Once a small walled city, Riyadh has developed into a dynamic metropolis over the years. The first major changes began during the oil boom of the 1950s, when older structures were demolished to make way for commercial development. Today, it is one of the fastest growing and most prosperous cities in the world.
The capital and largest city of the Kingdom, Riyadh is divided into 17 municipalities. Each contributes in its own way to the vibrant character of the city, which has experienced a fairly unique history and colorful past. In 1991, it was slightly damaged by Iraqi missile attacks during the Persian Gulf War but returned to normalcy soon after. The city has grown both culturally and commercially over the years. Along with the urban areas of Dhahran, Dammam, and Al-Khobar, Riyadh has become a focal point for both travel and trade. On the outskirts of the city lies the ancient town of AI-Dih’yah.
The most striking aspect of Riyadh is its architecture, which is a vibrant juxtaposition of the old and the new – contemporary high-rise towers shadow over buildings exuding old world charm. In addition to being the epicenter of power, the city is also a commercial hub. Numerous educational, financial, agricultural, cultural, technical and social organizations have set up base here.
The bustling Olaya District is the heart and soul of this city. This commercial and residential district offers accommodation, entertainment, dining and shopping options that will cater to the budget of a prince as well as a pauper. The Kingdom Centre and the Al Faisaliyah Center are the area’s landmarks while the Sheraton, Howard Johnson Plaza, Al-Tamimi Shopping Centre and Haif Shopping Centre are also popular nearby destinations.
Numerous shops, lively markets, world-cuisine restaurants and huge malls keep both Salahuddin District and Street King Fahad packed with tourists. The many hotels in the area, which include the four-star Al Mutlaq Hotel offer convenient accommodation to those wishing to explore the city. Other attractions include the Fal Commercial, Recreational Center Mall and the Al-Shula Entertainment Centre.
The center of the city, Al-Bathaa, is also its oldest part. At its heart lies the beautiful 19th-century Masmak Castle, which is one of the city’s major attractions. To the west lies the Riyadh Museum of History and Archeology.
The Qasr Al-Hukm or the Justice Palace is located in the district of the same name. It is here that the Governor meets citizens, listens to their grievances and learns about problems and issues affecting the region. Its architecture, like other buildings in the area, is a fine mixture of traditional and contemporary styles.
The Diplomatic Quarter or DQ as it is popularly known, is home to foreign embassies, international organizations as well as residences and malls. With lush gardens and numerous sports facilities, it is also one of the city’s greenest areas. It is especially known for its fine architecture, and is considered a model for other Islamic cities around the world.
While the Al Khobar District is a preferred residential area for expatriates, the Al-Dira area is rich with commercial markets and traditional buildings, which include the famous Royal Palace and Al-Mue’qila building.
Riyadh is located in the southern Najd region. More correctly transliterated as al-Riyad (“the gardens”), the city is also the capital of a large province of the same name. Nearby are the ruins of alDirʿiyya, the original seat of the Al Saʿud family until an invading Egyptian army destroyed the village in 1818 and put an end to the first Saudi state. The Al Saʿud thereupon relocated at Riyadh, which became the capital of the second Saudi state of the mid-nineteenth century. With a second decline in Saudi fortunes, Riyadh was lost to the rival Al Rashid dynasty of Haʾil in 1891. But in 1902, Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman (also known as Ibn Saʿud) infiltrated the town with a small band of followers. Launching a surprise attack on al-Musmak fortress, Abd al-Aziz succeeded in capturing the Al Rashid governor and restoring Saudi control over Riyadh.
Over the next two decades, the Al Saʿud used Riyadh as their base to extend their authority once again over all of Najd. From the late 1920s, Saudi Arabia had two capitals, with the king resident in Riyadh, the capital of Najd, but most of the ministries and embassies located in al-Hijaz. By 1955 most government ministries and head offices had moved to Riyadh. The Foreign Ministry and foreign embassies remained in Jiddah until 1985, when they too were required to move to the capital. Riyadh’s population was estimated at only 169,000 in 1962, but the oil boom (beginning in 1974) dramatically transformed the city and caused its population to increase to over 1.5 million. By 2003 the capital’s population was estimated at nearly 4.5 million. The skyline has been enhanced in recent years by two skyscrapers, the thirty-story al-Faysaliyya Center and the Kingdom Tower.
Very little of the old city remains intact; the old mud-brick fort of al-Musmak has been preserved and Ibn Saʿud’s al-Murabbi Palace was restored during the country’s centennial celebrations in 1999. Many buildings in the new diplomatic quarter, which is known as al-Dirʿiyya because of its proximity to the old village, imitate the traditional mud-brick architecture. Near this quarter are located the new King’s Office Complex (al-Yamama Palace) and the headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Also nearby is the campus of King Saʿud University; founded in 1957, it is the country’s oldest university. Imam Muhmmad ibn Saʿud University, one of the kingdom’s three Islamic universities, is located in Riyadh as well. The city is the inland terminus of a railroad from al-Dammam on the Persian Gulf coast, and the previous international airport has become a major air force base.
The government is the largest employer in Riyadh, although light industry and retail firms are also important. Riyadh or Riad (both: rēäd´) , city (1997 est. pop. 3,000,000), capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia, in the Nejd, central Saudi Arabia. It is situated in an oasis, c.240 mi (390 km) inland from the Persian Gulf. Riyadh is the nation’s educational, administrative, financial, and transportation center. Oil refining is the main industry. Riyadh is the focal point for desert travel and trade. Its architecture formerly represented the classic Arabic style, but in the oil boom of recent decades many buildings were torn down and replaced by large modern structures. Riyadh was long the center of the Wahhabi movement. In 1991, the city was slightly damaged by Iraqi missile attacks during the Persian Gulf War. By the late 1990s, Riyadh was one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. It is the seat of King Fahd Univ., Imam Mohamed Univ., and other schools.