Saudi tourism

As Diriyah flourishes, project officials adamant on maintaining Saudi heritage

CEO Jerry Inzerillo says one million people have visited Diriyah since it opened in December

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Saudi Arabia is booming, developing, and growing as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 push. One particular project, which the Kingdom is pumping $63 billion into, recently saw 70 cranes and around 22,000 workers on-site.

This project is Diriyah, the birthplace of the first Saudi state and the ancestral home of King Salman and the Al Saud family.

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Al Arabiya English received an exclusive presentation of the future plans of Diriyah, a city that will be walkable from end to end within minutes.

However, it is more than just a construction project, according to Jerry Inzerillo, the Group CEO of Diriyah Company.

“There’s a lot of projects going on in the Kingdom, but this one is the birthplace of the Kingdom. This one is actually the source of the Saudi identity,” Inzerillo told Al Arabiya English from his office, overlooking the 14 sq. km. mixed-use destination.

The Bujairi Terrace, full of bustling restaurants, has already opened. Bujairi Terrace saw an estimated 5,000 visitors on the last Saturday of October, which is full capacity.

Visitors walk around Diriyah's Bujairi Terrace. (Supplied)
Visitors walk around Diriyah's Bujairi Terrace. (Supplied)

Alongside the terrace is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important cultural sites, At-Turaif, which has recently been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This particular citadel was the initial seat of power for the Al-Saud family and the birthplace of the Kingdom.

“If you’re going to have your society proud of your roots, and it’s the source of identity of pride, that’s Diriyah,” Inzerillo said.

There are currently 2,000 employees at Diriyah company. However, it is expected to contribute to an estimated 55,000 by 2030 through hotels, museums, and other projects.

These employees are all part of the effort to make Diriyah the world’s largest cultural and heritage site.

A general view of Diriyah, Oct. 28, 2023. (Joseph Haboush/Al Arabiya English)
A general view of Diriyah, Oct. 28, 2023. (Joseph Haboush/Al Arabiya English)

Preserving the heritage

Part of the mandate for developing Diriyah is to preserve the heritage of the sites.

In an effort to ensure this, there is a cultural heritage committee that looks at any potential changes to these sites. “We are not allowed to touch [any area] without written permission from the committee,” Inzerillo said, adding that 180 million mudbricks were in the process of being made organically.

All the buildings in Diriyah are clad in that material. “You don’t want it to look like Las Vegas or Disney,” he said.

Najdi style, a particular architectural style of Diriyah and of the Arabian Peninsula, is evident throughout the newly-built restaurants and sites.

“Every single decision we make is based on two things: Is it authentic, and does it relate to the modern 300-year Saudi cultural heritage?” Inzerillo said.

Over 6 million trees, plants and shrubs have been planted at the project site. These horticultural elements have been carefully studied and chosen to ensure they are part of the indigenous greenery that is typically present in this area.

Close to 10 million cubic meters of rock were drilled underground in order to make Diriyah a “smart city” with brand-new infrastructure. Metro stations will be built throughout the city, with residential and non-residential buildings intertwined with parks, bike trails, restaurants, and hotels.

The entirely walkable city is expected to be completed by 2030. Three phases have been developed and planned, with the fourth yet to be publicized.

Najdi style, a particular architectural style of Diriyah and of the Arabian Peninsula, is evident throughout the newly-built restaurants and sites. (Supplied)
Najdi style, a particular architectural style of Diriyah and of the Arabian Peninsula, is evident throughout the newly-built restaurants and sites. (Supplied)

Three-dimensional (3D) models seen by Al Arabiya English show the complexity and details of what Diriyah will become.

“Come and see the birthplace of the Kingdom where Arabia originated and be welcomed by warm and hospitable people, which is natural to any Saudi,” Inzerillo said in an open invitation to tourists from around the globe. “It will expel that old, nagging stereotype that Saudi is just deserts and camels,” he added.

“Come see a country that’s rich in its history and culture.”

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