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Riyadh ( ar-Riyāḍ, lit: The Gardens) is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabiamarker. It is also the capital of Riyadh Provincemarker, and belongs to the historical regions of Nejd and Al-Yamama. It is situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau, and is home to 1,444,500 people, and the urban center of a region with a population of close to 6 million people. The city is divided into 15 municipal districts, managed by Riyadh Municipality headed by the mayor of Riyadh, and the Riyadh Development Authority, chaired by the Governor of Riyadh Provincemarker, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. The current mayor of Riyadh is Abdul Aziz ibn Ayyaf Al Migrin, appointed in 1998.


The name Riyadh is derived from the plural of the Arabic word rawdha, which means "garden," particularly those formed in the desert after rains. Riyadh has for more than 1500 years been a fertile area set in the heartland of the Arabian Peninsula. The settlement was historically famous for its Palm Trees and Dates and Orchards. The modern name was first applied to only certain parts of the settlement where orchards predominated. Gradually the name was used for the entire settlement.


Early History

During the Pre-Islamic era, the settlement at the site was called Hajr ( ), 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 traveller 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 Bani Hanifa, and reports that he continued on with their leader to Meccamarker 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 Manfuhamarker, took control of Riyadh. Ibn Dawwas built a single wall to encircle the various quarters of Riyadh, making them effectively a single town.

The three Saudi States

In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab formed an alliance with Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of the nearby town of Diriyahmarker. 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 Najranmarker.
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 Statemarker.

The First Saudi Statemarker was destroyed by forces sent by Muhammad Ali of Egypt, acting on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman forces razed the Saudi capital Diriyahmarker in 1818. In 1823, Turki ibn Abdallah, the founder of the Second Saudi State, revived the state and chose Riyadh as the new capital. 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, who ruled from the northern city of Ha'ilmarker. Riyadh itself fell under the rule of Al Rashid in 1865. The al-Masmakmarker fort dates from this period.

The city was recaptured in 1902 from the Al Rashid family by King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. He went on to establish the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabiamarker in 1932, with Riyadh the capital of the nation.



The city has experienced very high rates of population growth, from 150,000 inhabitants in the 1960s to over 6.4 million, according to the most recent sources.
Year Population
1862 7,500
1935 30,000
1960 150,000
1970 370,000
1972 500,000
1974 650,000
1988 1,500,000
1990 2,000,000
1997 2,800,000
2004 4,137,000
2008 6,400,000
Est 2011 8,800,000


Summer temperatures are very hot, approaching 50 degrees Celsius. The average high temperature in July is 45°C. Winters are mild with cold, windy nights. The overall climate is arid, receiving very little rainfall. It is also known to have many dust storms. The dust is often so thick that visibility is under 10 meters.

City districts

Other than online mapping services such as Google Maps and Yahoo! Maps, there appears to be little to no references available on the World Wide Web to document the division of Riyadh into districts. The online maps show the following major and minor districts:
  • Ad Dir'iyah
    • Al Qairawan
    • Al Malqa
    • Hittin
    • An Nakhil
    • Al Khuzama
    • An Narjis
    • An Nada
    • Ar Rabi'
    • Ar Raid
  • Ar Riyad
    • Al Nasif
    • Al Izdihar
    • King Fahd District
    • Ar Rimai
    • Al Qadisiyah
    • Al M'aizillah
    • An Nasin Al Ghari
    • Al Manar
    • As Salam
    • As Sa'adah
    • Alfaiha
    • Al Janadiriyah
    • An Nadhim
    • Ar Rimayah
    • Khashm Al'an
  • Al Madinah As Sina'iyah
    • Dhahrat Laban
    • Hijrat Laban
    • As Suwado Al Gharbi
    • As Suwaidi
    • Al Mansurah
    • Ash Shifa
    • Al Hazm
    • Al Manwah
  • Jiza
    • Ad Difa'
    • Al Iskan
    • Ad Dar Al Baida
    • Taybah
  • Al Mansouriyah
  • Al Hair

Riyadh is divided into 15 municipalities, in addition to the Diplomatic Quarter, while the ruins of the former Saudimarker capital of Diriyahmarker are on its northwest outskirts.

