Riyadh is the capital and most populous city of Saudi Arabia. It is also the capital of Riyadh Province and belongs to the historical regions of Al-Yamama and Najd. It is situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau and home to more than six million people.
During the Pre-Islamic era the city 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 Yamama, whose governors were responsible for most of central and eastern Arabia during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. 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. From the 1940s, Riyadh “mushroomed” from a relatively narrow, spatially isolated town into a spacious metropolis. When King Saud came to power, he made it his objective to modernize Riyadh, and began developing Annasriyyah, the royal residential district, in 1950.
Places to visit
Masmak Fortress The heart of old Riyadh, this was the fortress stormed by King Abdul Aziz and his men in their daring reconquest of Riyadh in 1902. Renovated in 2008, the mud brick structure now looks like it was built yesterday, but the museum inside does a pretty good job of recounting the story of the raid and has some fascinating photos of old Riyadh as well.
As-Sufaat or Deira Square. Next to the Great Mosque and the mutawwa headquarters, this nondescript expanse of cement is known by expats as Chop-Chop Square as convicts are publicly beheaded by sword here. Executions take place on Friday mornings just after the noon prayer.
Things to do
Although few Saudis play golf, there are surprisingly good golf courses around. The best one is the 18-holes course in Dirab Golf & Contry club a good 30 minutes drive west of Riyadh. Nice layout with green and inviting grass, and the last 9 holes are even floodlit. They offer swimming and horse-back riding as well.
Head west down the Makkah Road for 30 minutes, and you’ll reach the edge of the Tuwaig Escarpment. As you make the 200 meter sharp drop from the Tuwaig escarpment to Najd-proper, you will get a good feel of the desert with dunes.