Counter-clockwise from top left:
Riyadh at sunset, Masmak fort, King Fahd International Stadium, People and camels in the peripheral desert of Riyadh, Al Faisaliyah Center, Kingdom Centre, View of the center of Riyadh.
|Coordinates: 24°38′N 46°43′ECoordinates: 24°38′N 46°43′E|
|• Riyadh Prince Governor||Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud|
|• Mayor||Ibraheem Mohammed Al-Sultan|
|• Total||1,798 km2 (694 sq mi)|
|Elevation||612 m (2,008 ft)|
|• Density||4,300/km2 (11,000/sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+3 (AST)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC+3 (AST)|
|Postal Code||(5 digits)|
|Website||High Commission for the Development of RiyadhRiyadh Municipality|
Riyadh (/rɪˈjɑːd/; Arabic: الرياض, translit. ar-Riyāḍ [ar.riˈjaːdˤ], Najdi pronunciation: [er.rɪˈjɑːðˤ]) is the capital and most populous city of Saudi Arabia, approximately 790 km (491 mi) North-east of Mecca. It is also the capital of Riyadh Province and belongs to the historical regions of Najd and Al-Yamama. It is situated in the centre of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau and home to more than six million people.
The city is divided into 15 municipal districts, managed by the Municipality of Riyadh headed by the mayor of Riyadh, and the Development Authority of Riyadh which is chaired by the governor of the Province, Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud. The current mayor is Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Sultan. Riyadh has been designated a global city.
During the Pre-Islamic era the city at the site of modern Riyadh was called Hajr (Arabic: حجر), and was reportedly founded by the tribe of Banu Hanifa. Hajr served as the capital of the province of Al-Yamamah, whose governors were responsible for most of central and eastern Arabia during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. Al-Yamamah broke away from the Abbasid Empire in 866 and the area fell under the rule of the Ukhaydhirites, who moved the capital from Hajr to nearby Al-Kharj. The city then went into a long period of decline. In the 14th century, North African traveler Ibn Battuta wrote of his visit to Hajr, describing it as “the main city of Al-Yamamah, and its name is Hajr”. Ibn Battuta goes on to describe it as a city of canals and trees with most of its inhabitants belonging to the Bani Hanifa, and reports that he continued on with their leader to Mecca to perform the Hajj.
Later on, Hajr broke up into several separate settlements and estates. The most notable of these were Migrin (or Muqrin) and Mi’kal, though the name Hajr continued to appear in local folk poetry. The earliest known reference to the area by the name Riyadh comes from a 17th-century chronicler reporting on an event from the year 1590. In 1737, Deham ibn Dawwas, a refugee from neighboring Manfuha, took control of Riyadh. Ibn Dawwas built a single wall to encircle the various oasis town in the area, making them effectively a single city. The name “Riyadh,” meaning “gardens” refers to these earlier oasis towns.
Third Saudi State
In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab formed an alliance with Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of the nearby town of Diriyah. Ibn Saud then set out to conquer the surrounding region with the goal of bringing it under the rule of a single Islamic state. Ibn Dawwas of Riyadh led the most determined resistance, allied with forces from Al Kharj, Al Ahsa, and the Banu Yam clan of Najran. However, Ibn Dawwas fled and Riyadh capitulated to the Saudis in 1774, ending long years of wars, and leading to the declaration of the First Saudi State, with Diriyah as its capital.
The First Saudi State was destroyed by forces sent by Muhammad Ali of Egypt, acting on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman forces razed the Saudi capital Diriyah in 1818. They had maintained a garrison at Najd. This marked the decline of the House of Saud for a short time. Turki bin Abdullah bin Muhammad became the first Amir of the Second Saudi State; the cousin of Saud bin Saud, he ruled for 19 years till 1834, leading to the consolidation of the area though they were notionally under the control of the Muhammad Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt. In 1823, Turki ibn Abdallah chose Riyadh as the new capital. Following the assassination of Turki in 1834, his eldest son Faisal killed the assassin and took control, and refused to be controlled by the Viceroy of Egypt. Najd was then invaded and Faisal taken captive and held in Cairo. However, as Egypt became independent of the Ottoman Empire, Faisal escaped after five years of incarceration, returned to Najd and resumed his reign, ruled till 1865, and consolidated the reign of House of Saud.
Following the death of Faisal, there was rivalry among his sons which situation was exploited by Muhammad bin Rashid who took most of Najd, signed a treaty with the Ottomans and also captured Hasa in 1871. In 1889, Abdul Rahman bin Faisal, the third son of Faisal again regained control over Najd and ruled till 1891, whereafter the control was regained by Muhammad bin Raschid.
