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Skyline of Riyadh
Riyadh is located in Saudi Arabia
Location in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
 • Mayor Abdullah bin Abdulrahman Almogbel
 • Provincial Prince Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud
 • Total 1,300 km2 (500 sq mi)
Elevation 612 m (2,008 ft)
Population (2010)[1]
 • Total 5,700,000
 • Density 4,400/km2 (11,000/sq mi)
Time zone EAT (UTC+3)
 • Summer (DST) EAT (UTC+3)
Postal Code (5 digits)
Area code(s) +966-11

Riyadh (; Arabic: الرياضar-Riyāḍ pronounced ,"The Gardens") is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. It is also the capital of Riyadh Province, and belongs to the historical regions of Najd and Al-Yamama. It is situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau, and is home to 5.7 million people, and the urban center of a region with a population of close to 7.3 million people.

The city is divided into 15 municipal districts, managed by Riyadh Municipality headed by the mayor of Riyadh, and the Riyadh Development Authority, chaired by the governor of Riyadh Province, Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud. The current mayor of Riyadh is Abdullah bin Abdulrahman Almogbel, appointed in 2012. Riyadh has the largest all female university in the world, the Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University.[2] It has been designated as a Beta World City.


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • The three Saudi states 1.2
    • Modern history 1.3
  • Geography and climate 2
    • City districts 2.1
    • Climate 2.2
  • Demographics 3
  • Landmarks and architecture 4
    • Vernacular architecture of Old Riyadh 4.1
    • Archaeological sites 4.2
      • Masmak Fortress 4.2.1
    • Contemporary architecture 4.3
      • Burj Al Mamlakah 4.3.1
      • Burj Al Faisaliyah 4.3.2
      • Riyadh TV Tower 4.3.3
    • Museums and collections 4.4
  • Sports 5
  • Transportation 6
  • Media 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Early history

During the Pre-Islamic era the city at the site was called Hajr (Arabic: حجر‎), and was reportedly founded by the tribe of Banu Hanifa.[3] Hajr served as the capital of the province of Al Yamamah, whose governors were responsible for most of central and eastern Arabia during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. Al-Yamamah broke away from the Abbasid Empire in 866 and the area fell under the rule of the Ukhaydhirites, who moved the capital from Hajr to nearby Al Kharj. The city then went into a long period of decline. In the 14th century, North African traveller Ibn Battuta wrote of his visit to Hajr, describing it as "the main city of Al-Yamamah, and its name is Hajr". Ibn Battuta goes on to describe it as a city of canals and trees with most of its inhabitants belonging to Bani Hanifa, and reports that he continued on with their leader to Mecca to perform the Hajj.

Later on, Hajr broke up into several separate settlements and estates. The most notable of these were Migrin (or Muqrin) and Mi'kal, though the name Hajr continued to appear in local folk poetry. The earliest known reference to the area by the name Riyadh comes from a 17th-century chronicler reporting on an event from the year 1590. In 1737, Deham ibn Dawwas, a refugee from neighboring Manfuha, took control of Riyadh.[4] Ibn Dawwas built a single wall to encircle the various quarters of Riyadh, making them effectively a single town.

The three Saudi states

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. However, Ibn Dawwas fled and Riyadh capitulated to the Saudis in 1774, ending long years of wars, and leading to the declaration of the First Saudi State, with Riyadh as its capital.[4]

The First Saudi State was destroyed by forces sent by Muhammad Ali of Egypt, acting on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman forces razed the Saudi capital Diriyah in 1818.[4] They had maintained a garrison at Najd. This marked the decline of the House of Sa’ud for a short time.[5] Turk bin Sa’ud became the Amir of Saud; he was the cousin of Sau'd bin Sau'd, and he ruled for 19 years till 1834 and this lead to the consolidation of the area though they were notionally under the control of the Muhammad Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt.[5] In 1823, Turki ibn Abdallah, as the founder of the Second Saudi State, chose Riyadh as the new capital.[6] Following assassination of Turki in 1834, his eldest son Faisal killed the assassin and took control, and refused to be controlled by the Viceroy of Egypt. Najd was then invaded and Faisal taken captive and held in Cairo. However, as Egypt became independent of Ottoman Empire, Faisal escaped after five years of incarceration, returned to Najd and regained his reign, ruled till 1865, and consolidated the reign of House of Sa’ud.[5]

Following the death of Faisal, there was rivalry among his sons which situation was exploited by Muhammad bin Rashid who took most part of Najd, signed a treaty with Turkey and also captured Hasa in 1871. In 1889, Abdul Rahman bin Faisal, the third son of Faisal again regained control over Najd and ruled till 1891, where after the control was regained by Muhammad bin Raschid.[5]

