Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state

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The festivities began at the birthplace of the Kingdom, and the first ruling base of the Al-Saud family, the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif. (DGDA)
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Updated 30 November 2022

Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state

  • Opening season of the two developments will include a vibrant public program of events, performances, and activities for all visitors
  • Visitors to UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif will get a chance to savor Bujairi Terrace’s eagerly awaited culinary district

RIYADH: The first phase of an aspirational project conceived five years ago, with the aim of showcasing the history of the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has come to fruition according to plan.

Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit.

Delegates from around the globe, Saudi public figures and DGDA staff joined together to witness a momentous development as Diriyah opened its doors to the international community.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb inaugurates the historic At- Turaif and Bujairi neighborhoods with a dramatic ceremony witnessed by guests from around the world. (DGDA)

“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. “We are celebrating two big milestones.

“For the first time in the history of the Gulf, the Kingdom is welcoming the World Travel and Tourism Council, all the ministers of tourism, CEOs of hotel companies, CEOs of airline companies — it’s 5,000 people coming to the Kingdom to see what’s going to be one of the great tourism countries in the world.”

Inzerillo described what it means to him, personally, to see the fruit of the labor of his team in Diriyah on display before the eyes of the world.

“It makes my heart pound because the thing that I am most proud about is that we are 1,600 staff now: 85 percent Saudi, 36 percent Saudi superstar women, 16 percent of which are in management, and 14 percent of our staff is from Diriyah. My heart and soul are my team and that’s the thing that I am most proud about,” Inzerillo said.

Prudence Solomon Inzerillo, Inzerillo’s wife, said: “I think the changes are profound and I think the whole devotion and commitment to celebrating culture, heritage, history art … I think it’s such an incredible gift, it’s really important.

“I think that everyone should appreciate the history and the culture that you have. It’s so rich and diverse and I think that it is a real privilege and a pleasure to be here to witness the changes that have happened over the last four-plus years that we’ve been here and it’s extraordinary.”

The festivities began at the birthplace of the Kingdom, and the first ruling base of the Al-Saud family, the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif. In front of Salwa Palace, a 10,000 square meter complex the original parts of which were built by Mohammed ibn Saud, the first ruler of the First Saudi State, tour guides stood waiting to show visitors around the site, moving along walkways once trodden by early Saudi rulers.

“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. (DGDA)

Every handmade mud brick in the ancient buildings of At-Turaif has a story to tell, every wall holds the secrets of power struggles, and every corner conceals a tale of hospitality and unity.

The visitors from around the world saw not only the modernity and luxury of the present-day Kingdom but were able to take a step back in time as they watched live performances of traditional ardah dance and walked narrow pathways that paint an atmospheric picture of the Kingdom’s past.

The guests at this private event that marked the official opening of Bujairi and At-Turaif represented a diverse assemblage of visitors from numerous countries

Guadalupe Galvan Hernandez, for example, was visiting from Mexico City to attend the World Travel and Tourism Council summit.

“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News. “I have seen many things. Diriyah is amazing; it is all history. When we arrived we saw so many structures and it’s a blend of modernity and traditions.


• At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will open their doors to the public on Dec. 4. 

• The Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council is taking place for the first time in Saudi Arabia.

• At-Turaif will offer 75-minute guided walking tours in both Arabic and English that will take visitors through the original seal of power of the Al-Saudi family.

“The people are very kind, they are very nice people. Sometimes when you come from a country like Mexico it’s hard to understand some things and it makes you fear, somehow, the way you will be treated and they (the Saudis) were really, really kind and nice people.”

Following the tours of At-Turaif and the performances there, the guests made their way to the gates of Bujairi Terrace, where Inzerillo and Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb gave inaugural speeches. Inzerillo began by praising the Saudi leadership.

“I want to praise and give thanks to our dynamic prime minister, our Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been instrumental in every single detail of the Vision 2030 master plan for Diriyah,” he said.

