AL-AHSA — Al-Ahsa is making the finishing touches to its elaborate preparations and vast arrangements to receive tourists and visitors on the eve of the Qatar World Cup 2022. Al Ahsa, the largest governorate in the Eastern Province, is located in a prime geographical destination overlooking the three Gulf states of UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain.

Among the Saudi cities, Al-Ahsa is much closer to the venue of the World Cup. It is one of the most ideal and attractive tourist destinations that World Cup fans and visitors from within the Kingdom and outside can visit during their trip to Qatar or their stay in the region during the tournament season.

Visa without any fee

The Saudi authorities have already announced visa rules to attract World Cup fans and foreign tourists to the Kingdom during the World Cup tournament season. Holders of Hayya card fan tickets of the World Cup are granted multiple visas free of charge. The Council of Ministers approved that the state would bear the costs of e-services — related to the e-visas service platform at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — for issuing an entry visa to Saudi Arabia for holders of Hayya cards.

The Muslim fans will also be allowed to perform Umrah and visit Madinah. The visa will be valid to enter Saudi Arabia 10 days before the start of the World Cup, which starts from Nov. 11, until the final day on Dec. 18, 2022. The residence period for the visa holders would last for two months. The visa will be for several trips, and its holder can enter and exit Saudi Arabia at any time during its validity period, and it is not required that the visa holder has entered from Qatar.

Full-year preparations

On Nov. 9, Governor of Al-Ahsa Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr, revealed the readiness of the governorate to receive visitors and fans of the World Cup, which kicks off on Nov. 20. He said that preparations began in the governorate a full year ago, with the inauguration of a central government committee to provide a wide variety of services for visitors to Al-Ahsa.

Prince Saud said the experience of the governorate during the last year was a big boost for making the preparations as the region received more than 800,000 visitors in 2021. A large number of hotels and rural rest houses have been renovated and furnished so as to accommodate a maximum number of tourists and visitors. The number of rural homes and rest houses in Al-Ahsa exceeded 5,000, in addition to developing a number of tourist sites, totaling 65 heritage sites registered in the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO, he added.

The local authorities are expecting a massive inflow of foreign and domestic tourists and World Cup fans to Al-Ahsa thanks to its proximity to the World Cup venue as well as its breathtaking landscape, which acts as a key propeller for Al-Ahsa tourism. There are also several major tourist attractions in the governorate and these include the following.

Al-Ahsa Oasis

Al-Ahsa Oasis is the largest oasis in the world, and it is well known for its date palms. It includes a number of historical sites, freshwater springs, and archaeological sites, registered in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The sand around the area protects the water from evaporation, creating a sweet cold spring that attracts tourists from around the globe. Due to the abundance of water, the habitation in Al- Ahsa dates back to prehistoric times.

The oasis is not limited to historical sites, as palm trees are estimated at 3 million, and this is what qualified it to enter the Guinness World Records 2020. The landscape evolved over centuries and showcases a way of living in the Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula. It comprises canals, wells, gardens, springs, historical buildings, and an agricultural lake. It is the major source of agricultural crops, especially palm dates.

Yellow Lake

Al-Asfar Lake is famously known as Yellow Lake. Spanning over 12 km, the lake is a gorgeous natural water body that lies on the outskirts of Al-Ahsa city. The lake is known for its beautiful sunrise and sunset scenes. The lake is one of the most distinctive places in Al-Ahsa, which is surrounded by dunes, sand hills, grasses and shrubs, and is also the focus of migratory birds, sea turtles, amphibians, herbs, and algae.

Jabal Al-Qarah

Jabal Al-Qarah is the most suitable place for climbers and adventure lovers, as it overlooks the Al-Ahsa Oasis. Visitors and tourists can enjoy visiting its deep caves, and Al-Qarah is the most visited tourist destination throughout the year, in addition to being an ideal place for bird watching during the migration season.

This mountain counts as one of the most important natural sights in Al-Ahsa and is registered in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2018, after the inclusion of the Al-Ahsa oasis. Al-Qarah Mountain is known for its fascinating and unique caves that were formed due to the dissolving process of water-soluble rocks, the collapse of the upper rock layers as a result of abrasion, and earthquake fissures.

Some of the caves in Al Qarah Mountain are particularly famous, like the Al-Nashab cave, which has moderately steady temperatures throughout the year. Some caves are also used to hold workshops for local traditional potters. The caves have 28 tall linear passageways, which are a total of 1.5 kilometers in length. Some of the most famous caves in the mountain include Bu Saleh, Al Eid, An Naqa, Al Muaadhamah, and Al Maheub.

Located in Jabal Qarah, Judas Cave is one of the famous attractions of Al-Ahsa tourism. What was originally an island now stands as a beautiful landscape.

