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Place To Visit in Riyadh - The Capital City of Saudi Arabia

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“The thriving capital at the heart of the modern Kingdom”

| History of Riyadh | Places To Visit |

| 19th Century Diriyyah |The King Abdul Aziz Historical Area | The National Museum | The Riyadh Zoo | Al-Musmak Fort |

Over the past two decades Saudis have begun to take a serious interest in preserving their past - the saving of downtown Jeddah from the wrecker’s ball is a case in point. In Riyadh, there are several preserved sites and reconstructions which give the visitor with a little imagination a wonderful insight into the way of life in the region not so long ago.

19th century

DIR’IYYAH, which can be found at the north end of King Khaled Road to the north-west of the city, is the old ruined capital of the Al-Saud. Many years of meticulous restoration, begun in 1986, have recreated the outer walls and some of the major buildings, all of which are signposted. Arriving past the majestic new Dir’iyyah mosque, you turn left at the roundabout where a stunning view of the walled city’s commanding position becomes apparent. Continue down this street and turn right through the main gate. The caretaker’s office and visitors’ centre is on the left. Stroll around the ruins of the one, two and three storey palaces and simple homes and it is not difficult to imagine the streets thronging with people. All the buildings are normally locked up so ask the caretaker if it possible to take a look at one or two of them such as the hammam or the Saad Al-Saud Palace, which contains a dates store and has colourfully decorated wooden doors showing circles and flowers in red, blue and black. A long walk around the wall gives a super view of the Diplomatic Quarter opposite and from the corner turrets one can see most of Riyadh.

Riyadh Fort

AD-DIR’IYYAH OPENING HOURS
(No entry charge)

Open to all during the hours of daylight

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The King Abdul Aziz Historical Area

As mentioned above, the Hejira centenary celebrations of the taking of Riyadh by Abdul-Aziz and his commandos in 1902 produced a lasting remnant in the development of the Murabba Palace area, also presided over by Arriyadh Development Authority. Even a whole morning or evening is nowhere near enough to take in all the area has to offer.

Riyadh Palace

KING ABDUL AZIZ HISTORICAL AREA OPENING HOURS

(Entry charge - Adults SR15 Children SR10)

  

0900-1200

1630-2100

(DARA 1800-2100)

 Saturday  

 CLOSED ALL DAY

  

 Sunday  

 SCHOOLS/SINGLE MEN  

 FAMILIES

 Monday  

 SCHOOLS/SINGLE MEN  

 FAMILIES

 Tuesday  

 By reservation  

 SCHOOLS/ SINGLE MEN  

 Wednesday  

 SCHOOLS/SINGLE MEN  

 FAMILIES

 Thursday  

 SCHOOLS/SINGLE MEN  

 FAMILIES

 Friday  

 CLOSED  

 FAMILIES

The following is a suggested time plan presuming DIR’IYYAH and MUSMAK have already been visited:

Day One

Arrive one hour early and visit the 100 PALMS PARK underneath the WATER TOWER, each palm tree represents one year of Saudi Arabia. Continue your walk on the other side of King Saud Street (towards the museum) and go around all the buildings taking in the architecture - particularly the FORTIFIED WALL and the OLD WATER WELL which used to supply Murabba Palace. When the doors open buy your ticket from the National Museum ticket desk - it allows entrance to all sites for the day. Start with AL-MURABBA PALACE, which was where King Abdul Aziz set up court in the late 1930s moving from the Musmak. The two-storey building has been lovingly restored, is well signposted and explained and has lots of artifacts and photos showing Abdul-Aziz at work - take your time in here and move to DARA (KING ABDUL AZIZ MEMORIAL HALL) when it opens at 6pm. This is a real mine of information on the man with three sections: a) life history, b) private library, c) personal effects. There are lots of interesting memorabilia and photos of his historic meetings with world statesmen. Move between the two until closing.

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The National Museum

You’ll need another ticket but at SR15 it’s worth every penny. The new national museum is chock full of stimulating information and displays; the museum has eight galleries - you might still need another trip to do it justice:

1) Man and the Universe

2) Arabian Kingdoms

3) Jahiliyyah (Ignorance)

4) The Prophet’s Mission

5) Islam and the Arabian Peninsula

6) 1st and 2nd Saudi States

7) Unification

8) Hajj and the Two Holy Mosques

Gallery one is concerned with the creation of the earth and man - a topic which you may have covered in other museums - although there are some nice effects like the mirror TV screen globe at the beginning.

Riyadh Museum

The second gallery, Arabian Kingdoms, catalogues the various civilizations in the Arabian peninsula from 6000BC to 400AD, the development of language and writing, and the growth of trade in the region. Many objects recovered from the Kingdom’s archaeological sites such as Taima, Al-Fau, Medain Saleh and Qurayyah are shown and there are interactive audio visual displays to accompany these.

The Jahiliyyah Gallery is concerned with the "period of ignorance" i.e. the period immediately before Islam. The dominant imperial powers of Persia and even Rome began trying to exert their influence on the peninsula and tribal strife was the order of the day. Exhibits include a model of the ancient port of Madinah, a study of the ancient city of Jurash, even a sacrificial altar from pagan times, as well as documentation on the invasion of the Abyssinian army mounted on elephants. Most interesting here is the role of already existent Kaaba in pre-Islamic times.