Internecine struggles between Turki’s grandsons led to the fall of the Second Saudi State in 1891 at the hand of the rival Al Rashid clan, which ruled from the northern city of Ha’il. The al-Masmak fort dates from that period.
Abdul Rahman bin Faisal al-Saud had sought refuge among a tribal community on the outskirts of Najd and then went to Kuwait with his family and stayed in exile. However, his son Abdul Aziz retrieved his ancestral kingdom of Najd in 1902 and consolidated his rule by 1926, and further expanded his kingdom to cover “most of the Arabian Peninsula.” He named his kingdom as Saudi Arabia in September 1932 with Riyadh as the capital. King Abdul Aziz died in 1953 and his son Saud took control as per the established succession rule of father to son from the time Muhammad bin Saud had established the Saud rule in 1744. However, this established line of succession was broken when King Saud was succeeded by his brother King Faisal in 1964. In 1975, Faisal was succeeded by his brother King Khalid. In 1982, King Fahd took the reins from his brother. This new line of succession is among the sons of King Abdul Aziz who has 35 sons; this large family of Ibn Saud hold all key positions in the large kingdom.
From the 1940s, Riyadh “mushroomed” from a relatively narrow, spatially isolated town into a spacious metropolis. When King Shah Saud came to power, he made it his objective to modernize Riyadh, and began developing Annasriyyah, the royal residential district, in 1950. Following the example of American cities, new settlements and entire neighbourhoods were created in grid-like squares of a chess board and connected by high-performance main roads to the inner areas. The grid pattern in the city was introduced in 1953. The population growth of the town from 1974-1992 averaged 8.2 percent per year.
Riyadh has the largest all-female university in the world, the Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University.
Riyadh is now the administrative and to a great extent the commercial hub of the Kingdom. According to the Saudi Real Estate Companion, most large companies in the country establish either sole headquarters or a large office in the city. For this reason, there has been a significant growth in high rise developments in all areas of the city. Most notable among these is King Abdullah Financial District which is fast becoming the key business hub in the city.
According to the Global Financial Centres Index, Riyadh ranked at 77 in 2016-2017. Though the rank moved up to 69 in 2018, diversification in the economy of the capital is required in order to avoid what the World Bank called a “looming poverty crisis” brought on by lingering low oil prices and rich state benefits.
Classified as having a hot desert climate (Köppen: BWh), temperatures during the summer months are extremely hot. The average high temperature in August is 43.6 °C. Winters are warm with cool, windy nights. The overall climate is arid, and the city experiences very little rainfall, especially in summer, but receives a fair amount of rain in March and April. It is also known to have dust storms during which the dust can be so thick that visibility is under 10 m (33 ft). On 1 and 2 April 2015, a massive dust storm hit Riyadh, causing suspension of classes in many schools in the area and cancellation of hundreds of flights, both domestic and international.
|hideClimate data for Riyadh (1985-2010)|
|Record high °C (°F)||31.5
|Average high °C (°F)||20.2
|Daily mean °C (°F)||14.4
|Average low °C (°F)||9.0
|Record low °C (°F)||−2.2
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||12.5
|Average rainy days||6.1||4.3||9.4||11.3||3.3||0.0||0.1||0.2||0.0||0.5||3.3||6.3||44.8|
|Average relative humidity (%)||47||36||32||28||17||11||10||12||14||20||36||47||26|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||212.4||226.6||219.8||242.3||287.7||328.2||332.1||309.2||271.6||311.4||269.2||214.3||3,224.8|
|Percent possible sunshine||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||72|
|Source: “Jeddah Regional Climate Centre South West Asia”.|
Riyadh is divided into fourteen branch municipalities, in addition to the Diplomatic Quarter. Each branch municipality in turn contains several districts, amounting to over 130 in total, though some districts are divided between more than one branch municipality. The branch municipalities are Al-Shemaysi, Irqah, Al-Ma’athar, Al-Olayya, Al-Aziziyya, Al-Malaz, Al-Selayy, Nemar, Al-Neseem, Al-Shifa, Al-‘Urayja, Al-Bat’ha, Al-Ha’ir, Al-Rawdha, and Al-Shimal (“the North”). Olaya District is the commercial heart of the city, with accommodation, entertainment, dining and shopping options. The Kingdom Centre, Al Faisalyah and Al-Tahlya Street are the area’s most prominent landmarks. The centre of the city, Al-Bathaa and Al-Deerah, is also its oldest part.
