Diriyah: World’s Biggest Heritage Project, First Capital of Saudi State


  • Diriyah: World’s Biggest Heritage Project, First Capital of Saudi State

Prepared by: Cultural Department – Fahd Al-Awwad

Riyadh,  September 4, 2021,  SPA – FANA

Historical Diriyah is the pearl of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is around 20 kilometers from the center of Riyadh and is located in the fertile Wadi Hanifa in the northwest of Riyadh.  Diriyah is the first capital of the Saudi State and is currently the biggest heritage project in the world.

Diriyah is around 700 meters above sea level and houses some old Najd towns in the north, such as Al-Jbeilah and Al-Ayniyyah, and Arqa in the south. During its peak, Diriyah extended over eight kilometers on both sides of the Wadi Hanifa from Al-Alab in the north to Al-Mleibid in the south, where Diriyah is considered an important strategic location for its being located in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on the Peak of Tweiq Mountains.

Diriyah was established in 850 hijri/1446 Gregorian by Mani’ ibn Rabi’a Al-Muraydi, the great grandfather of the Saudi Royal family, where he excelled in building Diriyah until it became one of the strongest emirates of Najd and assumed a prominent role in securing the roads of Hajj and trade between the eastern and western parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

During the bright reign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is witnessing an immense development at all levels, where he placed unparalleled attention to Diriyah, thanks to his contribution to reviving Diriyah some three decades ago and making it one of the most important destinations to get acquainted with the Saudi history and the true heritage that pass from one generation to another, which resulted in registering the historic Al-Turaif District on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010.

This approach was implemented by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), under a development march that accords with the Kingdom Vision 2030 through developing several projects over an area of more than 190 square kilometers.

The Saudis, through the history, heritage and traditions of Diriyah, live a joint experience that allows them to build the future of the homeland through implementing various major projects, so that the city can become a symbol of national unity and a main base for values that contribute to forming the Saudi future.

 Diriyah Gate Project is one of the most important outcomes and achievements of the Kingdom Vision 2030, and one of the national projects emanating from the ambitious goals and aspiration of the Vision, where Diriyah has witnessed development and growth as part of intensified endeavors to realize its programs, making “Diriyah Gate” the biggest heritage and cultural project in the world that was inaugurated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in November 2019, while His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Diriyah Gate Development Authority, is closely following up its growing achievements in a bid to making the historic Diriyah one of the most important tourist and cultural destinations and attractions in the region and the world.

The Diriyah Gate Project realizes several economic, cultural and social aspirations and goals of the Kingdom Vision 2030, including enhancing and protecting the Saudi history and heritage, developing local talents in the field of academic, historical and heritage research, boosting the value of pride in national history and heritage, increasing the GDP, and improving the local content.

DGDA is also planning to establish several distinguished museums, event centers and heritage and cultural exhibitions in a bid to highlight the role of Diriyah in developing the entire region strategically and economically, in addition to constructing some assets according to the traditional heritage character.

Also, international hotels and other small hotels with historical characters will be established under the administration of renowned global trademarks to attract visitors to enjoy unique experience during which they live the longstanding features of the old cities according to the best international modern standards, in addition to rehabilitating and developing the historic Wadi Hanifa and its parks and oasis, among other development plans for walking routes, horse courses and skiing.

Spas also include high-end restaurants and hotel sweets that are inspired from the old Diriyah castles with private balconies so as to form a comprehensive environment that grants their guests unique experience of luxury and privacy, which will be the most distinguished in the Middle East.

The DGDA also plans to add commercial markets according to old patterns, where the project includes establishing modern open markets with developed cooling systems and a wide array of shops of the most famous high-end local and international trademarks according to an architectural style inspired from the historic Mawsem Market in Diriyah under a certain mechanism that retrieves the activities of vendors of that time through handicrafts and traditional jewelry and textile that are manufactured with rich patterns and unique internal and external designs that accord with the historical environment of the place, especially that open markets are spread on the two banks of Wadi Hanifa to re-assume the prestigious seasonal roles through the summer and winter markets.

Yamama Market, which is active with trade movements of fresh natural organic products, with its name that is inspired from the Yamama area that was known for its green areas thanks to the fertility of its lands and abundance of water, plants, trees and palm trees, is characterized by having a multi-purpose theater in the open air to organize historical shows and plays to display historical stories, in addition to reenacting major historical battles and events during the life of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as other acting shows.

The Diriyah Gate Project also includes establishing modern residences, with applying authentic traditional Arab urban planning standards, which also comprise some office areas and diversified administrative assets, as well as several public and government services that are connected with the Riyadh train station.

The project also includes several educational centers, distinguished cultural and heritage academies and vocational training institutions through which, several programs and workshops will be held to brief visitors and tourists on some elegant historical and heritage professions in the land of kings and heroes.

Among the most important districts of the historic Diriyah is Al-Turaif District that is located in the center of Diriyah on a hill at the western side of the Wadi Hanifa, where the valley surrounds the district from the east and south, and is one of the national heritage sites in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and a unique monument for the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its authentic traditions.

