Thursday, December 17, 2009

Touring Riyadh

When I told some Saudi's that I was going to Riyadh, their initial reaction was usually, "why do you want to go to Riyadh - there is nothing to do in Riyadh!" That is simply not quite true. For the common American tourist, there are skyscraper-malls to visit, museums and historical districts to wander about in, and streets lined with restaurants, fancy cars, and restless Saudi teenagers.
The Al Saud family has ties to Riyadh which date back to 1744 with the creation of the first Saudi State. Since that time, the Al-Saudi family drifted in and out of power in that part of the desert, until 1902, when the late King Abdulaziz bin Saud returned to his family's ancestral capital and stormed the mud castle named Masmak with a small band of twenty or forty men, taking its inhabitants completely by surprise. This tiny skirmish was perhaps the most felicitous change of fortune in the Al Saud family's history, as oil was discovered only 36 years later.

Al Masmak still stands today, and was an interesting visit for the first time visitor to Riyadh (and for my "local" friends who had never been).

An example of traditional decor.

A map of the expansion of the third Saudi State from 1902 to the present day.
Descriptive museum signs. : )

A lineup of kings from Ibn Saud to Abdullah.
A 100 year old Koran.
"Chop-chop square" (I don't know its real name) where criminals were famously de-limbed or decapitated in public. (This doesn't happen much anymore.)

My friend running from a flock of attacking pigeons.
Atop the Kingdom tower lookout bridge. The bridge offers a great view of the whole city.

The national museum was very interesting for me. Not only did I learn a lot about the history of Saudi Arabia from ancient times to present day, but I also learned a lot about how a society perceives its role in the world as the historical home of the Prophet Mohammed and the Two Holy Mosques.

In the USA, we have divorced spiritual significance from national and natural history in our museums, but in the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, religion history, natural history, and political history are presented side-by-side and intertwined. Among the divisions of history were such labels as: "Pre-Islamic," "The Prophet's Mission," and "The Islamic Age."

An old desert oil exploration truck.

Hanging out on Tahlia street after touring museums, I thought the snowflake displays and lights around palm trees were a bit ironic. A crisp chill in the evening air and spending time with families during the Eid Holiday made me think of the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years season back home.


  1. . very nice blog. Can we exchange email addresses to converse about Saudi Arabia? I write a blog and web service on US-Saudi relations and always enjoy hearing from Americans living in the Kingdom. ( and ) Cheers, Pat

  2. you really hit it hard.. I feel homesick to riyadh because of this blog..

    enjoy your time, mate.