“And thanks to his support we are one of the giga projects that tonight — on this historic night, in the birthplace of the Kingdom, the birthplace of the Arabian Peninsula, the ancestral house of Al-Saud — we open assets of 2030 in 2022.”

Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday. (DGDA)

Al-Khateeb said: “Today we are celebrating the opening of phase one, (which is) just 1 to 2 percent of the total project, and we thank you for being with us today.

“This is a testimony and proof that Saudi Arabia started its planning and now we are in the execution phase and you will see an opening in all of the giga projects every year. Diriyah is a good example, with the opening of Bujairi Terrace.”

Many DGDA employees could not hide their emotions as the doors of Buajiri Terrace opened to welcome the world.

Among the guests at the inauguration was Helena Zakade Inzerillo, the teenage daughter of the DGDA CEO. In 2019, at the age of 12, she spoke to Arab News during King Salman’s inauguration of the Diriyah Gate project and told how proud she was of her father and his mission to transform the city “with his heart and soul.”

Three years later, she was delighted to be at Bujairi Terrace to see her father’s passion and ambitions come to life.

“When I first came four years ago and saw Diriyah I was absolutely in shock,” she said. “I mean, this is an absolutely beautiful place that nobody really knew about outside of the Kingdom.

“I really believe that people should be seeing this place, people should know about this place and the significance of it.

“To see it come to this, to see the success, to see so many people come from around the world, and to see people’s perspectives completely change upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, and seeing the hospitality of the people here and seeing the significance of our country here, it means so much to me.”

Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world. (DGDA)

Helena said she truly believes in her father’s mission to spread to the world the message and meaning of Diriyah and its importance to the Kingdom.

“This means so much to me, to my family as a whole,” she added. “We have seen the process over the past four years, the amount of hard work, the tireless hours of my dad’s work for the past four years here in Saudi.

“And we have seen the transformation of Riyadh, of Diriyah, and the passion of the place that my dad has spread and how much he loves this place.”

The scent of bukhour filled the air and the sounds of ardha music echoed through Wadi Hanifah as history and modernity merged in the form of the many luxury dining experiences. Following a gala dinner in Bujairi Terrace, a light show illuminated the pathways and walls of At-Turaif.

The laser and firework display lit up the Najdi architecture of Salwa Palace, and the sky above it, with the words “The city of the earth,” “Only one Diriyah,” and simply “Diriyah.”

“As a 2030 giga project, we are already opening assets in 2022,” Inzerillo said. “So Turaif, all redone; Bujairi district, 20 new restaurants and after tonight we will take a few days and open to the public in a few days; 2 km of the Wadi Hanifah; new sales centers; welcome centers; community centers. So 2030 is now 2022.”

Visitors to the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit enjoy a taste of traditional Saudi hospitality in the Kingdom’s birthplace. (DGDA)

At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will officially open to the public on Dec. 4, and Inzerello outlined what is next in store.

“After tonight we are going to open up a lot of assets,” he said. “We have the first hotels under construction that will open next year, the first museums that will open next year, we have already planted 6 million trees on our way to 50 million trees, plants and bushes.

“Every year now we will open assets, we will ground-break assets and we will announce assets every year until 2030.”

Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world to give visitors a taste of the past and a glimpse of the future.


Talking movies… Saudi Arabia holds first film critic forum 

Updated 31 March 2023

Talking movies… Saudi Arabia holds first film critic forum 

  • Jeddah event organized to boost Kingdom’s industry 
  • Similar forums to be held in five other cities

JEDDAH: Leading film critics discussed the future of Saudi Arabia’s cinema industry at the first Film Criticism Conference held in Jeddah’s Al-Balad district.

The two-day forum was organized by the Saudi Film Commission in partnership with Jeddah’s Islamic Arts Biennale and focused on “Spirituality in Cinema.”

Those in attendance enjoyed workshops that introduced concepts related to media and cinematic awareness and stimulated reading films critically and objectively. 