The DGDA, in cooperation with King Abdulaziz Foundation, managed to write stories and historic events through developing and revising 100 historic stories on Diriyah that focused on historical, heritage and cultural aspects related to prominent historic figures in the national history, such as imams, kings, heroes, leaders, prominent women and important historic events.

The Authority also implemented several activities in Diriyah, the home of heroes and kings and the launching point of unity with its historic heritage, with the aim of preparing the city to host a wide variety of events and occasions that are related to its historic civilization as an attraction center to visitors and guests from inside and outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In continuation of these efforts, the DGDA has reactivated and simulated life in Diriyah, especially in Al-Turaif District, during holding events that were hosted by the area through activating motels that house a small group of open museums in the open air and others in closed places that are spread across the world heritage site with more than 13 acting scenes that simulate history, where the opening scene reflects a journey that takes visitors into through time to the old Diriyah while they enjoy the best types of dates and authentic Arabian coffee, and listen to stories from narrators that acquaint them with the aspects of social life in Diriyah, such as traditions of welcoming guests, manufacturing of dates, popular dishes, family lives, street life, traditional medicine and old schools and markets.

The Authority has also held exhibitions and tours with tour guides, and exhibitions for handicrafts and musical shows, in addition to shows by heritage bands and hosting more than 10,000 visitors of senior figures to acquaint them with Diriyah’s contents of history and elegant heritage. 

Diriyah in history was known as the pearl of Najd not only due to the abundance of water of Wadi Hanifa, but also due to the testimonies of first travelers who admired the elegance of the simple city and its importance as being a hub for education, art, national culture and a precious symbol for the Saudi identity.

Jerry Inzerillo, Chief Executive Officer of the Authority, stressed that developing the historic Diriyah area, the pearl of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is part of ambitions and aspirations of the Kingdom Vision 2030 and transforming the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into an international tourist destination thanks to what it enjoys of immense natural resources and prestigious historic and heritage sites, as well as diversified cultural potentials and a distinguished architectural character, especially the Najd architecture that is known in Diriyah.  

Inzerillo noted that scheduled projects, according to the plan to rehabilitate historic Diriyah under the Diriyah Gate Project, which extends on an area of seven square kilometers, include establishing a group of historic and entertainment destinations through adding more than 20 hotels and a group of museums, global shopping stores and more than 100 restaurants with tastes and flavors of various countries and peoples of the world. The project also includes a number of exterior yards with distinguished designs and fascinating views in addition to a three-kilometer walkway that overlooks Wadi Hanifa, where the area will become the biggest and most important open heritage and cultural area with natural and historic views that include more than 20 Saudi cultural landmarks.

The CEO noted that completing the projects in the area will turn it into a world destination with an exceptional lifestyle for its being home to all Saudis, which enables it not only to become an area for exploration, shopping and tasting the most delicious food of the world, but also to become a place of residence, living and high-end life, and thus making it able to attract millions of tourists and guests from all around the world and citizens and residents of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

He noted that the first phase that started in Al-Bujairi area is witnessing a continuous development process and improvement for the infrastructure, as well as improving the living conditions of the Diriyah community and population in light of plans of the project to open streets according to a historic architectural pattern with panoramic natural views, courses for bicycles and others for horse riding, and natural tenting for pedestrian crossings, adding that Al-Bujairi area will be a main center for high-end international restaurants with distinguished views on Al-Turaif District.

The project also includes developing an area of two square kilometers from Wadi Hanifa and rehabilitating old palm orchards and farms in the area, new walkways and park to serve as open sites for tourists and visitors to enjoy these natural views in the open air.

Infrastructure works have also started for the Diriyah Gate Project, which is one of the most developed and complicated schemes at the world level and includes transferring around nine million cubic meters of sand, which equals 3,600 Olympic pools with a length of 50 meters and height of 15 meters under the ground level, with the aim of establishing three kilometers of tunnels and a waiting yard that can accommodate 10,500 cars with the use of 1.2 million cubic meters of concrete, where the first phase of the development will cover an area of 1.320 million square meters, which equals the area of around 185 football stadiums.   

Inzerillo concluded his statements by saying that “There is only one Diriyah, and this is our most important project under the aspirations of the Kingdom Vision 2030.We are happy for starting this phase and transferring the vision into a tangible reality to make Diriyah an international hub for culture and high-end lifestyle and a location for events, joy and entertainment to set a model that expresses the value and greatness of the Saudi culture and its strong economy in the world. What is important and different in this project, and what gives it’s a big value at the economic, historic and tourist levels, is that it combines the unique location of the pearl of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the elegance of some 300 years since the first Saudi state, in addition to being an international rehabilitation process for this historic area that also includes establishing an advanced educational institutions, academies, cultural institutes, universities and museums in light of the big development that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is living thanks to God and then to the wise government of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

For his part, Jonathan Timms, head of development and design at the Authority, said that the development and rehabilitation project constitutes a new lifestyle for the Diriyah citizens in particular and the Riyadh community in general, especially that it combines the traditional Najd lifestyle and the modern entertainment and comfort tools that all mingle together in a comprehensive urban community that bases its values from the longstanding human heritage and the cultural equality values in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.