Hidden amidst the vast desert lies a remarkable and lesser-known architectural wonder known as Maraya. Maraya, in reality, stands as the world’s largest mirrored building.
This colossal structure boasts a mirrored façade that, at specific times of the day, creates a mesmerizing illusion of vanishing into the desert landscape.
Etymologically rooted in Arabic, the name “Maraya” translates to ‘mirror’ or ‘reflection.’ Beyond its monumental presence, Maraya serves a multifaceted purpose. It functions as a 500-seat concert hall, a community center, and a prestigious event venue, having hosted performances by renowned artists like Alicia Keys, Andrea Bocelli, Enrique Iglesias, and John Legend.
Maraya transcends mere functionality; it is a masterpiece in itself
Nestled amidst the Al-Ula desert, approximately 22.5 kilometers away from the monumental Hegra architectural site, Maraya’s creation stems from a collaborative effort between the Italian design firm Giò Forma Studio and Black Engineering.
Architect Florian Boje, the visionary behind Maraya, expresses, “We genuinely believe that if a building cannot compete with the landscape it sits in, it should enrich that landscape.” Inspired by the awe-inspiring natural landscape and culture of the location, Boje’s initial design concept emphasized the need for the building to blend seamlessly into the seemingly untouchable surroundings.
Finally realized in 2019, the construction of Maraya was an arduous journey, spanning six months from conceptualization to completion, with a total of 76 days dedicated to construction.
Overcoming Challenges in Constructing Maraya
The audacious concept of encasing a substantial amount of glass in the scorching desert might seem implausible. The unforgiving desert heat posed a significant risk of glass oxidation.
To counter these challenges, Boje and his team embarked on developing a specialized glass coating tailored for Maraya. This coating had to withstand desert sandstorms, extreme temperature fluctuations, and the daily rigors of desert weather.
Collaborating with the U.S.-based company Guardian Glass, Giò Forma Studio engineered the Guardian UltraMirror, a bespoke coating crafted to endure the relentless Saudi Arabian sun and heat.
In total, Maraya is adorned with 9,740 mirrored panels.
Maraya: A Hub for Art in the Desert
Maraya stands as a testament to the burgeoning art scene in Al-Ula.
Leading French art book publisher Assouline has released a series of publications showcasing Saudi Arabian archaeology and architecture. The visual art exhibition DesertX has graced Al-Ula twice, attracting artists from across the globe to craft site-specific masterpieces.
Earlier this year, renowned architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers made headlines for their involvement in consulting on the construction of a branch of the iconic Centre Pompidou in Al-Ula, temporarily named the Perspective Galleries.
For Boje, Maraya’s creation transcends conventional architecture. His profound fascination with Al-Ula led to the establishment of a branch office of his architectural firm in the region.
Delving Deeper into the Essence of Maraya
Visiting Maraya isn’t merely about capturing photographs; it’s an immersive experience within its walls.
Maraya extends its embrace to art exhibitions, beyond its musical performances. Notably, it hosted Saudi Arabia’s inaugural exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol, the legendary American artist renowned for his inspiration drawn from pop culture and advertising.
It also boasts the exquisite Maraya Social restaurant, fusing European and Middle Eastern influences. This culinary haven tantalizes taste buds with signature desserts, including the iconic banana and date pudding, featuring dates as the primary fruit commodity of Al-Ula.
In response to Saudi Arabia’s alcohol ban, Maraya Social and other establishments have innovatively crafted creative mocktail menus to offer a delightful alternative.
The Banyan Tree Resort, the closest accommodation to Maraya, draws inspiration from Bedouin culture. The resort offers suites with modern, curved, tented outdoor sections, complemented by outdoor fire pits, private swimming pools, and stargazing spots.
While some guests opt for the picturesque two-kilometer walk through the valley, the hotel offers convenient transportation between the locations. Regardless of whether one chooses to traverse on foot or by vehicle, the most enchanting way to experience Maraya is by visiting multiple times, from the rosy-hued sunset to the glistening dawn, as each moment of the day unveils a distinct and captivating spectacle.