Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, developed from an ancient walled city on the historical route between Iran and the Holy City of Mecca. The city lies 535 miles northeast of Jeddah on the Red Sea and 250 miles southwest of Dammam on the Arabian (Persian) Gulf.
Riyadh was captured in 1902 by Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, who used it as a base for his conquest of the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. After the union of the Hejaz and Najd provinces established the Kingdom in 1932, great steps were taken in the expansion and modernization of Riyadh.
Following the ascension of King Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz to the throne in 1953 and the subsequent movement of government offices from Jeddah to Riyadh, large sums of money have been spent on the city. Roads have been paved, almost all of the old walled city has been demolished, and housing projects and new buildings for the various ministries have been completed. Riyadh is now a major commercial and financial center as well as the seat of government.
Present estimated population of Riyadh is about three million. The city is linked to the seaport in Damman by a railroad and to all parts of the Kingdom by an extensive network of fair to good roads. The national air carrier, Saudia, serves all major cities in the Kingdom and several international locations from Riyadh.
Riyadh was originally built near a source of water, as were all cities in the Kingdom. The center of the city -- the "souks" -- lies clustered near the original "wadi" where water was found. The city has expanded in every direction from the original city but generally to the north. New buildings, bridges and ditches appear overnight. The use of concrete in decorative and unusual architectural detail and form is intriguing -- often defying convention. The use of marble is common, some steel frame structures are being erected, and there is extensive use of glass, concrete and new-technology materials. Throughout the city, walls to provide privacy and protection surround homes (or villas).
The climate of Riyadh is much like that of the American Southwest. Summer clothes are worn most of the year, but some warm clothing is necessary for the winter months and for cold-weather travel out of the country. Although most entertaining is casual, there are occasional dressy functions and usually a formal dinner dance once a year. Bring a dress uniform (officers and enlisted). Off the compound, most wives wear an Abaya, which can be purchased at the women's souk (market).
They say you can find anything in Riyadh -- if you're willing to pay the price! Because of the high prices of imported goods -- and because you can't really find everything you can back home -- it is a good idea to bring an extra supply of particular items or brands you don't want to do without. Catalog sales are an excellent supplement for items that cannot be found locally. Food markets, snack shops, bakeries, and an increasing number of supermarkets are located within easy driving distance of the compound. Western clothes and shoes are expensive, and American styles are difficult to find. Quality children's clothes are also hard to find and are expensive. But such things as stereos, cameras, calculators, watches, gold, brass, silver, caftans, and embroidered blouses are excellent buys. Bargaining is expected in the souks, offering half of the requested price is a good starting point.
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