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ALKHOBAR: The opening night of Sharqiah Season on Thursday drew crowds of Saudis to the Alkhobar Corniche, despite strong winds and sprinklings of rain earlier in the day. Groups of friends stopping to take selfies and families with young children in tow wandered through the Entertainment Boulevard, lined with food stalls selling karak and koshari.

“What’s happening in Sharqiah is humongous, to tell you the truth, and it’s only the first day,” said Labeed Assidmi, who was selling nostalgic Saudi pins under his label Pinnizer at a booth in the Crystal Market near the front gate.

“Everyone is so excited to see what’s going to happen next. People are almost overwhelmed, hardly sure of where to go first with all the choices that they have. They don’t want to miss anything. It’s a great vibe.”

Farther along the Corniche, another gate led into the Cultural Village, which featured booths representing the different provinces of Saudi Arabia, with craftsmen weaving baskets and making clay zamzam jars. Families had picnics on the grass, waiting for the opening night fireworks and light show to be projected onto the Khobar Water Tower.

Earlier in the day, the Sharqiah Season began with the opening of an exhibit featuring the work of Leonardo da Vinci at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). 

The exhibit showcased some of Leonardo’s original sketches, with several screens showing videos detailing how his designs have continued to inspire scientists and inventors in the modern era.

While many of the events during the 17-day festival take place in the evening, Ithra is hosting a few daytime exhibits, including an interactive show featuring another great master, Vincent van Gogh, the opening of which was delayed.

Sharqiah Season is the first of 11 scheduled festivals planned for Saudi Arabia in 2019. In a collaborative effort by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the General Entertainment Authority, the General Culture Authority and the General Sports Authority, the project aims to deliver an extensive entertainment experience for both Saudis and visitors to the kingdom.

The festival features more than 80 events in Eastern Province cities, including Dammam, Dhahran, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa and Jubail. Future seasons will focus on different areas of Saudi Arabia, with different entertainment options for each city. Upcoming seasons will focus on different areas, and also different parts of the year, such as Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.

Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said in a statement that  the organization’s participation in the festival aligns with its goal of improving the quality of life in the Kingdom, and discovering local talent in various entertainment industries. 

He also highlighted the importance of the entertainment sector and its contribution to the economy and the creation of jobs for locals, all important aspects of Vision 2030.

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