Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Once a walled, mud-brick way station along desert trading routes, Riyadh which is located in historical Najd area at the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, is Saudi Arabia's political, financial and administrative capital and largest city, and one of the richest cities in the World. The word Riyadh means "Gardens" in Arabic and was derived from the nature of the low land produced by the flood water where the green spread the scent of roses.

Old sources credit the tribe of Banu Hanifa with the founding of "Hejr Al-Yamama", the predecessor of today's Riyadh. According to legend, the tribe had moved to Al-Yamamah region from Hejaz after the region's original inhabitants, the extinct tribes of Tasm and Jadis were decimated by war.

The archeological sites at Riyadh which are of historical importance are the five old gates on the old wall of Riyadh which was built in 1737 by Deham ibn Dawwas. These are the eastern gate of Thumaira, the northern gate of Al-Suwailen, the southern gate of Dukhna, the western gate of Al-Madhbah and the south-western gate of Shumaisi. There are also four historic palaces, which are the Masmak Palace, the Al-Murabba Palace (palace of King Abdul Aziz), Prince Mohammad bin Abdul-Rahman Palace, and the Shamsiya Palace.

Today, Riyadh is the metropolis of business, shopping, culture and entertainment, with events and festivals taking place throughout the year. It is a tourism and business destination for the visitor who is seeking Arabian hospitality, excellent tourism services, and a superb shopping experience in the most magnificent and modern malls. Visitors can also enjoy delicious and unforgettable meals at the variety of fine restaurants and cafes. In addition, Riyadh features a cluster of natural sites like gardens, parks and wildlife reserves, which provide visitors with fascinating and relaxing places to unwind.

Masmak Palace

It's a scene out of the movies: a big fortress representing an empire. Surrounded by sand, this squat fortification was built around 1865 and was the site of Ibn Saud's daring 1902 raid, during which a spear was hurled at the main entrance door with such force that the head still lodges in the doorway. Highlights among the exhibits include maps and a fascinating range of photographs of Saudi dating from 1912 to 1937 in galleries converted from diwans (living rooms).

The roofs are covered with painted palm-tree, taramic and ethel wood and exude an old-world charm that evokes an Arabian painting. Inside, the information panels and short, chest-thumping films on the storming of the fortress and the ‘reunification' of Saudi Arabia are reverential towards the Al Sauds but worth watching nonetheless.

Al-Mamlaka (Kingdom) Center

Riyadh's landmark tower is a stunning piece of modern architecture - it's particularly conspicuous at night, when the upper sweep is lit with constantly changing colored lights. Rising 302m high, its most distinctive feature is the steel-and-glass 300-ton bridge connecting the two towers. High-speed elevators fly you at 180 km/h (111.8 mph) to the 99th-floor Sky Bridge, from where the views are breathtaking (you can take photos from up here). Avoid weekends and evenings after 6:00 pm, when it can get very crowded.

Al Faisaliah Tower

Designed by British architect Norman Foster and built in 2000 by the Bin Laden construction company, Al Faisaliah Tower was the first of the startling new structures to rise above Riyadh's skyline. It's most famous for its enormous glass globe (24m in diameter and made of 655 glass panels) near the summit. Its 44 floors contain a five-star deluxe hotel and four exclusive restaurants, offices, apartments, the Sky shopping mall and a fabulous viewing platform (Globe Experience). The needlepoint pinnacle (with a crescent on the tip) sits 267m above the ground. The tower is off Olaya street.

Wadi Hanifa

Wadi Hanifa is a large park featuring natural landscapes, trees and a flowing water channel that offers numerous areas to enjoy recreation and the outdoors. The valley runs for a length of 120 km (75 miles) from northwest to southeast, cutting through the city of Riyadh. A string of towns and villages lie along the valley, including Uyaynah, Irqah and Diriyah. The historical city of Riyadh itself is on the northeastern side of the wadi, but the city has now expanded across Wadi Hanifa, with sub-municipalities on its southwestern side. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the wadi was known as Al-Irdh. Its current name is derived from that of Banu Hanifa, the principal Arab tribe in the area at the time of the Islamic conquest of Arabia. In pre-historic times, rain fell heavily in the region. This is reflected in the local folk tradition that claims that during the reign of the ancient kingdom of Al-Yamamah, the area was once covered with oases and fertile farmland.

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