Internecine struggles between Turki's grandsons led to the fall of the Second Saudi State in 1891 at the hand of the rival Al Rashid clan, who ruled from the northern city of Ha'il. The al-Masmak fort dates from that period.[6]

Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al-Saud had sought refuge among a tribal community on the outskirts of Najd and then went to Kuwait with his family and stayed in exile. However, his son Abdul Aziz, retrieved his ancestral kingdom of Najd in 1902 and consolidated his rule by 1926 and further expanded his kingdom to cover “most of the Arabian Peninsula”.[7] He named his kingdom as Saudi Arabia in September 1932[7] with Riyadh as the capital[8] King Abdul Aziz died in 1953 and his son Saud took control as per the established succession rule of father to son from the time Muhammad bin Saud had established the Saud rule in 1744. However, this established line of succession was broken when King Saud was succeeded by his brother King Faisal in 1964. In 1975, Faisal was succeeded by his brother King Khalid. In 1982, King Fahd took the reins from his brother. This new line of succession is among the sons of King Abdul Aziz who has 35 sons; this large family of Ibn Sa’ud hold all key positions in the large kingdom.[7]

Modern history

From the 1940s, Riyadh "mushroomed" from a relatively narrow, spatially isolated town into a spacious metropolis.[9] When King Saud came to power, he made it his objective to modernize Riyadh, and began developing Annasriyyah, the royal residential district in 1950.[9] Following the example of American cities, new settlements and entire neighborhoods were created in grid-like squares of a chess board created and connected by high-performance main roads to the inner areas. The grid pattern in the city was introduced in 1953.[9] The population growth of the town from 1974–1992 averaged 8.2 percent per year.

Since the 1990s there has been a series of terrorist attacks on locals and foreigners as well as protests against the royal family. On 13 November 1995 a car bomb which detonated outside a classroom building of the Saudi National Guard left six dead, and injured over 60 people.[10][11] On 12 May 2003 34 people died in a suicide attack targeting American civilians. On 8 November 2003, a suicide truck bomb attack in the Muhiya residential area with Saudis and Arab foreigners was responsible for killing 18 and injuring 122 people.[12] al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attacks.[12] On 23 June 2006, Saudi security forces stormed a suspected hideout of al-Qaeda in the neighborhood of al-Nakhil; a bloody battle ensued during which six extremists and a policeman were killed.[13][14] The current mayor of Riyadh is Abdullah bin Abdul Rahman Al Mogbel, an experienced transport official. He was appointed mayor in 2012.[15]

Geography and climate

City districts

Batha Street, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh is divided into 15 branch municipalities,[16] in addition to the Diplomatic Quarter. Each branch municipality in turn contains several districts, amounting to over 130 in total, though some districts are divided between more than one branch municipality. The branch municipalities are Al-Shemaysi, Irqah, Al-Ma'athar, Al-Olayya, Al-Aziziyya, Al-Malaz, Al-Selayy, Nemar, Al-Neseem, Al-Shifa, Al-'Urayja, Al-Bat'ha, Al-Ha'ir, Al-Rawdha, and Al-Shimal ("the North"). Olaya District is the commercial heart of the city,[17] with accommodation, entertainment, dining and shopping options. The Kingdom Center, Al Faisalyah and Al-Tahlya Street are the area's most prominent landmarks. The centre of the city, Al-Bathaa and Al-Dirah, is also its oldest part.

Some of the main districts of Riyadh are:


Classified as having a hot desert climate (Köppen: BWh), temperatures during the summer months are extremely hot. The average high temperature in July is 42.6 °C. Winters are warm with cold, windy nights. The overall climate is arid, and the city experiences very little rainfall, especially in summer, but receives a fair amount of rain in March and April. It is also known to have many dust storms. The dust is often so thick that visibility is under 10 m (33 ft).

Climate data for Riyadh
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 21.4
Average high °C (°F) 20.3
Daily mean °C (°F) 14.3
Average low °C (°F) 8.4
Record low °C (°F) −2
Rainfall mm (inches) 11.7
Avg. precipitation days 5.8 4.8 9.8 9.0 3.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.2 3.4 6.3 45.2
% humidity 47 38 34 28 17 11 10 12 14 21 36 47 26
Source: [29]


The population of the city was 40,000 in 1935 and 83,000 in 1949.[30] The city has experienced very high rates of population growth, from 150,000 inhabitants in the 1960s to over 5 million, according to the most recent sources. According to 2010 census, the population of Riyadh was composed of 65% Saudi families while non-Saudi families accounted for 35% of the population.[31]

Landmarks and architecture

Vernacular architecture of Old Riyadh

The old town of Riyadh within the city Walls did exceed an area of 1 square km, therefore very few significant architectural remnants of the original walled oasis town of Riyadh exist today. The most prominent is the Masmak fort and some parts of the original wall structure with its gate which have been restored and reconstructed. There are also a number of traditional mud-brick houses within these old limits, however they are for the most part dilapidated.

