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Arts and Culture for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Submitted: July 2014

The area of land that now forms Saudi Arabia has a long and culturally rich history based on Islamic traditions. Saudi Arabia as it is today dates from the beginning of the 1900s following Abdulaziz Al-Saud’s victories over rival clans. Money from oil has enabled the current kingdom to preserve many of the relics from both the distant and the more recent past. In addition Saudi Arabia’s position between the west and the east meant that it was always an important crossroads for trade; something that has also left its mark on the country. Bedouin culture adds spice to the mix.

Saudi Arabia has many museums, both large and small, and the ones described below give a taste of what is on offer.

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, completed in the late 1990s, is a modernist showpiece which contains eight large galleries covering everything from the geology of the country and its prehistory to the post-Islamic period and the rise of the current kingdom. It is located in the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre, a large compound housing Abdulaziz Al-Saud’s old palace, which has now been restored, together with other interesting buildings. The Masmak Fort, a renovated classic mud brick fort, is also located here. The Centre is probably the number one cultural attraction in Saudi Arabia.

The Nasseef House in Jeddah is definitely worth a visit as a prime example of how the wealthy used to live in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It contains 106 rooms, many of which are decorated in traditional middle-eastern style. It is also unusual in that in place of staircases, some parts of the building have ramps which allowed camel messengers to ride up to the upper terrace without delay.

If aircraft are your thing, you can visit the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum in Riyadh and get up close and personal with a wide variety of aircraft which were used by the Saudi Air Force.

The land that is currently Saudi Arabia has a long history of inhabitation by many different peoples and tribes. There are several archaeological sites around the country that are definitely worth a visit.

Al-Hijr (Madâin Sâlih/ Saleh) was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia. It has many ancient ruins dating back as far as 600BC. It is famous for its tombs and other buildings which were carved out of solid sandstone. Many visitors stay in the nearby town of Al-‘Ula in order to visit the museum and wander round the Old Town that occupies the area beneath the castle. It was abandoned intact by the inhabitants in the 1970s, and you can wander round the houses and get a real feel for how people have lived in Saudi Arabia for the hundreds of years before the arrival of modern conveniences.

Other interesting archaeological sites include Dumat al Jundal, an ancient ruined city, and Shuwaymus and Jubbah for rock carvings.

Theatre, ballet and opera in Saudi Arabia are to all intents and purposes non-existent due to the restrictions on public performances.




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