Olaya District is the commercial heart of the city, with accommodation, entertainment, dining and shopping options. The Kingdom Centermarker, Al Faisalyahmarker and Al-Tahlya Street are the area's most prominent landmarks.

The Diplomatic Quarter, or DQ as it is popularly known, is home to foreign embassies and international organizations as well as residential structures 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. Despite its name, the special privileges offered in the Diplomatic Quarter constitute a controversial issue. All Saudi laws must be obeyed and there are occasional patrols by the Mutaween, or Saudi religious police. However, foreign diplomats and their families are allowed certain privileges and it is not very uncommon to see foreign diplomats and their wives strolling on the streets of the DQ in shorts and short-sleeve shirts.

The centre of the city, Al-Bathaa and Al-Dirah, is also its oldest part. At its heart lies the 19th-century Al Masmakmarker fort, which is one of the city's major attractions; to the west lies the Riyadh Museum of History and Archeology and the Murabba' Palace, an old residence of first Saudi king, Ibn Saud, now a museum. The Qasr Al-Hukm, or Palace of Justice, is nearby. It is here that the Governor of Riyadh Provincemarker meets citizens, listens to their grievances and problems, and stays abreast of all aspects of the region's life. The Al-Dira area also contains commercial markets and traditional buildings, such as the Al-Mu'eiqilia market and the city's Grand Mosque.

The Al-Suwaidi district, on the western side of the Wadi Hanifa, is very religious and has been home to many Saudi terrorists.

Architectural Landmarks

Vernacular Architecture of Old Riyadh

The old town of Riyadh within the city Walls did not exceed an area of 1 square km, therefore there are very few significant architectural remnants of the original walled oasis town of Riyadh exist today. The most prominent is the al-Masmakmarker 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, however 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 1937 and a household of 800 people moved into it in 1938. The palace was big enough to be mistaken as the city of Riyadh by travellers approaching it from the north. During the life King Abdulaziz, the palace was subject to numerous expansions (of grounds and buildings). It was constructed in the style of Najdi architecture of mud-bricks and marked a level of architectural maturity that was unprecedented on that scale.Nowadays, only a fragment of what it encompassed is restored and rebuilt in the traditional manner. However, 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 are Diriyahmarker, Manfuha and Wadi Laban to name a few. 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.

Contemporary Architecture of Riyadh

Burj Al Mamlakah

The 311 m (1000 ft) high Kingdom Tower (Arabic: برج المملكة‎) is the tallest skyscraper in Saudi Arabia and the 36th tallest building in the world. The tower is built on 94,230 square meters of land. The Kingdom Center is owned by Al-Waleed bin Talal, a prince of the Saudi royal family, and is the headquarters of his holding company: Kingdom Holding Company. The project cost 2 billion Saudi Arabian Riyals and the contract was taken by Saudi Arabian El Saif and the Italian Impregilo Kingdom Center is situated in Al-Urubah Road between King Fahd Road and Olaya Street in the growing business district of Al-Olaya in Riyadh. Kingdom Center was 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 center, which also won a major design award, fills the east wing. The large opening is illuminated at night in continuously changing colors.

Burj Al Faisaliyah

Al Faisaliyah Center (Arabic: برج الفيصلية‎) was the first skyscraper constructed in Saudi Arabia, and is the second tallest building in the country after the Kingdom Centermarker. 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 center with major world brands at ground level.

Burj Al Anoud

Al Anoud tower is 145 meters high. It is a major commercial building on King Fahd road. The tower is owned by Princess Al-Anoud and moderated by several Saudi Arabian companies.
Sahara Mall

Riyadh TV Tower

The Riyadh TV Tower (170m high) has an observation deck and was built in 1970s.

