saudi Arabia, Geographical and Political Background
Saudi Arabia located in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in the southwestern part of Asia, is the third largest country in Asia after China and India. Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen all lie around the Kingdom’s geographical borders and on the west, it is bordered by the Red Sea. The history of Saudi Arabia dates back to the ruling family; Al-Saud who founded the first cities in Saudi Arabia. Ad-Diriyah city was the center of Saudi rule in Najd region, which was later divided into a group of emirates.
Riyadh, the Capital and the historically-rich City
Besides being the Capital, it is one of the most important Saudi cities. Its central location in Saudi Arabia enabled it to play a pivotal role in the Kingdom’s history and allowed it to witness a rapid economic and political growth along the twentieth century. Riyadh features many cultural and civilizational landmarks like public buildings and the religious facilities with approximately 4000 mosques, shopping centers, and different local and international companies and institutions adding to other tourist attractions.
Riyadh, the ancient city that was firstly formed in the twelfth century of Hijra features deep roots in the Saudi history. It is thought that the first human appearance in Riyadh region dates back to nearly a quarter of a million years ago. The National Museum of Riyadh contains some evidences of the old human presence on this land. There are also some historical writings refer to the existence of a city called “Hajr” at the same known location of Riyadh today. Historians believe that Hajr was the capital of the province of Al-Yamamah.
Afterwards, in the tenth century of Hijra, Hajr city was divided into small towns including Muqrin (the Qasr Al-Hukm palace and its surroundings), Mi’kal, Al-Awd, Al-Biniyah (now Al-Murabba), Al-Sulayaa, Jabrah, Al-Kharab (now Asir street) after being neighborhoods in the same city.
Nasir Khusraw, Ibn Battuta, and Palgrave in Riyadh
Riyadh, Al-Yamamah or Hijr were visited by some prominent characters like the Persian traveler Nasir Khusraw who visited Al-Yamamah in the first half of the fifth century of Hijra.
- “There is in Al-Yamamah, an old huge fortress. The city and the market where there were artisans of all types existed outside the fortress. It has a beautiful mosque. In Al-Yamamah there is water running through canals. It has palm trees. It is said that when there is a plenty of dates, a thousand of them are sold for one dinar.” Khusraw says.
Ibn Battuta, the famous Arab traveler, visited the city of Hajr in the eighth century of Hijra.
- “We traveled next to the town of al-Yamamah, also called Hajr, a fine and fertile city with running streams and trees, inhabited by different clans of Arabs, most of whom are of the Banu Hanifah, this being their land from old.” Ibn Battuta wrote.
Palgrave visited the region and he was the first one to draw a map of Riyadh. It encompassed a plan of the city within the wall, with its main neighborhoods and the central area outlined, including the Imam’s palace, Al-Jami’ Al-Kabir, the roofed alley connecting both of them, adding to the major square and the market that was near from the Imam’s palace.
He was so astounded by the natural beauty of the sight that he describes it in his book saying:
- “In all the countries which I have visited, and they are many, seldom has it been mine to survey a landscape equal to this in beauty and in historical meaning, rich and full alike to eye and mind.”
Origins of the Name “Riyadh”
Riyadh is the national capital of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh, in Arabic, means the meadows as it is known for its wide orchards, green lawns, and gardens and it was first called in the eleventh century of Hijra. Riyadh city includes the remnants of the city of Hajr and its surrounding lands and orchards.
Geographic Background of Riyadh & its climate
The city of Riyadh is located on the Najd plateau in central Arabia at 600 meters above the sea level sloping eastward. In summer, Riyadh is very hot while being cool in winter. It features low humidity levels all over the year, especially in the summer.
Society of Riyadh
Riyadh city features urban characteristics with young, modern and ambitious population. Adhering to the tolerant teachings of Islam and the Arab traditions, it can be said that Riyadh society is a conservative yet a hospitable one that welcomes all cultures. The population of Riyadh reached 6.5 million in 2017, and is expected to rise to 8.3 million by 2030. Riyadh is called a city of youth with 27% of its overall population under 15 years old. Women of Riyadh are known for their significant success in various areas such as administration, education, health, economy, business, information technology, public relations and marketing. The family that is the core of Saudi society in general and the Riyadh community in particular, is highly valued with an average household of 5.7 members.
