24 July 2024

Spent a few hours before hitting Riyadh proper in Al Bujairi Heritage Park  in the Wadi Hanifah, in Diriyah, Riyadh. The park is located to the opposite side of the historic At-Turaif district, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Apparently, we arrived on opening day and we were also the first infidel barbarians or honoured foreign guests – take your pick – to visit. There was an enormous amount of staff in traditional Arabic robes all over the place. Most spoke english and were, as it customary in the Muslin world, very friendly and hospitable. Generous hospitality extended to family, friends, and strangers is one of the best-known feature of Muslim societies, whether pastoral, rural, or urban. This tradition of hospitality goes back to ancient times in the Middle East, an arid region where trade early became more important than in other regions and where the need for travelers to rely on the kindness of strangers was correspondingly greater. In Arabia, the pre-Islamic chieftain Hatim al-Ta˒i represents the ideal generous host, and has remained a symbol of exhuberant hospitality to this day.

The park itself was huge and had three main areas: an entertainment/touristy and foodie area, a museum and the At-Turaif World Heritage Site.

Located in the old city of Ad Diriyah in the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh, the historic At Turaif World Heritage Site was the original home of the royal family of Saudi Arabia and represented the capital of their dynasty up till 1818. The Al Turaif is a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts many local and international tourists every year. It is also famous for its Najdi architectural style, which is specific to the Arabian Peninsula. The At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage site is essentially an open air museum which allows visitors to experience the birthplace of Saudi Arabia.

In 2018, the Saudi government launched a massive restoration process in the historic At Turaif District in an attempt to document the archaeological sites of the district and turn it into an open air museum. 

At Turaif World Heritage Site is like a gateway into the past. The architecture, the alleyways, and the artifacts give you an insight into what the capital of the first Saudi state looked like. It is also home to a number of museums that house different handicrafts, weapons, and utensils from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The buildings, staff, surroundings etc were magnificent and must have cost an eye-watering amount of money to construct. Yet, I was left with the strong sensation that it was all like an Islamic Disneyland. The whole place, and indeed the official history of Saudi Arabia, seems like a reification of a phantasy constructed by murderous warlords and blood-thirsty scoundrels. In the absence of critical scholarship of their holy books and no independent thinking, these fallacies become concrete and ‘cultural’. Mind you, we in the West went down a similar route before.

(Please click on any thumbnail above to enlarge the whole gallery for full size sliding photos)

(Please click on any thumbnail above to enlarge the whole gallery for full size sliding photos)

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