Ministry of Interior Building

The headquarters for the country's Interior Ministry is widely considered one of the city's most beautiful landmarks with its unique design of a upsidedown pyramid

Al Masmak Castle

This castle was built around 1865 under the reign of Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Rasheed (1289-1315 AH), the ruler of Ha'ilmarker 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 Kuwaitmarker succeeded in capturing the Masmak fortress from its Rashid garrison. The event, which restored Al Saud control over Riyadh, has acquired almost mythical status in the history of Saudi Arabia and has been retold many times, but has as its central theme the heroism and bravery of the future King Abd Abdulaziz Ibn Saud.

Al Nakheel tower

A tower which is under construction and most likley to be done in 2010.It is being built by Al Nakheel real estate company


Riyadh hosts more than 50 embassies of which 22 belong to the countries of the Arab League.


Once a small walled city, Riyadh has developed into a dynamic metropolis over the years. Along with the urban areas of Dhahranmarker, Dammammarker and Khobarmarker, Riyadh has become a focal point for both travel and trade.

In addition to being the center of power, the city is also a commercial hub. Numerous educational, financial, agricultural, cultural, technical, and social organizations have set up base here. The architecture is mostly modern, including contemporary high-rise towers, but the Al-Dira district, the nucleus of the city, has been rebuilt in a style meant to evoke the old mud-brick buildings of pre-20th century Nejd.
King Saud Medical Complex
From the beginning of oil exploration in Saudi Arabiamarker to the present day, the government has promoted growth in the private sector by privatizing industries such as power and telecommunications. Saudi Arabia announced plans for privatizing the electricity companies. A lot of these new private conglomerates and companies headquarters are located in Riyadh, along with National Banks headquarters. Because of that, Riyadh is considered as the capital city financial and business center of the Middle East.

King Khalid International Airportmarker has a major impact on the commercial movement in Riyadh, providing air transportation for millions of people each year and shipping goods to the city from all continents.

King Fahd Road

King Fahd road is the main road in Riyadh city. Many business places in Riyadh prefer to locate their head offices on King Fahad road, and headquarters of major companies and organizations are located on both sides of the road. Huge malls, business towers and skyscrapers are widely distributed on this road. However, many roads are becoming more attractive to businesses as King Fahad road is now crowded most times of the day. King Abduallah bin Abdualziz road, Mohammd bin Fahd "Tahlia", Prince Sultan, north ring road have all became alternatives for business and companies' head offices.

The northern end reaches the Airport over another highway. According to many opinions, King Fahd Road is one of the most beautiful street in Saudi Arabia, making the road a popular tourist attraction. Famous landmarks such as Kingdom Centremarker, Al Faisaliyah Centermarker, Al Anoud Tower and the Ministry of Interior building are also located on King Fahd Road. However, it is fast becoming second to King Abdullah Street which has seen major building projects and a train track and tunnel system is currently under construction.

The Industrial City

The Industrial areas are located on the East and the North-East of the city, Including some of world largest factories of oil-related industry, high-tech, low-tech and agriculture. Aramco has large operations in the area which includes oil refineries. Electricity and water-treatments plants supply the city with their much-needed energy and water, which also reach the nearby towns.


As a capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh has received millions of visitors of different backgrounds from all over the world. The population of Riyadh is 60% Saudi and 40% of the population is made up of foreigners from Africa, South Asia, Europe and the Middle East, many of whom remained and became residents of the city.


Riyadh is home to several universities and colleges. Riyadh also houses the main campus of the Government's Institute of Public Administration and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency's Institute of Banking.



Public libraries

The King Fahad National Library and King Abdulaziz Public Library are located in Riyadh.


Religious significance

The vast majority of Riyadh residents are Sunni Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Maldives, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Asia, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, Nigeria and several West African countries. Shiite Muslims are also abundant from the Saudi Eastern Provincemarker and from countries like Iranmarker, Syriamarker and Pakistan. Riyadh has a very diverse Muslim population, with Muslims coming all over the world to settle in the city. There are also a large minority of Asian and Westerner and Lebanese Christians. The City also has a minority Jewish population from countries such as other Arab countries, Europe & from the Western World. The city has over 4,300 Mosques. Hindus in the city are virtually all Indianmarker and so are the Sikhs. Even though freedom of religion is very rare in Riyadh, Non-Muslims are allowed to practice their religion privately in their homes and usually start prayer timings, rituals, gatherings, schools, and religious studies.


