The Bujairi Quarter: Gateway to historic Saudi Arabia

On the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh sits Diriyah, a site steeped in history

Miles Lawrence
Miles Lawrence - Special to Al Arabiya News
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On the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh sits Diriyah, a site steeped in history. This is where, in 1744, King Mohammad bin Abdulaziz founded the first Saudi State, after forming an alliance with imam Mohammad bin Abdulwahab.

Today, a transformation is underway, which with the April opening of the Bujairi Quarter has passed a major checkpoint on the road to completion.

(Photo courtesy:  Miles Lawrence)
(Photo courtesy: Miles Lawrence)

The Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA), the government body responsible for the Historical Addiriyah Development Program, has created a relaxing atmosphere in Bujairi: with restaurants, cafes, spacious parks and an art venue – Bujairi is a great place to enjoy a meal or a family picnic.

The Bujairi Quarter of Diriyah sits about 12 miles north-west of central Riyadh. You’ll have to drive to reach it, but the whole area is fully pedestrianized – a welcome change if you live in the city.

(Photo courtesy:  Miles Lawrence)
(Photo courtesy: Miles Lawrence)

In the central plaza and meandering alleyways, clean-cut stone architecture mingles with traditional mud-brick construction.

The aim of the development project, according to the project guidebook, was to turn the Bujairi Quarter “into a gateway to Historic Addiriyah, through establishing various cultural institutions and public spaces.”

Tucked into the alleyways are a number of restaurants and cafes. There are traditional eateries where you can sample Arabian cuisine, as well as coffee shops, a juice bar, an ice cream parlor, and a dessert shop.

Just down the road is the charming Dim Light Coffee. From humble beginnings, this café/restaurant has grown with the development project to become a hugely popular hangout with locals and tourists alike. You’ll find plenty of atmospheric outdoor seating for singles, but as a family you’ll have to sit indoors and upstairs. For an outdoor family dining experience, try Najd Village in the central plaza.

The facilities in Bujairi are good – you’ll find a SAAB ATM service, indoor and outdoor parking with space for 250 cars, clean public restrooms, and clean public spaces – there are trash collectors and beige-and-burgundy-uniformed security staff on hand to help.

(Photo courtesy:  Miles Lawrence)
(Photo courtesy: Miles Lawrence)

There’s also an information center, open daily from 4.00 p.m. until 10.00 p.m. They were able to supply some information about the development project, but did not have a pocket-sized map of the Bujairi Quarter, which would’ve come in handy.

Diriyah also has a religious and educational history. It was the founding-place of the first Saudi state - no doubt the reason why the government has been keen to support its restoration and re-development. After forming an alliance with Mohammad bin Saud in 1744, Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulwahab preached from a mosque here in Diriyah and supported the growth of bin Saud's power.

The newly-built Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulwahab Foundation is “an academic institution concerned with the Sheikh’s scholarly and intellectual heritage, his school of thought and faith, and the Da’wah (mission) studies,” according to the project guide.

On the rooftop of this building are some of Bujairi’s finest vistas. Walk up the ramped pathways to a system of roof gardens, where you can relax and take in the view.

To get the best of Bujairi, go after sundown.

Abdulmalek Alsaleh, program manager for the Historical Addiriyah Development Program, told Al Arabiya News that they wanted “to design the lighting without affecting people when they are walking – we want the lighting to enhance even the palm trees.” The result is stunning. Uplit date palms appear suspended throughout the valley. Public spaces are softly illuminated. Across the wadi (valley), the Turaif ruins look down, lit up and boldly contrasting with the night sky.

Spreading outwards from the central plaza, you’ll find the stepping terraces and water gardens of the Addiriyah Park. Sitting on the banks of the Wadi Hanifah, Diriyah’s climate is slightly cooler than that of Riyadh city, with date palms flourishing amongst the abundant plant life.

The Arriyadh Park faces the hilltop ruins of Atturaif, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and open-air museum scheduled to open in 2017.

There is also an expansive park next to the main roundabout, with a children’s playground and a series of winding pathways. In the evenings you’ll find families spread out over elaborate picnics. They bring everything – pots, pans, and stoves; blankets, cushions, and props for reclining.

Every Thursday in Bujairi there is a traditional Saudi ardha (sword-dancing) performance. The hour-long show begins at 9 p.m., and takes place across the wadi beneath the Turaif ruins.

It is recommended to arrive slightly early for the show, to see the more than 50 dancers adorning themselves with traditional garments, weapons, and instruments. You’ll see and hear them praying beneath the historic fortress, muezzins dueling from their minarets across the valley.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz even performed the ardha at the opening ceremony on April 9, and Prince Charles joined in when he visited Saudi Arabia last year.

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