyphs, a cycling trail and even the opportunity to sightsee via vintage car. The new access to the architectural marvel is already opening people’s eyes to the deep historical roots of Arabia.
“When I guide tourists [who, because of COVID-19 restrictions, are presently mostly from within Saudi, but also include expatriates from all over], they get so excited. Many of them have lived here all their lives and never really seen the site,” says Mashail Makki, the first female “Rawiya” (which means storyteller in Arabic) in Hegra. “Hegra is very special because it was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi, and it dates back 2,000 years. It belonged to many civilizations, and it tells the story of what they left to us.” Civilizations including the Nabataeans thrived in the location but didn’t leave behind many books or documents, “so we learn from the inscriptions and facades” on the rocks and tombs, Makki says.