Glimpse of the past

, CULTURE

Ad’Diriyah in the north-western district of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is the first Saudi state and the original home of the Saudi royal family. Saudi Arabia’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ad’Diriyah will give you a glimpse of the country as it was in the pre-oil era.

Comprising of several villages on either side of Wadi Hanifa, going further up to the western side of the Tuwaiq Mountain, Ad’Diriyah’s foundations can be traced back to the 15th century. With nomadic tribes settling in the area, it became the centre for economic activity— merchants from across Arabia and as far as Syria, came to trade, making it the most powerful town of Najd.

Imam Muhammad ibn Saud, ruler of Ad’Diriyah, formed an agreement with Shaikh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab to run the state according to Islamic law. The centre of government was in the Al-Turaif quarter, overlooking Wadi Hanifa and the Al-Bujairi quarter on Wadi Hanifa — with 30 schools and 27 mosques — became a centre for learning and teaching.

By 1808 AD, the first Saudi state was at the zenith of its power in Arabia. Shortly after, the Ottoman-Saudi war of 1811-1818 led to the destruction of Ad’Diriyah. In 1824 AD, a descendent of the Saud family, Imam Turki bin ‘Abdullah Al-Saud revived the state and relocated the capital down south, making Riyadh the capital of the second Saudi state and where it is, the present-day capital.

Visiting Ad’Diriyah

Ad’Diriyah district is a 30-minute drive from Riyadh city centre. The Al-Bujairi quarter is a recently-renovated area that includes Shaikh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s house and the first mosque of Ad’Diriyah. Najd Village, a restaurant that serves Najdi-cuisine, is a must-visit to sample authentic Saudi cuisine and revel at the antiquities placed in every nook and cranny of it. Other open-area cafés and the Heritage Park are weekend-favourites with picnicking locals. A walk in the alleyways of the Al-Bujairi quarter offers ample photo opportunities against the background of beautifully-adorned Saudi doors and gates.

Some areas of the Al-Turaif quarter are under restoration, including the Al-Saud house, Salwa Palace (derived from the Arabic word “Silwan,” to mean peacefulness and quietness). Among the areas open to the public are alleyways where visitors can walk around and see the traditional Najdi-houses. Characterised by citadels and open courtyards, these houses were constructed using straw and mud, standing the test of time.

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