City - Riyadh
Riyadh, the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia (and the capital of the Riyadh Province, as well) is situated on a limestone plateau in the center of the Arabian Peninsula. It belongs to the historical regions of Nejd and Al-Yamama. A dynamic and cosmopolitan city with a population of 4.7 million people, Riyadh is divided into 17 municipalities. The original old town of Riyadh was less than 2 square miles, but modern Riyadh extends for 600 square miles. Many of the private Saudi Arabian conglomerates and bank headquarters that grew out of the government’s push for privatization are located in Riyadh. This has had the effect of turning Riyadh into a financial and business center for the entire Middle East as well as Saudi Arabia. The industrial areas of the city are located on the East and Northeast of the city; this includes refineries and oil-related, high-tech and agricultural businesses. Riyadh is served by four major Arabic-language newspapers, several television stations, and hundreds of cable and satellite television providers. Shopping in Riyadh is outstanding, and so is the choice of cuisine; one can eat traditional dishes like Nejdi Kabsa and Yemeni Mandi, or choose from a complete array of fast food franchises.
During the oil boom, many of the classical Arabic buildings from the old town of Riyadh were torn down and replaced by modern structures. But there are still some architectural treasures in Al-Bathaa and Al-Dirah, the oldest sections of the city: the 19th century Al Masmak Fort, the Murabba’ Palace, (now the Riyadh Museum of History and Archaeology) the Qar Al-Hukm, or Palace of Justice, and the Grand Mosque. The commercial heart of the city, the Olaya District, contains strikingly modern skyscrapers; foremost among these are the Kingdom Center and the Al Faisaliyah Center. Many more malls, and business towers are located on King Fahd Road, the spin road of Riyadh. The Diplomatic Quarter (DQ), which services over 50 embassies, is one of the greenest areas of the city. It contains lush gardens and fine architecture. The National museum of Saudi Arabia, on the eastern side of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center, contains collections that had been scattered all Saudi Arabia; the meteorite fragment known as “the camel’s hump,” previously on display at King Saud University, is now located there.
King Khalid International Airport, located 22 miles north of the city, is one of Saudi Arabia’s four international airports. The highway system in Riyadh is excellent. Trains run between Riyadh and Dammam, and railway construction is underway that will link Riyadh with Jeddah, Makkah, Buraydah, and Hail. Buses operate within the city, and provide transportation across the Kingdom and neighboring countries. An electric sky train system is planned, which will service King Abdullah Road, King Fahd Road, and Al Olaya Road.
As in other Saudi cities, women must wear the abaya, a long black overgarment, and men cannot wear shorts. Riyadh is very hot in the summer and mild in the winter, with cold windy nights. It is arid, has very little rainfall, and has many dust storms—which can actually limit visibility.