Ancient Arabia's Biggest Literary, Artistic and Cultural Event Reprised at Souk Okaz Festival 2018

The 17-day festival of poetry, song, dance, arts, culture and heritage launches tourism campaign


12th modern edition inaugurated with spectacular ceremony featuring Saudi singers, actors, poets and writers

TAIF, Saudi Arabia– On the 13th night of the month of Shawwal, a bearded bard in flowing robes stood before a rapt crowd of onlookers at the opening ceremony of this year’s Souk Okaz and sang out in Classical Arabic an ode of love that reminded those gathered of the passion for poetry that infused ancient Arabia and still holds a prominent place in the hearts of modern Saudis and Arabs.

“Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved
 Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal.

The traces of her encampment are not wholly obliterated even now
For when the South wind blows the sand over them the North wind sweeps it away.”

Souk Okaz continues to play a unique role in connecting today’s Kingdom with the cultural development that both preceded its existence and has fuelled the contemporary culture that Saudis know today. Over the 17 days of this year’s 12th modern incarnation of the ancient market, Saudi Arabia’s contemporary poets will have the unique and awe-inspiring opportunity to stand at the very same spot where their ancient ancestors once stood to recite their poetry to those who had traveled from around the Peninsula to attend the market. Bringing to the fore this emotional and revelatory blend of the modern and the old, a poet at this year’s opening ceremony on Wednesday evening intoned in Arabic one of the seven Mu’allaqat poems that hung in the Kaaba in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Souk Okaz Festival 2018 was inaugurated near the city of Taif by Makkah Governor Prince Khalid Al Faisal on Wednesday night with a spectacular show that included the participation of Saudi singers, actors, poets and writers. The kick-off took place in the presence of Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), the yearly event’s main organizer. Under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Souk Okaz is expected to draw more than two million tourists this year, up sharply from the 800,000 who attended last year’s much shorter 10-day event.

The gathering also marks the launch of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) strategic campaign to spur growth in the Kingdom’s tourism sector. Promotional events for various destinations are scheduled throughout the event.

"As you know, Souk Okaz was present in the Jahiliyah and in the early days of Islam, and then, it disappeared, but what distinguished Souk Okaz from other markets is its intellectual and literary nature,” Prince Khalid Al Faisal said in a speech.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the festival’s organising committee, is touting this year's edition for the increase in the number and diversity of activities.

"We look at the Souk Okaz area as a very important historical and archaeological site. Discoveries show that the Souk was an economic and cultural nexus even in ancient times,” said Prince Sultan, in an address to visitors.

The souk was once a cultural platform as far back as the Stone Age where sheikhs met their tribes, initiated agreements and exchanged prisoners. It provided opportunities for reconciliation, declaration of alliances and ending hostilities. It was also known for horse racing and fencing and was a commercial market visited by traders from Syria, Persia and Yemen, among other countries, and a forum where titles were given to poets, knights and tribes.

Harking back to its roots as a meeting place for discussion, storytelling and trade, this year’s programme includes presentations of stories from the lives of ancient Arabia’s legendary poets such as Tarafa bin Al-Abd, Amr bin Kalthoum, Al A’sha, Qais bin Sa’eda, and Zuhair bin Abi Salma. It will also host some 15 competitions for poets and writers.

Wednesday’s inauguration included the participation of Saudi actors and singers, including famous Saudi vocalist, Mohammed Abdou. The ceremony was attended by Saudi and Arab officials, poets, writers, artists and academics.

Earlier this year, SCTH announced that the regulations for tourist visas had been completed and submitted to the State for approval. Once approved, the issuance of tourist visas is expected to have a major impact on the travel and tourism industry, which currently employs 900,000 Saudis. The sector has been earmarked by the government as a key driver for growth in the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy.


© Press Release 2018

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