Expansion outside the city walls was slow to begin with, although there were some smaller oases and settlements surrounding Riyadh. The first major construction beyond the walls was King Abdulaziz's Murabba Palace. It was constructed in 1936, completed in 1938, and a household of 800 people moved into it in 1938. The palace is now part of a bigger complex called "The King Abdulaziz Historical Centre".

There are other traditional villages and towns in the area around traditional Riyadh which the urban sprawl reached and currently encompasses. These are Diriyah, Manfuha and Wadi Laban to name a few. Unlike in the early days of development in Riyadh during which vernacular structures were razed to the ground without consideration, there is a new-found appreciation for traditional architecture. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities is making efforts for revitalizing the historic architecture in Riyadh and other parts of the kingdom.[32]

Riyadh is a low level urban center but does not have a maze of high rise buildings. There are two high rise buildings noted for their architectural elegance, the Al Faisaliyah Tower and the Kingdom Tower.[33]

Archaeological sites

The archeological sites at Riyadh which are of historical importance, in which the Municipality of Riyadh is involved, are the five old gates on the old walls of Riyadh. These are the eastern gate of Thumaira, the northern gate of Al-suwailen, the southern gate of Dukhna, the western gate of Al-Madhbah and the south-western gate of Shumaisi. There are also four historic palaces, which are the Musmak Palace, the Al-Murabba Palace (palace of King Abdul Aziz), Prince Mohammad bin Abdulrehamn Palace and the Shamsiya Palace.[34]

Masmak Fortress

Masmak Fortress

This fortress was built around 1865 under the reign of Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Rasheed (1289–1315 AH), the ruler of Ha'il to the north, who had wrested control of the city from the rival clan of Al Saud. In January 1902 Ibn Saud, who was at the time living in exile in Kuwait succeeded in capturing the Masmak fortress from its Rashid garrison. The event, which restored Saudi control over Riyadh, has acquired almost mythical status in the history of Saudi Arabia. The story of the event is often retold, and has as its central theme the heroism and bravery of the King Abd Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. The Masmak Fortress is now a museum and is in close proximity to the Clock Tower Square, also known as Chop Chop Square.

Contemporary architecture

Burj Al Mamlakah

The tower is built on 94,230 square meters of land. The Kingdom Centre is owned by a group of companies including Kingdom Holding Co. headed by Al-Waleed bin Talal, a prince of the Saudi royal family, and is the headquarters of his holding company, the Kingdom Holding Company. The project cost 2 billion Saudi Arabian Riyals and the contract was undertaken by El-Seif. The Kingdom Centre is the winner of the 2002 Emporis Skyscraper Award, selected as the "best new skyscraper of the year for design and functionality". A three-level shopping center, which also won a major design award, fills the east wing. The large opening is illuminated at night in continuously changing colors. The shopping center has a separate floor for women only to shop where men are not allowed to enter.

The Kingdom Tower has 99 stories and is the third tallest structure in the country (behind Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca and Burj Rafal in Riyadh) rising to 300 m. A special aspect of the tower is that is divided into two parts in the last one third of its height and linked by a sky-bridge walkway, which provides stunning views of Riyadh.[33]

Burj Al Faisaliyah

Al Faisaliyah Centre (Arabic: برج الفيصلية) is the first skyscraper constructed in Saudi Arabia, and is the third tallest building in Riyadh after the Burj Rafal and the Kingdom Center. The golden ball that lies atop the tower is said to be inspired by a ballpoint pen, and contains a restaurant; immediately below this is an outside viewing deck. There is a shopping center with major world brands at ground level. Al Faisaliyah Center also has a hotel at both sides of the tower while the main building is occupied by offices run by different companies. The Al Faisaliyah Tower has 44 stories. [33]

Riyadh TV Tower

The Riyadh TV Tower is a 170 meter high television tower located inside the premises of Saudi Ministry of Information. It is vertical cantilever structure which was built between 1978–81, 9:23 P.M, and this year was called TV Year. The first movie made in 1983 by the TV tower group and named "1,000 nights and night" Mohammed Abdu and Talal mmdah were the main characters. At that time, there were no women on TV because of religious restrictions. Three years later, Abdulkhalek Al-Khaanm produced TV series called "Tash Ma Tash" witch had a good reaction from the gulf's audience. This series has created a media revolution back in the 19s.[35]

Museums and collections

In 1999 a new central Museum was built in Riyadh at the eastern side of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre. This National Museum of Saudi Arabia combined several collections and pieces that had up until then been scattered over several Institutions and places in Riyadh and the Kingdom. For example the meteorite fragment known as the "Camel's Hump" that was on display at the King Saud University in Riyadh became the new entry piece of the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.

