Diriyah is a must-see for travelers visiting Saudi Arabia‘s capital; a car ride from downtown Riyadh would take roughly twenty minutes. Founded in 1446, and overlooking the Wadi Hanifa (Ouadi Hanifa) valley, Diriyah encompasses impressive sites such as the historic quarters of Al-Turaif, the seat of government at the time and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010.
The citadel of Al-Turaif is representative of a diversified and fortified urban ensemble within an oasis. Al-Turaif, in Diriyah, was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, north-west of Riyadh. Founded in the 15th century, it bears witness to the Najdi architectural style, which is specific to the center of the Arabian peninsula. In 1745, the city was named the capital, laying the foundations for what would later become a unified Saudi Arabia. In the 18th and early 19th century, its political and religious role increased, and the citadel at Al-Turaif became the center of the temporal power of the House of Saud and the spread of the Salafiyya reform inside the Muslim religion. The property includes the remains of many palaces and an urban ensemble built on the edge of the Diriyah oasis.
The site of Al-Turaif District in Diriyah illustrates a significant phase in the human settlement of the central Arabian plateau, when in the mid-18th century Diriyah became the capital of an independent Arab State and an important religious centre. Al-Turaif District in Diriyah is an outstanding example of traditional human settlement in a desert environment.
The Al-Turaif District was the first historic center with a unifying power in the Arabian Peninsula. Its influence was greatly strengthened by the teachings of Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdul Wahhab, a great reformer of Sunni Islam who lived, preached and died in the city. After his enduring alliance with the Saudi Dynasty, in the middle of the 18th century, it is from Diriyah that the message of Salafiyya spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula and the Muslim world.
A €57 billion giga project set to transform Diriyah
In early 2023, Saudi authorities announced a €57-billion ‘giga project’ meant to transform Diriyah into a city. The project was announced by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, who is also Prime Minister and Chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF). This will be the fifth giga project made by the fund, and it aims to be a destination that prioritizes and shows to the world the local cultural, historical and tourist characteristics.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the official news agency of the Gulf country, pointed out that the Diriyah Project is expected to show the world the 300 years of Saudi Arabia’s history. Tourists will have the opportunity to explore and learn about the nation’s history and culture in museums and pavilions that will be built.
The Saudi fund’s portfolio of giga projects already includes Neom, Red Sea, Qiddiya, and Roshn. They form a key pillar of the PIF’s overall strategy. It is through these projects that the Saudi government hopes to create new economic ecosystems and launch new sectors to drive growth and diversification of the national economy, and create investment opportunities in various sectors.
The new giga project is set to stimulate strategic domestic sectors, create partnerships with the local private sector, and generate new investment opportunities throughout its development and production phases. In these stages, the government hopes to involve sectors such as hotel construction, operation and management, retail, entertainment, and culture. The Diriyah Development Authority, established in 2017, will continue its regulatory and supervisory role in maintaining Diriyah’s heritage and history.