Like other Saudi cities, the Nejdi Kabsa is the most traditional lunch in Riyadh. The Yemeni Mandi is also popular as a lunch meal. Fast food is also popular in the city. Western cuisine also plays an important part in the city's culture, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Domino's Pizza, Papa Johns, KFC, Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme Donuts, Starbuck's, and Subway are widely distributed in Riyadh. There are also many North American based restaurants, such as Fuddruckers, Chili's, Applebees, Tony Roma's, T.G.I. Fridays, Johnny Rockets, Gulf Royal Chinese, Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits and Planet Hollywood.

Museums and collections

In 1999 a new central Museum was built in Riyadh at the eastern side of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre. This National Museum of Saudi Arabiamarker combined several collections and pieces that had up till then been scattered over several Institutions and 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.


Riyadh is served by four major Arabic-language newspapers, Asharq Al-Awsat (which is owned by the city governor), Al-Riyadh, Al-Jazeera and Al-Watan. Television stations serving the city area include Saudi TV1, Saudi TV2, Saudi TV Sports, Al-Ekhbariya, ART channels network and hundreds of cable, satellite and other specialty television providers. The Riyadh TV Tower is a high television tower with an observation deck at Riyadh. The tower started construction in 1978 and finished in 1981 and is a part of the Ministry of Information.


Soccer is the most popular sport in Riyadh. The city hosts four major soccer clubs, such as Al Shabab, which was established in 1947, holding a great record in the Saudi Premier League. Al-Nasr club is another famous squad in the league, was named six times as a champion of the Saudi League, and was established in 1955. The well-known club Al-Hilal, Which was established in 1957 conquers the league as the winner of ten championships, is the most popular team in the country. Also, there is Al-Riyadh club, which was established in 1954 along with many other minor clubs.

The city also hosts several giant stadiums, such as King Fahd International Stadiummarker with capacity of 70,000 seats. The stadium hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup three times in 1992, 1995 and 1997. And also the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1989.


The Riyadh city area has a distinctive regional speech pattern called the Najdi dialect. It is often considered to be one of the most recognizable accents within the Arabic language. Najdi Arabic is widely spoken in the desert regions of central and eastern Saudi Arabiamarker.



Riyadh's King Khalid International Airportmarker (IATA: RUH), located 35 kilometers north, is the city's main airport. It's one of the four international airports in the country serving over 20 million passengers a year.


The city is served by a modern major highway system. The main Eastern Ring Road connects the city's south and north, while Northern Ring Road connects the city's east and west. King Fahd Road runs through the center of the city from north to south, in parallel with the East Ring Road. Makkah Road, which runs east-west across the city's center, connects eastern parts of the city with the city's main business district and the diplomatic quarters.


Saudi Railway Authority operates two separate passenger and cargo lines between Riyadh and Dammammarker passing through Hofufmarker, and Haradhmarker. Two future railway projects connecting Riyadh with Jeddahmarker and Meccamarker in the western region and connecting Riyadh with Buraidahmarker, Ha'ilmarker and Northern Saudi Arabia are underway. Developers are the RC corporation, wholly owned by H O’Donovan, W Daly and S Burgoyne, however, are now being built single-handedly by H O'Donovan.

Public transport

The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Co. (SAPTCO), the national bus system, runs a fleet of buses that provides public transportation inside the city, and also an extending service transporting passengers to several cities across the kingdom and neighboring countries.

An electric sky train system has been approved and the first phase will be installed in King Abdullah Road, King Fahd Road and Al Olaya Road. It will run for 25 km and will include communication services such as phones and internet.

See also

Notes and References

External links

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