Among the local and visiting critics sharing their expertise and opinions were Naminata Diabate, Associate Professor at Cornell University and Book Author of Naked Agency, Saudi Ruba Al-Sweel, a writer and researcher of arts and culture, Indian Dr. Syed Haider, lecturer in world cinemas and Portuguese Sergio Dias Branco, a film critic and Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the University of Coimbra.

One of the main guests at the forum who is visiting the Kingdom for the first time, American Joe Kickasola, Professor, Film & Digital Media, Director of the Baylor in New York Program told Arab News that the Saudi Film Commission plays a critical role in forming the whole possibility of film-making within Saudi Arabia.

“It is creating an opportunity, it is creating a framework. The most important thing for film artists is to know the possibilities; otherwise, it is constantly challenging or trying to figure things out, but when you have a higher organization, it will help you out to achieve your goal and that’s the role of the Saudi Film Commission,” he said.

Saudi art expert Al-Sweel presented her recent research of media theory, looking at how platform capitalism and network spirituality breed a specific cultural moment. 

She said: “There has always been brilliant independent attempts at creating a film community that strives to tell stories from a local vantage point — where depth of subject matter matches that of technical knowledge. 

“Now and with the support and structures of institutions such as the Film Commission, we can expect an avalanche of critical films to come out of the country and into the world over the next decade.”

Forums are also to be held in Riyadh, Buraydah, Abha, Tabuk and Dhahran for people interested in the film sector in the Kingdom and abroad, and who specialize in film criticism.

It will also invite academic bodies concerned with local and international cinematic studies and research and local, regional, and international media outlets concerned with the cinema movement in the Kingdom.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman project puts its focus on Al-Jubail Mosque

Updated 30 March 2023

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman project puts its focus on Al-Jubail Mosque

  • The initiative aims to increase public awareness about the importance of preserving historical mosques

RIYADH: Al-Jubail Mosque, which is three centuries old and is located in the center of Thaqif in Taif governorate in Makkah, is to be the focus of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Project for the Development of Historical Mosques.

The initiative aims at reviving the architecture of Al-Jubail Mosque and increasing public awareness about the importance of preserving historical mosques.

The area of the site will reach 310 sq. meters after renovation, while it will maintain its capacity for 45 worshippers.

The reconstruction of the mosque will utilize methods that maintain its main component, stones from the Sarawat Mountains, in addition to local wood which is to be used in ceilings, pillars, windows, and doors.

Following its refurbishment, the mosque will maintain its narrow openings, for which its unique architectural style is famous.

Originally built with juniper wood, which is known for its durability, Al-Jubail Mosque will be reconstructed using granite stones instead of cement to revive the old Sarat architectural style.

The second phase of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman project focuses on 30 mosques across the 13 regions of Saudi Arabia.

The renovation project strikes a balance between integrating modern and ancient building standards to achieve sustainability and development, while preserving the historical characteristics of the mosques.

Saudi companies specializing in old structures, along with engineers from the Kingdom, are involved in helping to preserve each mosque’s authentic architectural identity.

The project’s first phase involved the restoration of 30 mosques in 10 regions.

The project has four strategic objectives: restoring the buildings for worship and prayer; giving an urban authenticity to historical mosques; highlighting the cultural dimension of Saudi Arabia; and enhancing the religious and cultural status of the locations.

It also contributes to highlighting the cultural depth of the Kingdom by helping to preserve the country’s urban characteristics.

How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia

Updated 31 March 2023

How Islamic customs complement local traditions during Ramadan across Saudi Arabia

  • The Kingdom’s 13 regions revive their own unique and beloved local habits and practices during the holy month 
  • Iftar gatherings include region-specific dishes, decorations and games, often involving the extended community

JEDDAH: For centuries, Muslims across the world have shared common traditions during the holy month of Ramadan stemming from Islamic practices, such as breaking their daylight fast with dates, water or laban, as was the Prophet Muhammad’s custom.

