The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has entered the metaverse for the very first time with a to-scale and completely immersive 3D model of Hegra’s Tomb of Lihyan, Son of Kuza, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Created in the digital landscape, Decentraland, the AlUla monument will be accessible to virtual tourists who will be able to explore it from anywhere in the world. It has become the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the metaverse.

Metaverse users will be able to access parts of the site that are not accessible to real world visitors.

Virtual visitors can step through the tomb’s doorway, presented in realistic dimensions. A focal point for the online exploration of AlUla, Decentraland ‘tourists’ will be able to immerse themselves in Hegra’s history by entering the tomb and activating information points to reveal its story.

They can undertake a 360-degree tour of one of Hegra’s most famous tombs, set within a realistic rendering of AlUla’s desert landscape.

The digital avatar of Hegra will also host a calendar of virtual events to engage its metaverse visitors.

UNESCO designated Hegra as the Saudi’s first World Heritage Site in 2008. Located 20km north of AlUla town, it covers a total of 52 hectares and features 110 tombs amid several rock formations, with the Tomb of Lihyan, Son of Kuza being the the largest at 22 metres tall.

Referred to as the ‘lonely castle’ in English because of its distance from other monuments, it is the largest preserved site of the ancient Nabataean civilisation south of Petra in Jordan. Global creative consultancy frog, part of Capgemini Group, was appointed to facilitate Hegra’s metaverse debut.

“RCU’s entry into the metaverse is a groundbreaking development in innovation and virtual reality tourism that connects the whole world with the wonders of AlUla. A new frontier for innovation and collaboration, our debut, which also sees the first UNESCO World Heritage site enter the Metaverse, represents an exciting evolution of AlUla’s unique heritage, acting as an open invitation to travellers, academics, and digital explorers to log in and witness AlUla like never before,” said Amr AlMadani chief executive officer of the RCU.

In November last year, the RCU signed two strategic partnerships to accelerate the regeneration of the region.  The agreements with AECOM and an international French consortium comprising Egis, Assystem and Setec set out a comprehensive development timeline based around three phases that lead up to 2035. The Phase 1 development amounts to more than US$15 billion invested in AlUla’s core 20km historical area. This incorporates social, economic and sustainability projects in five unique hubs with a focus on infrastructure, hospitality, arts and culture, and community development.

By 2035, RCU forecasts that AlUla’s population will more than triple to 130,000 with 38,000 new jobs created and AlUla contributing $32 billion to Saudi Arabia’s GDP.