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  • Writer's pictureHilary McCormack

ad-Dir'iyah, the seat of power in Riyadh

Updated: Jan 11

The archaeological and heritage site of At-Turaif

Around the world, some of our most important global cities are defined by the homes of their royal families.

Today, many of these majestic buildings are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some are still lived in family homes, and most open all or parts of these national treasurers to the visiting public.

The most famous royal homes are in our top tourist destinations, such as Buckingham Palace in London, Royal Thai Palace and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, The Winter Palace in St Peterburg, the Palace of Versailles in Paris, The Palace of Monaco in Monte Carlo, and Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

While the lesser-known Drottningholm Royal Palace in Sweden, The Royal Palace of Madrid, the Tokyo Imperial Palace in Japan, The Royal Palace of Cambodia, and Huis ten Bosch Palace in the Netherlands, are not to be overlooked if you are visiting those destinations.

Of all of these stately places, the British royal collection is known to be the most significant in the world. According to its annual report for 2019-20, a record 3,285,000 people visited its official residences, generating approximately £49,859,000 in revenue. Welcoming visitors to have a look around the family home and admiring their beautifully manicured gardens is big business in Europe.

In these most recent times, Saudi Arabia has been doing extensive reconstruction work on many of its royal family residences, which depict its history and bring to life the story of the centuries-old House of Saud.

Based in the heart of the capital, Riyadh, visitors can now visit the enchanting new Arabian experience of Diriyah, which was once the original home of the Saudi royal family dating from 1727 to 1818.

Remnants of mud brick ruin belonging to the old city of Diriyah lie on either side of the narrow green valley known as Wadi Hanifa and silhouette against the skyline, looking quite grand as you approach it.

The At-Turaif World Heritage Site consists almost entirely of traditional handmade mud-brick structures and is classified as Najdi architecture. It sits on the highest elevation in this area overlooking the lush green dates palms of Wadi Hanifa Valley; the project includes the remains of many palaces and is a classic example of an early urban layout.

The charming Turaif district, the first Saudi capital in Diriyah, was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010. The old city's layout can be easily studied in the National Museum of Saudi Arabia with the help of a large-scale city model. As part of the Kingdom's 2030 Vision, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) is transforming Diriyah into the world's largest cultural and heritage destination.

This SAR 63.2Bn cultural and lifestyle development, inspired by the timeless Najdi architecture of At-Turaif, is revitalizing and celebrating the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Diriyah has big plans and promises to be a premier lifestyle destination where visitors can choose to visit, work, shop, dine, or call home at a future date. The project aims to be a showcase for the many wonders of the Kingdom's rich heritage and culture.

Diriyah is divided into two distinct visitor areas: the Bujairi Terrace (offering a wide selection of restaurants and a very pleasant setting for people-watching) and the archaeological and heritage site of At-Turaif.

Many local & traditional elements combine with the modern ones to add charm to each setting

This impressive Ministry of Culture site is open daily from 10 am to 12 am (last entry at 11 pm) and on Friday from 2 pm to 12 am (last entry at 11 pm).

A round-about featuring lots of local wildlife

If, like me, you wish to escape the weekend crowds and want to have a look around at a more relaxed pace, you can do just that early on a Friday morning once you book online.

However, it really is a treat for the soul to visit when the whole area is glowing with twinkling lights, and street artists perform under the night sky. So more than one visit is definitely needed.

Just so you know, the guided tours of At-Turaif begin daily at 4 pm, and an advanced booking is recommended.

Thanks to this kind young man who offered me some shade as I took some photos.

With more than 30 cultural attractions planned for this site, which will include museum exhibits that narrate the rich history of Saudi Arabia, Diriyah intends to offer a diverse collection of attractions where visitors of all ages can engage and enjoy a multitude of experiences that celebrate the accomplishments of the Kingdom while bringing to life a vibrant history presented in a modern and artistic way.

There are plenty of fab new restaurants to have a bite to eat or drink in.

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