Diriyah - Saudi Arabia

After hundreds of years, the cradle of Saudi Arabia can be visited again. At seven thousand square meters, the perfectly reconstructed Al Turaif is among the largest mud brick structures in the world and is a must-see during your tour of Saudi Arabia.

A few kilometers away from Riyadh, surrounded by the green oasis of Wadi Hanifa, is Diriyah, the former capital of the Saudi Empire founded in 1727. In its heyday, Diriyah was inhabited by 30,000 people. Diriyah then consisted of mud-brick houses divided into three districts: Ghussaibah, Al-Mulaybeed and Al Turaif. The latter in the eighteenth century was the cradle of the House of Saudi Arabia, which still rules Saudi Arabia.

The fall of Diriyah

Under great pressure and opposition from the Ottomans, who controlled much of the Arabian Peninsula in the sixteenth century, the local tribes managed to create a thriving and self-reliant society in one of the world's harshest environments. The ruined walls of Al Turaif still bear the scars of the bloody battle against Turkish occupation. After six months of defense, the tribesmen had to surrender in 1818. Many of their leaders were tortured, executed or exiled.

In 2018, King Salman bin Abdulaziz commissioned the restoration of the crumbling Al Turaif district, the home of his ancestors. It has been kept entirely within the traditional Najdi building style, which made use of the few materials available in the wider area: loam, limestone from the wadi quarries and wood from tamarisk trees.

The reconstruction of Al Turaif

No expense was spared to rebuild Al Turaif, which earned Unesco World Heritage status back in 2010. The Middle East's best craftsmen were brought in. With the help of satellite images, they managed to accurately determine the ancient contours and reconstruct the historic district to perfection. Loamstone by loamstone.

After hundreds of years, the cradle of today's Saudi Arabia can be visited again. At seven thousand square meters, Diriyah is among the largest mud brick structures in the world and is a must-see during your tour of Saudi Arabia.

Geometric patterns and imposing wooden doors adorn the walls of the rebuilt Al Turaif. While visiting, learn more about Saudi history at the Diriyah Museum, take a look inside the Al Zawiha Mosque and study Najdi architecture at the Saad bin Saud Palace.

The best time to visit Diriyah is during the winter months, when the mercury does not exceed 25°C (77°F). Around Diriyah, 39 hotels and more than 100 restaurants are being built to cater to future visitors. Established hotels will open their doors in the coming years such as Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt and Raffles. You will also find 6 museums, 26 cultural attractions, more than 400 stores and about 100 souks and bazaars. There will also be a park covering 2.6km2 where you can walk, bike and ride horses. A giga project with a total cost of some $63 billion that should attract millions of visitors annually.

The best time to visit Diriyah is before 5 p.m., when you can park and enter for free. Be sure to book your (free) entrance ticket in advance, which will be scanned upon entry. If you come after 5 p.m., you will pay SAR 50.

Diriyah in a nutshell

  • The 1.9-km long King Salman Boulevard in Diriyah, inspired by the Paris Champs-Élysées, is scheduled for completion in 2028
  • Diriyah's Royal Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
  • The first of the 39 hotels in Diriyah, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
  • Upon completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is predicted to house more than 100,000 people
  • The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product
  • It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visitors a year
  • About 2,000 people work for the company in Diriyah, more than 86 percent are Saudi nationals
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