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DJEDDAH: For hundreds of years, the houses built on the Farasan Islands have withstood the sands of time while enduring storms, extreme heat and humidity, as they have also withstood battles. The simplistic beauty of the houses is one of the architectural wonders of Saudi Arabia.
Located 45 kilometers off the southern coast of the Red Sea Kingdom coast, the houses were built using nothing more than elements found in nature: the island’s stones, corals and plaster. Their facades were decorated with inscriptions inspired by Indian and Roman civilizations. The locals were known to divers and pearl traders, and if you look deeper there is more than it looks.
Ibrahim Muftah, writer and researcher on the history of Farasan, told Arab News that the combination of nature and land claims it was previously submerged in water.
He said the existence of carnivorous and fossilized creatures on the surface of the island or in its depths proves this claim and confirmed that people have settled on the island since the Stone Age.
Muftah said the rocks, reefs and corals on the island are easy to shape and sculpt, which benefited the early inhabitants to build and fencing their homes.
“It helped some historic states, like the Romans, who controlled this island in the first century,” he said.
“This explains the impact of nature in the way houses are built. The geological nature of the islands is mainly covered with marine limestone rock formations different from the mountains and rocks of the east and west coasts of the Red Sea, where today the mountain range and huge volcanic rocks are found.
The presence of Sabaean and Himyaritic inscriptions dates back more than 2,000 years, Muftah said.
He also said residents crushed and burned plaster and lime found in mines to paint the facades of their homes and walls. This characteristic distinguishes the architectural dye of the inhabitants of Farasan.
“Through the pearl trade, overseas visits by traders influenced foreign architectural styles in homes, some of which are still found today,” Muftah said.
Ibrahim Sayyadi, researcher in the history of the Farasan Islands, told Arab News that Farasan is included in UNESCO’s program on Man and the Biosphere, one of the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 due to its nature and its unique architecture.
“We hope that some of the existing and destroyed buildings will be restored in light of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious vision to preserve his architectural identity,” Sayyadi said.
“Given its beautiful nature, these houses can be transformed into tourist accommodation or private hotels. Especially since the necessary material, such as stones and plaster, is already in abundance on the island.
He added: “I have no doubts that Farasan will be one of the main attractions of the Red Sea. With its immaculate coastline, its beautiful habitat and its restored architectural identity, it is the treasure of my country.
Huthayfa Madkhali, a senior lecturer in tourism management and marketing at Jazan University, told Arab News that Farasan’s architectural heritage could be divided into dwellers’ houses, merchant houses and forts or military fortresses.
“The Saudi Commission on Tourism and National Heritage has restored and protected the village of Al-Qassar, which is a model of Farasan village whose famous guard, Ali Mulaissi, played the role of guard, guide and admirer. of his village, ”he said. told Arab News.
“As soon as you enter the village, he tells you stories and poems about the life of the inhabitants of his village where he also lived. The nature of Al-Qassar’s buildings is distinguished by the local tools made of rocks and used for construction. The houses of the village are close to each other, for interrelationships and social solidarity. The village was home to a large plaza, with a well at the side of each house used for celebrations, circumcision, harvests, return of migrants, and other celebrations.
Madkhali added: “The other part houses merchant houses, especially pearl merchants, which are today represented by the Al-Refai House, a museum open to visitors. Given the nature of the island as a commercial stopover, the architecture was affected in the homes of the wealthy by the areas they visited.
The Al-Refai house was very similar to the castles of India, Persia and the Persian Gulf, with exceptional ornaments different from the nature and heritage of the region.
“This is the result of the influence of other cultures that these merchants learned during their travels,” he said. “The house is made up of two floors and includes balconies. Likewise, much of the materials used in the construction of these houses were imported. In addition, the houses of the rich are isolated from the general population because the Al-Refai house is far from the villages of the island.
Madkhali said the diversity of architectural heritage indicates that the island’s economy is diverse despite limited resources. The ability to import goods and building materials, even for a specific category of people only, was an indicator of the good economic situation of the island.
“There were several forts and military fortresses in Farasan, such as the House of the Germans, a warehouse that the Germans built for coal, in order to provide fuel to ships in the Red Sea,” he said.
“In addition, there was the Ottoman castle. Local materials were used to build these fortresses as the designs were completely new to the island. The diversity of the architectural heritage makes the Farasan Islands a more attractive tourist destination, despite its small size.