However, some local traditions, which are distinct to a particular nation or region, have found their way into the routines, feasts and celebrations that mark the holy month. Saudi Arabia, with its many diverse regions, is no different.

Every year, in the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar, the Kingdom’s 13 regions, its hundreds of towns and cities, and more rural reaches will revive their own unique and beloved local habits and practices.

In the big cities, the streets are regularly packed with pedestrians and vehicles as shoppers race to make last-minute purchases, while devout worshippers find space amid the bustle for regular prayer and to read from the holy Qur’an.

Togetherness is an important theme of Ramadan, with families, friends and often whole communities gathering at long tables to share in the iftar feast each day after sunset in homes decorated with twinkling lights and lanterns.

The dishes served at these gatherings, and when important feasts take place, are often distinct to a particular local culinary culture and the availability of particular ingredients.

Traditional dishes at a southern table. (Supplied)

In Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, many members of the community will meet before Ramadan to share a last meal of familiar dishes that are uncommon during the holy month. The “ghabgah” is usually held on the night preceding Ramadan or a few days before.

During the month, the region’s popular dishes include balaleet (sweet vermicelli and eggs), asida (lump of dough made by stirring wheat flour into boiling water, sometimes with added butter or honey), samosas, and sago pudding.

Around the middle of the holy month in the Eastern Province and other parts of the Gulf region, children will dress in traditional clothing and go door-to-door in their neighborhood, singing songs in exchange for nuts and candy, in a tradition known as “gergean” or “knocking.”

A shopkeeper prepares an order for traditional sweets for a customer in the capital Riyadh on March 27, 2023, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP)

On the far side of the peninsula, in the western region of Hijaz, the dish exchange tradition is still alive today. “Al-to’ma” is a year-round custom where a plate is never returned empty. Everything from soups and samosas to traditional dessert delicacies such as qatayef, basboosa, or sago pudding is exchanged.

Many families also share subya, a drink made especially in Ramadan to quench one’s thirst, made from barley or bread soaked overnight with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, sugar and raisins, to give it its distinctive red color.

“It’s a family’s best kept secret,” Umm Khalid Mashady, a resident of Madinah, told Arab News.

Saudi men shop for traditional beverages during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in Riyadh. (AFP file)

“My husband takes pride in making the drink every year, and we share it with our neighbors, even those who moved away because that was the way back then. Many people prefer to buy it from stores today, but you’ll still find them following their family recipes.”

Mashady highlights the importance of family during Ramadan gatherings. “A Hijazi table is never without extra family involved,” she said.

“The calm before breaking our fast is common as every household is busy conducting their prayers or reading the holy book in the last hour before sunset, the golden hour. By doing so, even children pick up the habit and grow accustomed to it and will thus pass it down to their children after that.”

Foul (fava beans cooked to a mash) accompanied by tamees (a traditional bread baked in a tandoor) are also two popular staples on a Hijazi table that go hand in hand.

Workers preparing the traditional "Qatayef" sweets, a folded pancake filled with cream or nuts, at a shop in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)

Also common on Saudi dinner tables during Ramadan are dates of all shapes and colors, oats soup, meat and cheese samosas, luqaimat (fried dough), Vimto drink, and kunafa.

These gatherings are about more than just food, however. Games and other family activities are also important traditions. A carrom board, a tradition brought to the Kingdom decades ago from India, is often brought out after the meal and Taraweeh prayers, while others prefer to kick around a soccer ball.

Today, many young men and women like to gather after evening prayers to play baloot, a popular card game in the region, similar to the French Belote.


This Ramadan the Grand Mosque in Makkah has launched a welcome initiative for pilgrims and Umrah visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia.

The Grand Mosque has 120 areas for prayer and 12,000 containers of Zamzam water to help ensure a comfortable visit for pilgrims.

Souqs in Saudi Arabia are the best place to buy Ramadan essentials and to experience the hustle and bustle of the holy month.

Al-Balad is Jeddah’s oldest neighborhood, founded in the 7th century A.D., and is home to a plethora of some of the oldest traditional markets.

