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History of Riyadh

Brief History of Riyadh

In the midst of rolling golden sands an oasis emerged with gardens of date palms.  Riyadh, a name derived from the Arabic plural form of rowdah (gardens) was not always the capital, as previously the 500 year old walled city of Ad-Diriyah was the seat of the Al Saud tribe. In 1818, the old city was partially destroyed by the Turks which resulted in the government seat to moving to Riyadh.  The current city is located where several wadis or riverbeds join together on a sedimentary plateau about 600 meters above sea level.  Although the climate is very dry with little rainfall, there is a good supply of underground water which makes it one of the natural fertile areas within the Kingdom. The city of Riyadh is strategically located, not only centered between continents, but also on the Arabian Peninsula itself, providing traders and nomads a central post in their travels.

Rowdah Date Palm Gardens, Diriyah, Riyadh

The Kingdom was brought together on the 15th Shawal 1319 in the Hejira calendar, when Abdulaziz Al Saud took over the Musmak fortress.  Since that day, the small town of Riyadh has undergone many changes and grown into a cosmopolitan city. As the needs of the city increased, the Riyadh Development Authority utilized a computerized urban intelligence system for mapping, planning and anticipating its growing demography. Currently Riyadh compromises more than 1782 km2 which is about the same as the land size of the state of Delaware, U.S.A., or three times the size of Singapore.  Its population continues to increase at a steady rate with a current (2008) population of about 5,900,000. 

In an effort to meet the needs of its growing population, various ministries are working hard to raise the levels of services especially within the medical and educational spheres.  In this regard, King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, under the umbrella of the National Guard Health Services, is working to promote excellence in medical science and education.

King Abdulaziz Al Saud, who by 1932 had succeeded in unifying the country into a Kingdom, founded modern Saudi Arabia. King Abdulaziz died in 1953, but his legacy lives on in his direct descendants who rule Saudi Arabia to this day. The country has made tremendous progress under their reign and today, travelers to Saudi Arabia can experience both new and old civilizations working side by side.

The average temperature range in January is 8°-  21° C (46°-  70° F) and in July the average range is 26°-  42° C (78°-  107° F). Between November and April the weather is pleasant with cool nights and sunny days, but from May to October the temperatures are fierce.  It is common for dust storms to blow up suddenly and visitors will quickly realize that there is value to the traditional Saudi dress of the thobe (the long white shirt dress for men), the abaya (the long black outer covering for women), Smagh/Ghutra (either red and white or white head cover for men) and veil for women.  Such clothing, although mostly fulfilling religious obligations also helps to protect the body against harsh desert elements. 

During the summer days, the temperatures make going out uncomfortable, however in the evening many people enjoy taking trips outside the residential areas to known desert locations for picnics and trekking or for the experienced and prepared; camping and hunting.

Al Diriyah city

Overall one gets a wonderful sense that the progress that KSA has made retains the national character and identity of its native people. Riyadh's roots and time-honored history continue to make their presence felt – here is a place where ancient mosques and contemporary malls exist side by side, where minarets and grand hotels stretch to touch the skies, and where both cars and camels are a mode of transport. If one looks hard enough, one will discover the true spirit of that oasis town of long ago – there are several places of historical interest in Riyadh.

Some interesting points about Riyadh include the 17 municipalities which subdivide the city.  Olaya is the main commercial and entertainment district of the city with Tahlia Street one of the busiest, while Bat’ha and Ad-Dira are older districts in which one can see very old architecture and historic sites such as the Musmak Fort.  Additionally both of these districts have well known souks or shopping bazaars and fascinating gold markets.  The Diplomatic Quarter is located on the northwest side of Riyadh and contains all of the embassies.  The DQ, as locals call it, is near the old city of Ad-Diriyah. 

Ad-Diriyah is a wonderfully preserved example of past generations of Saudi culture.  Visitors are welcomed to visit and imagine life during the nation’s struggle for unification. The Saad Al-Saud Palace contains a dates store and has colorfully decorated wooden doors showing circles and flowers in red, blue and black. Other touristic sites besides Ad-Diriyah include Jabal Tuwaiq Mountain located to the southwest of Riyadh and stretches for nearly 497 miles.  In late winter, Janadriyah festival is held just on the outskirts of the city drawing large crowds of people to see the exhibits of national history, shows, camel races, and many other displays of Saudi heritage from across the peninsula.

The National Museum is another wonderful place for people to visit, containing eight sections that cover topics such as man and the universe, Arabian Kingdoms, Prophet Mohammed’s Mission, Islam and the Arabian Peninsula, 1st and 2nd Saudi States, Unification, and also relates information about Hajj and the Two Holy Mosques of Mekka and Medina. The Museum of Antiquities and Folklore showcases everything from ceramic utensils to stamps. The Jabal Abu Makhrouq Park in the Malaz district is another interesting place to visit.  The park is modern, but it was from here that Abdul-Aziz maintained a vigil on the city.  Some other well-known parks include Salam Park, The Chamber of Commerce Park, and The Riyadh Zoo.  For many, Riyadh remains a city whose charm ties the past to the present, sometimes a contrast of opposites, where there is a “striking indication of the quest for national identity and roots.”
   Saudi National Museum


Sources: www.the-saudi.net and www.riyadhvision.com

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