The fourth gallery, the Prophet’s Mission has extensive documentation on Mohammed’s lineage, and his life before and after his revelation, and particular events during his mission, of great interest to scholars of whatever race or creed. After this gallery, you pass over a bridge with a beautiful mural by Abubakr Al-Siddiq depicting the prophet’s flight (hejira) from Makkah to Madinah - the event which marks the beginning of the Muslim Hejira calendar.

Dress

The fifth gallery, Islam and the Arabian Peninsula, depicts the history of the Arabian peninsula from the hejira up to the establishment of the first Saudi state in the early 19th century. Video depictions show the prophet’s battles to unite the peninsula, and there is a model of the prophet’s mosque at the time. The development of engineering, science and the arts in the Umayyad and Abbasid periods are also dealt with. Many artifacts, too numerous to mention, are on display.

The next gallery documents the first and second Saudi states and goes into some depth about life in Dir’iyyah and the alliance between Imam Mohammed bin Abdul-Wahab and the Al-Saud, the expansion of the state and conquest of the peninsula, and the subsequent invasion from Egypt of Ottoman forces and the siege and destruction of Dir’iyyah. The return of Imam Faisal bin Turki and the second state as well as the early life of King Abdul Aziz are covered here too. Lots of armour, flintlock rifles and swords to look at here.

Holy Quran

The large circular Unification Gallery is one of the most striking, initially covering Abdul-Aziz’s retaking of Musmak and Riyadh, and the stages of conquest of the Kingdom’s regions. Particularly interesting are lifesize buildings from each region showing the typical architecture of each, underlying the cultural diversity of the Kingdom today. The exploration and discovery of oil is also documented.

The final gallery, Hajj and the Two Holy Mosques, gives an insight into the history of each of the mosques and their role in the Hajj pilgrimage. Models show the routes the pilgrims took in the past, as well as the extensive development programmes that now enable many millions of pilgrims per year to perform Hajj in comfort and safety.

Space is available for more galleries and it is to be hoped that the meteoric infrastructural and urban development of the Kingdom in the past fifty years and the role played in it by Abdul-Aziz’s sons will receive the same exciting treatment.

Truly a world-class museum, not to be missed.

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The Riyadh Zoo

Riyadh boasts the Kingdom’s largest zoo, which is well laid out and worth a visit. Located on the east side of Al-Ihsa Street (look for the hedges - the gate is at the south-east corner). Unfortunately families cannot visit together so it’s fathers and children or mothers and children (boys over ten or eleven are considered male adults).

Zoo

ZOO OPENING HOURS

(from the sign outside)

Saturday CLOSED ALL DAY
Sunday WOMEN End of Asr prayer to dusk
Monday MEN End of Asr prayer to dusk
Tuesday WOMEN End of Asr prayer to dusk
Wednesday MEN End of Asr prayer to dusk
Thursday WOMEN 9am to dusk
Friday MEN 1.00pm to dusk

Schools, compounds and other organizations often run trips to the zoo.

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Al-Musmak Fort and the Ruler's Palace District

Developed in three phases, the modern Qasr
Al-Hokm (ruler’s palace) district was created in the eighties and nineties in an attempt to reinforce the role of the original 8 square kilometers, which was Riyadh in 1940, in the modern-day city. The new QASR AL-HOKM (often called the "Justice Palace") was built on the same site where citizens have been able to meet their ruler personally to discuss problems and seek solutions since the time of Imam Turki (early 19th century). It is interesting to begin a walk in this area at AL-THUMAIRI GATE on King Faisal Street, which, unlike the garish "old new Thumairi gate" over the road, was built on the original site and of similar material to the gate which formed the eastern entrance through the wall to old Riyadh. (See also DIRA TOWER and another gate - DUKHNA GATE - with a section of rebuilt city wall can be seen to the south-west at the junction of Imam Mohammed and Tareq bin Ziad streets). Walk along Thumairi street past the gold souq to the left and you arrive at Al-Musmak Square and the majesty of AL-MUSMAK FORT. A visit inside the fort before going on is a MUST as it contains many artifacts from the time of Abdul-Aziz and most importantly as series of video shows which catalogue the events of the fort’s capture in 1902. The dramatic reconstruction is in fine swashbuckling style and really excites the imagination. It is worth lingering as long as possible here to take in the enormous amount of work done in saving this national treasure and its typical architecture. Mini-triangle windows and vents are everywhere as are decorated wooden doors. Palm branches form the ceilings and hay mixed with mud (At-tobe = adobe) have been used as plaster.

Fort

MUSMAK FORT OPENING HOURS
(No entry charge)

Saturday to Wednesday:

0800-1200 1600-2100

Thursday 0900-1200
(Families only Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday)

Fort

Continuing the walk around the new souqs (Awqaf Al-Khairia, Dira,) and squares of the Qasr Al-Hokm development you happen by chance on bits of reconstructed wall - the blend of old and "new with a taste of old" a striking indication of the quest for national identity and roots.

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(Thanks to Ar-Riyadh Development Authority for supplying information & photographs)

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