The Importance of Cultural Heritage in the RSGA Region

Sites Under Development Pressure:





The Old Town of Suakin, Port Sudan

The important cultural heritage of the Region, concentrated in the narrow coastal zone, includes many archaeological, historical and sacred sites which are increasingly at risk from development pressure through both direct destruction and disturbance. The Red Sea has served as a major route for communication and trade between Asia, Africa and Europe, as the result of which it has a large number of cultural heritage sites from a diversity of periods and cultures. The Region has long been the focus of international religious pilgrimage, especially to the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which are traditionally reached through the ports of Jeddah and Yanbu. This long tradition of pilgrimage and trade has diversified the kinds of sites and artifacts. A little examined aspect of the Region is the high potential for underwater sites of archaeological significance, such as prehistoric and early historic sites which were covered as the result of land movement or sea level rise, or stemmed from ancient as well as modern shipwrecks.

Conservation of Cultural Heritage:

Conservation of this resource requires recognition of its value in the planning and development process. In many nations of the Region, archaeological and historical site surveys are often conducted as part of the environmental assessment process for a proposed project and are especially important given the limited surveys and excavations in the Region. In other cases cultural heritage values are integrated into the development process, such as the measures adopted for the conservation of the Islamic city of Aqaba, historic buildings of “Old Jeddah” and the programme supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the restoration of the important historic trading center of Suakin on the southern coast of Sudan. Given the significant risk in most coastal areas within the Region that buried cultural heritage sites might remain unknown, the use of “archaeological chance find procedures” in projects provides clear guidance if cultural materials are encountered during excavation and construction activities. The economic importance of cultural heritage sites is expected to grow given the need to diversify activities for tourists in order to increase their length of stay in the Region.







        Mosque in Jeddah Old Town 

Traditional Maritme Culture:

The inhabitants of the coastal areas of the Region have a rich history of association with the sea, and are an integral part of the diverse cultural heritage of each country. Artisanal fishermen have fished the Region’s waters for thousands of years in a sustainable manner and in many places continue to do so with little advancement in technology. These artisanal fishermen have established forms of traditional management of their resources, including the rotation of fishing activities among reefs to prevent over–fishing and decline of stocks. An extensive knowledge of the sea, fishing techniques, and habits of species caught by fishermen are retained by a few individuals who serve as leaders in each fishing community. In a few places the tradition of pearl diving continues, although the number of divers is dwindling. This part of the Region’s cultural heritage is at risk of disappearing in some localities as local fishermen are replaced by foreign workers, prices for fish fall, and competition with industrial fisheries grows.