Diriyah, the giga project of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund
JEDDAH: For more than 500 years, the remains of the mud-brick city of Diriya have been a silent witness to the resilience, determination and lifestyles of the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.
Built along a curve in an oasis cut off from the banks of the Wadi Hanifa on the outskirts of Riyadh, Diriyah’s mudbrick walls enclosed a thriving desert city that was once a center of culture and commerce.
Its famous stronghold, Al-Turaif district, was originally the seat of the Kingdom’s Al-Saud family. In 1727, the city was named the country’s capital, thus establishing the foundation of what would later become a unified Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, almost three centuries later, the ruins of At-Turaif were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In July 2017, the area is undergoing a careful restoration plan aimed at bringing its historic heritage back to life.
Today, Diriyah was added to the portfolio of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) as the fifth mega-project.
The five giga-projects form an important pillar of the sovereign wealth fund’s strategy to diversify the Kingdom’s economy through new sectors, public-private partnerships and investment and employment opportunities.
Morocco’s prime minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said on Monday that the consecration of the site, along with the Kingdom’s other mega-projects, reflects Diriyah’s unique status as a place with distinct cultural, historical and tourist attractions. FIP President, in a statement.
FIP, which manages more than $620 billion in assets, is at the heart of the Saudi Vision 2030 program, which aims to diversify the Kingdom’s economy and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons.
Apart from Diriyah, the list of Saudi giga-projects includes NEOM’s smart city, Red Sea Global’s luxury tourism project, the Riyadh-based Giddiya entertainment complex and property developer ROSHN.
In 2017, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) was commissioned by the Saudi government to transform the “Cradle of the Kingdom” into a sustainable, world-class tourism, cultural and recreational destination.
When completed, the $50 billion mega-project will include some of the world’s most luxurious restaurants and hotels built in the traditional Najdi architectural style, along with conservation areas and cultural venues.
DGDA will continue to control the area with the aim of turning it into one of the main tourist destinations of the region.
In the heart of Diriyah’s At-Turaif district, a veritable labyrinth of stone and adobe houses, courtyards and towers rises the towering towers of the majestic Salwa Palace citadel. The first chapters of the history of Saudi Arabia are being written here.
Covering an area of at least 10,000 square meters, the Salwa Palace, which means solace or solace in Arabic, is the largest individual structure in Diriyah, consisting of seven architectural units built in successive stages.
The first appeared in 1446, when Mani al-Muraydi, the head of the Marada tribe of the Al-Duru tribe of the Bani Hanifah and “the father of the Saudi royal family”, founded what would become the largest state in the world. History of the Arabian Peninsula.
Built in the Najdi style of mud bricks, straw and logs, the walls are lined with decorative triangular windows designed to allow air circulation and natural light into the rooms.
This architectural style developed over several centuries in response to the harsh conditions, using the few natural materials available, including sun-baked mud bricks, limestone quarried from the valley slopes, and coniferous wood.
Historians associate the establishment of the first Saudi state with the capture of the city by Mohammed, the son of Saud, in 1727. Imam Mohammed bin Saud is King Salman’s great-grandfather (quinquisely) and “one of the most important figures” in the history of Saudi Arabia.
The establishment of the city in the Hanifa Valley is a turning point in the history of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arab and Islamic world finds stability and prosperity there and becomes a place of trade, culture, knowledge, communication and economic exchange.
After his death, Imam Muhammad’s son Abdulaziz continued his father’s work and years later his son, Saud, known as “Saud the Great”, succeeded to the throne.
Today, Diriyah has been added to the portfolio of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) (Royal Commission for the City of Riyadh) as the fifth mega-project.
As the Saudi state expands from the Euphrates and Damascus in the north to Sana’a and Muscat in the south, and from the Arabian Gulf in the east to the Red Sea in the west, threats to its control increase. multiply.
In 1811, Ottoman troops under the command of Ibrahim Pasha went to Yanbu on the Red Sea coast of Arabia. It was after this that a bloody six-year campaign began, which ended with the defeat of Diriya and the abandonment of al-Turaif.
In March 1818, the city walls were hit by shell fire, the scars of which are still visible today. Outnumbered six to one, 5,000 soldiers resisted Ibrahim Pasha’s forces.
For six months they fiercely defended the fort. But for every 1200 defenders who died, 10 of Pasha’s men were killed in battle. Imam Abdullah bin Saud led the Saudi soldiers.
After the end of the siege, the Ottomans retreated from Najd without destroying Diriyah and without destroying the buildings and fortifications. They also cut down all the palm trees, destroyed many years of farming, and condemned the inhabitants of a large region to starvation.
Although Diriyah and At-Turaif remained in ruins, torn apart by riots, assassinations, civil war, and then captured by the Ben Rashid clan in 1891, they remain in the hearts of the surviving members of the Saud family.
In 1902, at the age of 16, young Abdulaziz ben Abdel Rahman Al-Saud, the son of the exiled last imam of the second Saudi state, and a small band of fighters attacked the fortress of Masmak, 20 kilometers away. southeast of al-Turaif and restore the throne.
Thus, on September 23, 1932, he united the people from east to west with Riyadh, the new capital of the Saudi state. Diriyah was reborn four decades later, this time fully expanded as a new city on the outskirts of the capital.
In 2017, an ambitious plan is launched to transform Diriyah into a global historical, cultural and lifestyle destination.
This project will add 27 billion Saudi riyals ($7.1 billion) to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product, create 55,000 jobs and attract 27 million visitors annually.
Once completed, the site will feature at least 28 luxury hotels and resorts, nearly 400 of the world’s top luxury and fashion brands, and more than 150 high-end gourmet restaurants and cafes.
There will be more than 3,000 residential units in traditional Najdi style and more than 300 other luxury residences.
The site will also host King Salman University, which intends to dedicate itself to heritage, culture and art, as well as several new cultural institutes specializing in Najdi architecture and earthen structures, poetry, falconry, and Quranic recitation. , local theater, dance, music and culinary arts.
Other cultural treasures include a large mosque that can accommodate more than 10,000 worshippers, six museums dedicated to Saudi history and equipped with a period village, not to mention Al-Turaif, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO, and the Al-Taleh Center whose work focuses on the agricultural heritage of the region.
These developments have not gone unnoticed in the wider region. Diriyah was chosen as the capital of Arab culture in 2030. It has already hosted the JAX Art Festival and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, a platform that supports the Kingdom’s artistic and creative movement and keeps pace with cultural transformation.
Diriyah is also set to host many other major sporting events. With its distinctive road network, the city has been chosen to host the world-famous Formula E races over the years. Diriyah also hosted Clash on the Dunes, the first heavyweight boxing championship in the Middle East.
Such is the power and importance of Diriyah in the history of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula that the once abandoned city finds itself center stage and becomes the crown of the Kingdom.
This text is a translation of an article published on Arabnews.com