The Royal Saudi Air Force Museum or Saqr Al-Jazira is located on the East Ring Road of Riyadh between exits 10 and 11. It contains a collection of aircraft and aviation-related items used by the Royal Saudi Air Force and Saudia.


King Fahd International Stadium

Football is the most popular sport in Riyadh. The city hosts four major football clubs, Al-Hilal, which is the most widely supported club in Saudi Arabia, was established in 1957 and has won thirteen championships in the Saudi Premier League.[36] Al-Nasr club is another team in the top league that has many supporters around the kingdom. It was established in 1955, and has been named champion of the Saudi League seven times. Another well-known club, Al Shabab, was established in 1947 and holds six championships. There is also Al-Riyadh Club, which was established in 1954, as well as many other minor clubs.[37]

The city also hosts several large stadiums such as King Fahd International Stadium with a seating capacity of 70,000.[37] The stadium hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup three times, in the years 1992, 1995 and 1997. It also hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1989.[37]


Riyadh Station

Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport (IATA: RUH), located 35 kilometers north from the city center, is the city's main airport, and serves over 17 million passengers a year.[38] Plans are being made to expand the airport to accommodate for 35 million passengers, given that the airport was only built for 12 million passengers annually.[38]

The city is served by a modern major highway system. The main Eastern Ring Road connects the city's south and north, while the Northern Ring Road connects the city's east and west. King Fahd Road runs through the center of the city from north to south, [39] in parallel with the East Ring Road. Makkah Road, which runs east-west across the city's center, connects eastern parts of the city with the city's main business district and the diplomatic quarters. Saudi Railway Authority operates two separate passenger and cargo lines between Riyadh and Dammam passing through Hofuf, and Haradh. Two future railway projects connecting Riyadh with Jeddah and Mecca in the western region and connecting Riyadh with Buraidah, Ha'il and Northern Saudi Arabia are underway.[40] A metro has also been approved, with six lines planned.[41]


The 170 m (560 ft) Riyadh TV Tower, operated by the Ministry of Information, was built between 1978 and 1981. National Saudi television channels Saudi TV1, Saudi TV2, Saudi TV Sports, Al-Ekhbariya, ART channels network operate from here.[42] Television broadcasts are mainly in Arabic, although some radio broadcasts are in English or French. Arabic is the main language used in television and radio but radio broadcasts are also made in different languages such as Urdu, French, or English. Riyadh has four Arabic newspapers; Asharq Al-Awsat (which is owned by the city governor), Al-Riyadh, Al-Jazeera and Al-Watan, two English language newspapers; Saudi Gazette and Arab News, and one Malayalam language newspaper, Gulf Madhyamam.[42]


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  2. ^ Miller, David. "Saudi Arabia opens world's largest women's university".  
  3. ^ Sonbol 2012, p. 99.
  4. ^ a b c Cybriwsky 2013, p. 258.
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  7. ^ a b c Farsy 1990, p. 15.
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  10. ^ Sloan & Anderson 2009, p. 605.
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  16. ^ a b c d "Interactive Map of Riyadh's branch municipalities" (in Arabic). Riyadh Municipal Government. 
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  18. ^ a b "Al-Bat'ha". Riyadh Municipal Government. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
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  41. ^ "Four consortia prequalify for Riyadh metro contract".  
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  • Farsy, Fouad (1990). Modernity and Tradition: The Saudi Equation. Routledge.  
  • Ham, Anthony (2004). Saudi Arabia. Lonely Planet.  
  • Jordan, Craig (2011). The Travelling Triathlete: A Middle - Aged Man's Journey to Fitness. AuthorHouse.  
  • Sloan, Stephen; Anderson, Sean K. (3 August 2009). Historical Dictionary of Terrorism. Scarecrow Press.  
  • Sonbol, Amira (29 March 2012). Gulf Women (English edition). Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.  

External links

  • Official website
  • Discover Saudi Arabia
  • A city portal of Riyadh
  • Saudi Arabian Information Resource
  • Riyadh Jobs
  • Riyadh travel guide from Wikivoyage
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