In the Kingdom’s central region, many male members of Najd families typically break their fast at their local mosque, where they arrive bearing dishes from home.

Foreign workers their fast during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at a park in Riyadh on March 27, 2023. (AFP)

The tradition is believed to have stemmed from the area’s remoteness and harsh environment, where lower-income families found it difficult to provide for their families.

More privileged families shared their meals and distributed them to the needy as part of the holy month’s custom of helping the underprivileged.

Though it might seem slightly different today, many believe that once people sit at the table together, it does not matter what social class they belong to because they are all equal.

A Saudi man offers Muslim pilgrims Zamzam water upon their arrival in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file)

“It didn’t matter which family or clan you belonged to. The month brings forth its blessings and we share them with our family and others,” Umm Waleed, 72, a resident of Riyadh and native of Hail, told Arab News.

“Our grandmother taught us that in order to be blessed, we had to share. It does not matter where you are. Our Islamic teachings meshed with our local traditions (have) became an essential part of our community.”

Turning to the northern region, an area close to the border with Iraq and Jordan, many households share traditions with their neighbors, focusing on large gatherings of family and friends with children serving their elders throughout the evening.

Like subya in Hijaz, camel’s milk is a staple ingredient in several of the region’s dishes, such as tarshreeb (pieces of bread soaked in stock and meat), jareesh, al-mlehiya and thareed.

ALSO READ: Makkah’s historic Ramadan cannon remembered 8 years on

Moving toward the southwestern region of the Kingdom, many families have maintained the tradition of breaking their fast at mosques and only have proper meals after evening prayers once they have returned home.

A rifle round is traditionally fired to announce the call of Maghrib prayer in the areas high in the Asir mountains.

Across Saudi Arabia, Ramadan’s Islamic traditions complement local cultures and customs as the close-knit Saudi community prides itself in honoring old ways of celebration and incorporating new ones that fit well into an ever-evolving society.


Artificial intelligence cannot ‘substitute’ for human thought in translation process, Ithra session told

Updated 29 March 2023

Artificial intelligence cannot ‘substitute’ for human thought in translation process, Ithra session told

DHAHRAN: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran has held a private session dedicated to the importance of translation in all forms of literature.

Expert translator Dr. Bassam Al-Bazzaz defined the future of the practice as one which is “based on human thought — artificial intelligence cannot be a substitute for it.”

He added: “I do not imagine a future without translation, or with translation made by an artificial intelligence machine.

“Humanity will continue to need translation as long as books are multi-sourced and authors are multi-origin.”

He noted that sometimes word-for-word translations did not do the text justice. For select passages it required the translator to dig deeper into the meaning or to expand on the line between the lines in order to fully capture the concept or feeling and accurately present what was said.

He added that the spirit of the words and the personality of the writer should not be lost in translation.

The session emphasized that to translate a book into a different language it should first be successful — and understood — by the people for whom it was originally written.

It should require concerted efforts of institutions and individuals and to showcase the translated work at festivals.

Translation should be respected as one of the channels of literature and the translator should look at the bigger picture.

They should not be merely a translator of words but rather a transmitter of cultures. The translated book must have the validity of the original book, with the same effectiveness and influence.

The participants in the session concluded that the consumer of translated books was likely to be either a passionate reader or a creative writer, especially since the act of translation — and the resulting work — instantly multiplied the reader’s cultural output and expanded the horizons of the writer.

Saudi Cabinet condemns Qur’an burnings, calls for rejection of hate 

Updated 29 March 2023

Saudi Cabinet condemns Qur’an burnings, calls for rejection of hate 

RIYADH: The Cabinet condemned burning of copies of the Qur’an and called for tolerance and respect and a rejection of spreading hatred and extremism, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Kingdom on Sunday strongly denounced the burning of the Qur’an by a Danish extremist group outside the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen.

King Salman  chaired the weekly government session at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on Tuesday.