The Capital is characterized by social and cultural diversity due to the internal immigration motivated by urban growth, significant development of the state institutions, and economic prosperity as well as the external immigration represented by the expatriates who constitute 70 communities representing 36% of the overall population. It is noteworthy that there is something common between these communities which is living for long periods in Riyadh indicating the social cohesion provided by the city to different social groups. The Society that is marked by the social and professional diversity as well as the urban and economic diversity, is boosted by the economic openness of Saudi Arabia besides the great advantages offered by the city.
The Urban Development of Riyadh
Since ancient times, Riyadh was a large, fertile, and green land with many farms and water springs according to historians. It was built on the ruins of the city of Hajr. Only 300 ago, the location started to be known as Riyadh. At that time, it was just a center of trade and pasturing. It was firstly announced as the capital of Saudi Arabia in 1902 by King Abdulaziz Bin Abdulrahman.
Along the twentieth century, Riyadh witnessed a massive urban transformation, including improving the city’s planning, facilities, institutions, and demography. As any developed capital around the world, the state’s sovereign, administrative and service institutions, and headquarters, public network of roads and facilities, modern districts, water and power networks, formal and higher educational institutions, medical service centers, and the city’s municipality.
Recently, the Riyadh Development Authority has assumed the responsibility of shifting the Capital to a new stage of planning and comprehensive development in all urban, economic, social, cultural, and environmental sectors. That’s all to become the global city you know today— it hosts various forms of modern human, cultural, and economic activities. Moreover, its plans and projects were honored by leading international institutions.
The city of Riyadh has a variety of venues such as public parks, plazas, and walkways, and regularly holds festivals, celebrations, and awareness campaigns, as well as a wide group of cultural, recreational, and environmental activities so that its resident can find many ways to meet and interact. The architecture of modern Riyadh has rapidly developed thanks to the rising economic prosperity and diversified from all modern schools and world cultures.
Environment of Riyadh
It’s remarkable that Riyadh city is keen on protecting and preserving the environment as well as providing solutions to its problems. Seeking to promote the welfare of today’s generation on an equal footing with preserving the future generations’ rights, Saudi leadership has launched a program for sustainable development that targets rationalizing the usage of rare natural resources. Riyadh Development Authority “RDA” has developed an environmental strategy as a part of the Metropolitan Development Strategy for Riyadh Region “MEDSTAR” with a group of integrated policies, plans, programs, and projects with the aim of providing a sustainable protection of the city’s environment and resources and contributing to the promotion of life quality in the city and fulfillment of the aspirations of its residents.
Riyadh in 2030
The city of Riyadh enjoys an international presence with notable achievements in aspects of raising the quality of life, empowering the massive human resources, building a powerful infrastructure, establishing modern service facilities, and providing promising opportunities and decent livelihoods for its residents. Above all, Riyadh is one of the globally-favorable investment destinations. That’s why Riyadh has powerful cultural, national, political, and economic precepts.
MEDSTAR strategy adopted by RDA aims at achieving the desirable developments in different sectors throughout the city by applying a group of strategic executive programs in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s objectives. These programs include hundreds of development projects and tens of executive policies that would lead in developing the economic structure of the city, empowering its competitive potentials and capabilities, promoting its revenues and resources, boosting its investment environment and so gaining a higher position as a destination for quality investments, specialized expertise, and pioneering industries.
One of Saudi Vision 2030’s major challenges is getting three Saudi cities classified among the best 100 cities in the world, with Riyadh on top of them. That’s why the smart city concept is gaining an outstanding interest of different authorities in all sectors, public services and facilities are being improved, quality of life is being raised to meet people’s aspirations, an environment with a healthy lifestyle is being provided, tourism and entertainment are being promoted, cultural and sports activities are being supported.