Diriyah: The Cultural Capital of Saudi Arabia

Diriyah: The Cultural Capital of Saudi Arabia

By Erika Masako Welch, 05 April 2023
Diriyah: The Cultural Capital of Saudi Arabia

Diriyah is the renewed cultural capital of Saudi Arabia, showcasing 300+ years of authentic culture and history. The new development is centered around the At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site, an iconic mud-brick city, and the ancestral home of the House of Al Saud and the capital of the First Saudi State. The project has a total investment pipeline of US $63.2 billion, and is set to become a premier mixed-use historical, cultural and lifestyle destination. The first phase of development is underway, and is now open to the public. By 2030 – Diriyah expects to welcome 27 million visitors annually.

At-Turaif at Diriyah

Located just 15 minutes northwest of Riyadh, Diriyah is expected to become the revamped cultural capital of Saudi Arabia. Once fully developed in 2027, this 14km2 site is expected to bring 27 million local and international visitors by 2030, and create 55,000 job opportunities. The first set of official visitors will be welcome to Diriyah when phase one of development is completed in 2022. Ultimately, the destination will play host to museums, galleries, restaurants, retail experiences, public squares, hotels, residences, educational institutions and offices. The city is also expected to be home to over 100,000 people once completed.

Diriyah is a place of great significance. In 1446, Diriyah was established on the Hanifa Valley banks and became the capital of the First Saudi State in 1727. This is where the first seat of government was formed in the Kingdom. In the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, Diriyah became a destination for trade, culture, knowledge, communication, and economic exchange. Diriyah was also a hub for trade and pilgrimage routes to different regions. At the center of Diriyah’s At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Salwa Palace, the largest standing structure in the citadel and has significant importance to the origin story of the Saudi state.

At-Turaif at Night

The site is being dubbed ‘the City of Earth’, and houses the Diriyah Museum which highlights the history of the first and second Saudi state. The mud-brick structures were built in the 1700’s and feature courtyards, alleyways, and towers that showcase quintessential Najdi architecture and tell the story of a traditional Saudi way of life. The mud-brick city has been restored to exhibit materials and artifacts from the Kingdom’s Royal, social and cultural past, making it a beautiful open air museum. The site also plays host to Bait Al Mal, the Kingdom’s first state treasury, and the Museum of Trade and Money which includes prominent coins, weights, ornaments and various artifacts.

Visitors will also be able to wander through various palaces including Prince Fahad bin Saud Palace, Imam Abdullah bin Saud Palace, Prince Omar Bin Saud Palace (the Grand Palace), Prince Saad bin Saud Palace, Prince Meshari bin Saud Palace, Prince Thunayan bin Saud Palace, and Prince Turki bin Saud Palace. Diriyah is also home to various other museums including the Museum of Traditional Architecture, the Social Life Museum, the Military Museum, and the Arabian Horse Museum. 

Read Next: Diriyah & the House of Al Saud

Diriyah Museum

History is not all that will be on show here at Diriyah. Diriyah Square will be the center of a new luxury shopping, lifestyle retail, leisure and entertainment destination. Diriyah will play host to more than 150 restaurants offering both international and local cuisine. The area will also be revitalized to serve a growing population which will be housed in over 3,000 luxury apartments, townhouses and villas in six exclusive residential neighborhoods, just a stone’s throw away from a bustling Art District. The area will also be home to new 21st century workplaces, providing modern offices within the traditional Najdi architecture, adding to the hustle and bustle of this modernized old part of the city.

Diriyah Al Bujairi Terrace

“We are operating a local-first strategy, aiming to attract our Diriyah and Riyadh communities initially, and then the wider KSA, GCC and international markets, respectively. However, we are confident the diverse cultural, historic and lifestyle offering, unmatched public spaces (including the careful renewal of Wadi Hanifah), commitment to sustainability and globally recognised brand partners will attract the curious, independent traveler.” 

 – Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority

Jerry Inzerillo, Group CEO of Diriyah Company and former CEO of Forbes Travel Guide and Morgans Hotel Group

In Frame: Jerry Inzerillo, Group Chief Executive Officer at Diriyah Company

Also Read: Jerry Inzerillo on His Legacy Role Helping Saudi Build Its Own Tourism Legacy


Learn more about the mega- and giga-projects shaping the future of leisure tourism in Saudi Arabia, in our report Diriyah and the Giga Projects: Defining the New Saudi Arabia

Related Report

Diriyah and the Giga Projects Defining the New Saudi Arabia

Diriyah and the Giga Projects: Defining the New Saudi Arabia

A look at Diriyah, Saudi Arabia’s cultural capital and one of the Kingdom’s first tourism offerings to be opened to the public, alongside the other Giga-projects valued at over US $1 trillion that are shaping the Kingdom’s future to 2030 and beyond.

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