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Eye of Riyadh
Business & Money | Tuesday 28 May, 2024 10:27 am |

World-first earth-built property now open in AlUla, Saudi Arabia

The Dar Tantora The House Hotel, AlUla Old Town, Saudi Arabia is officially open for bookings now. 


Operated by Kerten Hospitality, this unique 30-room boutique eco-community, designed in collaboration with Egyptian Architect Shahira Fahmy sits in the heart of AlUla’s Old Town - a labyrinth of 12th Century mud and stone brick buildings, surrounding a 10th-century castle or fort.


Built with the same materials and architectural techniques as AlUla Old Town’s 900 surviving traditional houses, the property utilises the southern end of the AlUla Old Town heritage site, reimagining some of the surviving homes into luxury multiple-level exquisite accommodations. 


AlUla is a globally significant heritage destination in North West Arabia which has been home to 7,000 years of successive civilisations and was the crossroad of the historic trading route, the Incense Road. AlUla Old Town was built as the new city centre in the Islamic era, sitting opposite a shady and cool oasis of palm trees and surrounded by wells, the town was a welcome respite for pilgrims travelling through AlUla on their way to Mecca.


The design and build of Dar Tantora The House Hotel includes 30 earth-clad dars (rooms) and suites, an infinity pool, gym, yoga and meditation studio, spa and hotel restaurant. A low-impact, sustainability-led property - the only one of its kind in the world - the hotel was built using traditional techniques and materials, is lit by candlelight, and uses expertly restored original irrigation and ventilation systems, all of which minimise energy usage and environmental impact. For this, Shahira Fahmy’s team worked with the founder of EQI (Environmental Quality International) Dr. Mounir Neamatalla.


Architect Shahira Fahmy - a Harvard Fellow hailed by Phaidon as ‘one of the architects building the Arab future’ and recently featured in RIBA’s 100 Women: Architects in Practice - worked closely with specialist restoration teams and traditional local craftsmen to restore the fabric of the 12th Century buildings that make up the hotel property: the original mud brick walls, stonework, windows and historic murals. 


The walls of Dar Tantora The House Hotel - and AlUla Old Town more widely - are adorned with murals that were traditionally painted by the community as a wedding gift for newly-wed couples, to decorate their new home. These celebratory murals tell stories of local flora, fauna, household items, festive customs, calligraphy and abstract symbols, alongside joyful motifs connected to themes of abundance and happiness. Using authentic natural pigments, Fahmy and her team have restored these artistic accounts of a changing culture to great effect.


At JOONTOS, the property’s signature restaurant, the team strives to source local ingredients by building relationships with AlUla’s farmers and suppliers and implementing a zero-waste philosophy in the kitchen. Produce available in the surrounding oasis includes a wide variety of citrus, dates, mangoes, pomegranates and an increasing selection of root vegetables as part of an agricultural training programme facilitating local farmers to be an integral part of the food supply chain as hospitality grows in AlUla.


The name and unique layout of Dar Tantora is taken from the Tantora (traditional sundial) which sits at the entrance to the property and has for centuries served as a timekeeper, setting the pace of daily life and the cultural cadence of AlUla Old Town, based on the agrarian seasons. This notion of light and dark has determined the design of the hotel in line with the changing seasons and the regulation of temperature. 


The duplex bedrooms of Dar Tantora The House Hotel mirror traditional domestic life in AlUla Old Town, with bedrooms upstairs and living/working areas below. Terraces, rooftops and the infinity pool are all designed to optimise views of the oasis and surrounding rocks and stargazing at night. 


The artistic and cultural heritage of AlUla is built into the very fabric of the property. The students of AlUla’s nearby Madrasat Addeera - a school that champions the tools and techniques needed to transfer AlUla’s traditional arts into a contemporary context - exhibit their works at Dar Tantora The House Hotel. Currently displays three artworks that have been curated by Creative Dialogue and the artworks of Gregory Chatonsky that incorporate Sadu, the traditional Bedouin embroidery technique using hand-woven dyed camel hair formed into geometrical shapes for a variety of textiles.


Residents inhabited AlUla Old Town as recently as the 1980s when they left in favour of more modern conveniences and electricity. Some members of staff at Dar Tantora The House Hotel lived there and have intergenerational family connections that date back several centuries. The hotel’s bread maker is a native of AlUla who grew up in one of the mud and stone houses in Old Town where she would make bread for her family. She tells of how the community lived back then and how the families lived on the first floor while the ground floor was for the goats and chickens. 


The hotel proudly celebrates the traditions and customs of AlUla Old Town. Such as the generations-old annual cultural celebration, Tantora Celebration, which occurs every year on the 21st of December and marks the start of Winter at Tantora Festival. This community celebration including feasting, traditional music and dance as the season officially crosses over into winter and the cool weather settles in. 


Located right in the heart of AlUla within walking distance of the Incense Road Market, AlJadidah Arts District and the Oasis, Dar Tantora The House Hotel is perfectly located for those who like to explore on foot.  Boutique shops across AlUla Old Town sell locally-made souvenirs, arts, ceramics and fashion, while restaurants such as Tawlat Fayza, Somewhere, Suhail, and Heart of the Oasis offer a mix of local cuisine and international dining in a truly unique setting. 


For those who want a deep dive into the unique history and heritage of AlUla, a range of tours can be booked with AlUla’s ‘Rawis’ (local guides) 


including nearby cultural heritage sites such as 


Hegra Dadan and Jabal Ikmah. There is a packed calendar of events


 across wider AlUla that spans throughout the year including 


the Winter at Tantora Festival, AlUla Arts Festival, Azimuth music event, AlUla Skies Festival, AlUla Wellness Festival and Ancient Kingdoms Festival.


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