Some of the main districts of Riyadh are:
- Al-Deerah (old Riyadh)
- Manfuha Al-Jadidah (منفوحة الجديدة – “new Manfuha”)
- Al-‘Olayya & Sulaymaniyyah
- Al Izdihar
- King Fahd District
- Dharat Nemar
- Diplomatic Quarter
- Umm Sleym
- Umm Al-Hamam (East)
- King Saud University main campus
- Umm Al-Hamam (East)
- Umm Al-Hamam (West)
- Al-Ma’athar Al-Shimali (“North Ma’athar”)
- Ad Dar Al Baida
- Al Mansouriyah
- Al-Urayja Al-Wusta (“Mid-Urayja”)
- Al-Urayja (West)
- Dharat Laban
- Hijrat Laban
- As-Suwaidi (West)
- Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University main campus
- Al-Naseem (East)
- Al-Naseem (West)
- Gharnatah (Granada)
- Qortubah (Cordoba)
- Ad Difa’
- Al Iskan
- Khashm Al-‘Aan
- King Abdullah Financial District
|Source: Census data|
The city had a population of 40,000 inhabitants in 1935 and 83,000 in 1949. The city has experienced very high rates of population growth, from 150,000 inhabitants in the 1960s to over 5 million, according to the most recent sources. According to 2010 census, the population of Riyadh was composed of 65% Saudi families while non-Saudi families accounted for 35% of the population.
Landmarks and architecture
Vernacular architecture of Old Riyadh
The old town of Riyadh within the city walls did not exceed an area of 1 km2, and therefore very few significant architectural remnants of the original walled oasis town of Riyadh exist today. The most prominent is the Masmak fort and some parts of the original wall structure with its gate which have been restored and reconstructed. There are also a number of traditional mud-brick houses within these old limits, but they are for the most part dilapidated.
Expansion outside the city walls was slow to begin with, although there were some smaller oases and settlements surrounding Riyadh. The first major construction beyond the walls was King Abdulaziz’s Murabba Palace. It was constructed in 1936, completed in 1938, and a household of 800 people moved into it in 1938. The palace is now part of a bigger complex called “The King Abdulaziz Historical Centre“.
There are other traditional villages and towns in the area around traditional Riyadh which the urban sprawl reached and currently encompasses. These include Diriyah, Manfuha and Wadi Laban. Unlike in the early days of development in Riyadh during which vernacular structures were razed to the ground without consideration, there is a new-found appreciation for traditional architecture. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities is making efforts for revitalizing the historic architecture in Riyadh and other parts of the kingdom.
The archeological sites at Riyadh which are of historical importance, in which the Municipality of Riyadh is involved, are the five old gates on the old walls of Riyadh. 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 Musmak Palace, the Al-Murabba Palace (palace of King Abdul Aziz), Prince Muhammad bin Abdul-Rahman and the Shamsiya Palace.
This fortress was built around 1865 under the reign of Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Rasheed (1289-1315 AH), the ruler of Ha’il to the north, who had wrested control of the city from the rival clan of Al Saud. In January 1902 Ibn Saud, who was at the time living in exile in Kuwait, succeeded in capturing the Masmak fortress from its Rashid garrison. The event, which restored Saudi control over Riyadh, has acquired almost mythical status in the history of Saudi Arabia. The story of the event is often retold, and has as its central theme the heroism and bravery of the King Abd Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. The Masmak Fortress is now a museum and is in close proximity to the Clock Tower Square, also known to English-speaking residents as Chop Chop Square, referring to the capital punishment that takes place there.
The tower is built on 94,230 square metres of land. The Kingdom Centre is owned by a group of companies including Kingdom Holding Company, headed by Al-Waleed bin Talal, a prince of the Saudi royal family, and is the headquarters of the holding company. The project cost 2 billion Saudi Arabian Riyals and the contract was undertaken by El-Seif. The Kingdom Centre is the winner of the 2002 Emporis Skyscraper Award, selected as the “best new skyscraper of the year for design and functionality”. A three-level shopping centre, which also won a major design award, fills the east wing. The large opening is illuminated at night in continuously changing colours. The shopping centre has a separate floor for women only to shop where men are not allowed to enter.
The Kingdom Tower has 99 stories and is the third tallest structure in the country (behind Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca and Burj Rafal in Riyadh), rising to 300 m. A special aspect of the tower is that it is divided into two parts in the last one third of its height and is linked by a sky-bridge walkway, which provides stunning views of Riyadh.
Burj Rafal, located on King Fahad Road, is the tallest skyscraper in Riyadh at 307.9 meters (1,010 feet) tall. The tower was designed and engineered by P & T Group. Construction began in 2010 and was completed 2014. The project was considered a success, with 70% of the residential units already sold by the time the skyscraper was topped out. The tower currently contains 474 residential condominium units and a 349-room 5-star Kempinski hotel.
