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The hamlet of Watan Emsoudah represents the difficulties faced in Saudi Arabia's efforts to preserve cultural heritage. Its low-covered alleyways lie thick with the debris of decades of abandonment, some stone house roofs have caved in and thistles grow high between the hamlet's walls, but near the entrance three men are working to save a house. Watan Emsoudah is one of around 4,000 old villages in the kingdom's southwest province of Asir and the project to restore it is one of eight in the region by a local investor.That high cost – for one tiny village in a country where most old dwellings were deserted for modern concrete houses after last century's oil boom – shows how little of its heritage Saudi Arabia may be able to protect even with new investment.In Najran, a fertile valley running between steep dry hills into the Empty Quarter, clusters of adobe tower houses with distinctive horizontal ribs nestle among the fields.Some owners look after their houses, but most are slowly eroding. It presents some of the same preservation challenges as the villages of Asir, where like in Jeddah, most old houses are privately owned and some are in grave disrepair.
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