Water springs

Al-Ahsa has more than 150 hot and cold springs that offer mesmerizing views. Because of the abundance of water in the region, the springs have lush greenery all around. Many springs are even famous for their ‘healing properties’ because of the concentrated minerals dissolved in the water. Some of the popular springs are Um Sab’aa, Al-Harah, Al-Jawhariah, and Al-Khodoud.

Ain Al-Hara is a distinguished treatment site for patients with joint pain and rheumatism. As for Ain Um Saba’a, it is a distinguished place for recreational and medical tourism, as it is one of the sulfur springs

Al-Shu’ba Mountain

One of the distinguished places in the governorate is Al-Shu’ba Mountain, which one can walk around and enjoy eating and drinking at its peak, and reach it by cable car.

It extends from north to south with a length of 20 km on the eastern edge of the northern oasis and its width is 4 km. The height of Al-Shu’ba Mountain is about 246 above sea level.

The two parts of the mountain are separated by a 600-meter-wide aperture, in addition, the mountain overlooks the oasis from the western side, and from the eastern side, it overlooks the desert and the site of Jawatha Mosque. It is noticeable that in the summer, families spend time there to enjoy the sunset views. Due to the ease of its slope, cars can go up to high levels with the possibility of camping.

Al-Amiriya School

Al-Amiriya School is known as the first school in Hofuf. Established in Al Ahsa in 1940, it was initially a primary school for boys, and then it was changed for teaching intermediate and secondary education. Its area reached about 1.200 sqm.

It is one of the oldest Al-Ahsa tourist attractions, dating back to the 1460s, with its two-story gate and architecturally designed balconies. It was initially a primary school for boys and then it was changed to teaching intermediate and secondary education. It was the first government school building in Al-Ahsa during the Saudi era.

Ibrahim Palace

The historic Ibrahim Palace in Al-Ahsa is one of the most famous historical palaces in Saudi Arabia and the region. The palace consists of two architectural styles: the religious style through the semi-circular arches and the prominent Islamic domes in the palace and the mihrab of the mosque, and the military style, which is represented in the huge towers that surround the palace in addition to the residential soldiers’ barracks that represents the east of the palace and the horse stables.

The palace was built in 1555 that was later enlarged into a castle. In the center of the palace lies Qubba Mosque. In 2018, the palace was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2019, all restoration work came to an end. It spans over 16,500 sq. m and has an Islamic architecture with a blend of military style. The Islamic domes, semicircular arches, and mihrab of the mosque display construction in the Islamic style. The residential soldier barracks and huge towers surrounding the area represent the military style of architecture.

The governorate also includes Al-Majsa Palace, whose name is associated with modern Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdul Aziz, and its distinctive architectural heritage, which is evident in its remains that exist up to this day.

Jawatha Mosque

The historic Jawatha Mosque located in Hofuf enjoys a great status among Muslims in general, and the people of Al-Ahsa in particular, because it is the second mosque in Islam in which Friday prayers were performed after the Masjid Jumah in Madinah.

Believed to be the first mosque in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, it was built by the Bani Abd Al-Qays tribe in the year 7 AH. According to legends, there was a time when the Black Stone (Hajr Al-Aswad) was stolen from Makkah, and it is believed that the stone was kept here for about 22 years.

It remains in danger of collapsing, however, there are five mud-brick arches that remain standing. Its construction appears similar to the architecture of Masmak Fort in Riyadh.

Uqair Fort

It is a 300-year-old structure facing the beautiful Uqair Beach. The fort and the beach together offer captivating views. From the fort, tourists can also walk to the serene and clean beach and enjoy themselves with family, kids, and friends. Families also take a tour of the fort and get a glimpse of the glorious history of the Ottoman Empire.

Antique markets

The governorate is characterized by several popular and historical antique markets such as the Qaisariya market in the Al-Rafa neighborhood in Hofuf. It is the most bustling market in Al-Ahsa. The open-air market is believed to have existed since 1822.

Qaisariya is one of the oldest markets in Saudi Arabia and spans over 7,000 sq. feet. With buildings made of bricks, the shopping places house around 420 shops selling vintage pottery, perfumes, carpets, leather, spices, jewelry, oils, clothes, etc. Tourists often come here to get acquainted with the culture and shop for some popular items.

Suwaiq is another famous historical market.

The Amara Al-Subaie market is the historical market known for its handicrafts in addition to the women’s market Al-Sha’abi, which is distinguished by the fact that its vendors are women, whose architectural style imitates the heritage of the city, and is characterized by local products, women’s accessories, ornaments and jewelry.

Al-Ahsa also has malls where travelers visit to shop for clothes and other necessary items.

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