Burj Al Faisaliyah
Al Faisaliyah Centre (Arabic: برج الفيصلية) is the first skyscraper constructed in Saudi Arabia, and is the third tallest building in Riyadh after the Burj Rafal and the Kingdom Centre. The golden ball that lies atop the tower is said to be inspired by a ballpoint pen, and contains a restaurant; immediately below this is an outside viewing deck. There is a shopping centre with major world brands at ground level. Al Faisaliyah Centre also has a hotel at both sides of the tower while the main building is occupied by offices run by different companies. The Al Faisaliyah Tower has 44 stories.
Riyadh TV Tower
The Riyadh TV Tower is a 170 meter high television tower located inside the premises of the Saudi Ministry of Information. It is a vertical cantilever structure which was built between 1978–81, 9:23 PM, and this year was called TV Year. The first movie made in 1983 by the TV tower group and named “1,000 Nights and Night” had Mohammed Abdu and Talal Mmdah as the main characters. At that time, there were no women on TV because of religious restrictions. Three years later, Abdul Khaliq Al-Ghanim produced a TV series called “Tash Ma Tash,” which earned a good reaction from audiences in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. This series created a media revolution back in the 1980s.
Museums and collections
In 1999, a new central museum was built in Riyadh, at the eastern side of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre. The National Museum of Saudi Arabia combined several collections and pieces that had up until then been scattered over several institutions and other places in Riyadh and the Kingdom. For example, the meteorite fragment known as the “Camel’s Hump” that was on display at the King Saud University in Riyadh became the new entry piece of the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.
The Royal Saudi Air Force Museum, or Saqr Al-Jazira, is located on the East Ring Road of Riyadh between exits 10 and 11. It contains a collection of aircraft and aviation-related items used by the Royal Saudi Air Forceand Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines).
Football is the most popular sport in Saudi Arabia. The city hosts four major football clubs, Al Hilal was established in 1957 and has won 15 championships in the Saudi Premier League. Al-Nasr club is another team in the top league that has many supporters around the kingdom. It was established in 1955, and has been named champion of the Saudi League 7 times. Another well-known club, Al-Shabab, was established in 1947 and holds 6 championships. There is also Al-Riyadh Club, which was established in 1954, as well as many other minor clubs.
The city also has several large stadiums such as King Fahd International Stadium with a seating capacity of 70,000. The stadium hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup three times, in the years 1992, 1995 and 1997. It also hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1989, and Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium (Al-Malaz Stadium) that is currently used mostly for football matches. The stadium has a capacity of 22,500 people.
The city’s GPYW Indoor Stadium served as host arena for the 1997 Asian Basketball Championship, where Saudi Arabia’s national basketball team reached the Final Four.
Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport (KKIA), located 35 kilometers north from the city centre, is the city’s main airport, and serves over 17 million passengers a year. Plans are being made to expand the airport to accommodate 35 million passengers, given that the airport was only built for 12 million passengers annually. A possible new airport is on the table. It is one of the largest airports in the world.
The city is served by a modern major highway system. The main Eastern Ring Road connects the city’s south and north, while the Northern Ring Road connects the city’s east and west. King Fahd Road runs through the centre of the city from north to south, in parallel with the East Ring Road. Makkah Road, which runs east-west across the city’s centre, connects eastern parts of the city with the city’s main business district and the diplomatic quarters.
Railways and metro
Saudi Railways Organization operates two separate passenger and cargo lines between Riyadh and Dammam, passing through Hofuf and Haradh. Two future railway projects, connecting Riyadh with Jeddah and Mecca in the western region, and connecting Riyadh with Buraidah, Ha’il and Northern Saudi Arabia are underway. A metro has also been approved, with six lines planned with a scheduled opening in 2019.
The metro system will be integrated with an 85 kilometres (53 mi), three-line bus rapid transit (BRT) network.
The main charter bus company in the kingdom, known as the Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO), offers trips both within the kingdom and to its neighboring countries, including Egypt (via ferries from Safaga or Nuweiba) and Arab states of the Arabian Gulf.
The 170 m (560 ft) Riyadh TV Tower, operated by the Ministry of Information, was built between 1978 and 1981. National Saudi television channels Saudi TV1, Saudi TV2, Saudi TV Sports, Al-Ekhbariya, ART channels network operate from here. Television broadcasts are mainly in Arabic, although some radio broadcasts are in English or French. Arabic is the main language used in television and radio but radio broadcasts are also made in different languages such as Urdu, French, or English. Riyadh has four Arabic newspapers; Asharq Al-Awsat (which is owned by the city governor), Al-Riyadh, Al-Jazeera and Al-Watan, two English language newspapers; Saudi Gazette and Arab News, and one Malayalam language newspaper, Gulf Madhyamam.
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