Keeping the traditions alive

Traditional food on offer at the “Our Ramadan Was Like That” festival in Al-Balad area in downtown Jeddah.

Jeddawis treasure Ramadan festival in Al-Balad

The historic Al-Balad District in downtown Jeddah is traditionally the place to enjoy during Ramadan evenings. The area upholds the time-honored Hejazi culture and traditions and offers mouth-watering foodstuffs.

This year, the Jeddah Municipality has exerted an even greater effort that made the month-long festival “Our Ramadan Was Like That,” a resounding success.

And, to keep the stream of visitors coming, a follow-up festival called “Our Eid Was Like That” kicked off earlier this week.

Prior to the two festivals, work had been going on for months to clean up the streets and restore the old buildings, and with good results. In June, Al-Balad was finally added to Unesco’s World Heritage List, after a failed attempt in 2012.

The historic town is hardly recognizable following the municipality’s efforts, which are still ongoing. Beggars have been cleared from the streets, cars are banned from the area, shops are being renovated, and several streets have been covered to provide shelter from the midday sun.

Every evening, thousands of Saudi and expatriate families throng the district’s streets and alleys to enjoy the traditions of a long-gone-by Ramadan atmosphere.

Hamed Baeshen, a 58-year-old who grew up in the neighborhood, was pleasantly surprised when he took his family to Al-Balad this month.

“I love the place, because I lived there for around 20 years since the age of 8,” Baeshen said. “The festival is very beautiful. We need it to show our sons and daughters how we lived.”

His children, who had come with him, seemed to enjoy walking around in the area as well. “I enjoy [visiting Al-Balad] very much and hope to come back again,” said his 12-year-old son, sipping lemon juice.

Baeshen said he was looking forward to the Eid festival as well, which will have different activities, including swings for kids and candies, and would certainly come back. “I have come twice this month and haven’t even seen everything yet.”
Fifty-three-year-old Nada Al-Attas was also happy to see the progress made in Al-Balad. “It’s a good start; I like [the festival],” she said. The visit by Crown Prince Salman to the historical area was significant in this regard, she added.
However, Al-Attas hoped the festival would become “bigger and with more activities” in the future.

Passing a bakery that was established over a century ago, Baeshen commented on the reputation the place had when he was a kid, adding it is now the owner’s three daughters who run the business. The bakery with its fragrant breads keeps attracting visitors from all over the city.

On the same street, however, he saw a collapsed historical building, which had looked fine a few months ago. Was it in such bad shape that it collapsed by itself? According to Baeshen, the building had been demolished on purpose. Unfortunately, for many owners building a modern skyscraper from scratch remains more profitable than restoring a historical four-story edifice. As long as the authorities do not provide incentives to people to maintain and restore their heritage, cases like this will continue to happen.


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