Dhahran: Saudi energy capital with a prosperous past

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Dhahran’s King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture — commonly known as “Ithra” — hosts the 29th Arab League Summit on Sunday.
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Saudi mailmen take a break in Dhahran.
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Aramco officials meet bedouins in 1948.
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The Ithra Center is an iconic monument and a hub for knowledge and culture.
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Then-Crown Prince Saud bin Abdul Aziz’s son rides a horse during their visit to Dhahran in 1950.
Updated 16 April 2018

Dhahran: Saudi energy capital with a prosperous past

  • Dhahran has witnessed and incubated numerous political and economic milestones in the history of Saudi Arabia
  • Dhahran had been the home and headquarters of Saudi Aramco for the past 80 years

JEDDAH: Dhahran is hosting the 29th Arab League Summit at King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, commonly known as “Ithra”. The Aramco initiative is an iconic monument, a hub for knowledge and culture, and an incubator for arts, science and innovation. The center is located near the Well of Prosperity, where oil was first discovered.

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture
King Salman first inaugurated King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in November 2016, marking Aramco’s 75th Anniversary.
The Ithra Center is 90 meters high, and covers 45,000 square meters. Ithra has a modern library, an archive gallery, the IDEAlab for innovation, an energy exhibition, a children’s museum and an extensive museum on the Kingdom’s natural history, contemporary arts and theater.
The Knowledge Tower looks over the surrounding facilities with its immaculate design; its main purpose, however, is to offer educational programs for pioneers in all fields, in hopes of inspiring, enriching and exchanging cultures, while directing society toward a knowledge-based economy.
The Great Hall that will host the Arab leaders on Sunday is surrounded by an oasis an outer courtyard; decorated by a vegetal wall, a Roman stadium to host outdoors events, it covers 1,600 square meters with floors made of recycled bamboo wood. It has housed countless cultural exhibits and global summits, targeting 500,000 visitors annually.

The international architecture, interior design, brand design and landscape architecture company designed Ithra. Founded in 1989, the Oslo-based company is famous for the reconstruction of New York’s Times Square in 2017, the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet house in Olso and Bibliotheca Alexandria (Library of Alexandria) in Egypt.
Snohetta participated in an architectural design competition in 2007 and was selected to design and overlook King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.

Dhahran has witnessed and incubated numerous political and economic milestones in the history of the Kingdom. It is known for its importance in the field of energy, and it will forever be associated with the summit in the future, adding it to the list of historic imprints with the outcomes of the Arab League Summit.
The city is located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and forms part of the Dammam Metropolitan Area with Dammam and Alkhobar. It is commonly known as the home and headquarters of Saudi Aramco for the past 80 years.
It is rich in history and heritage, as well as having its own industrial imprint on the Kingdom today. It is known for its relevance in power generation and significance in the oil industry.
King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, met with representatives of US oil companies in 1931, building the foundation for Saudi-American relations.
It also housed the first American consulate in the Kingdom in 1944, acting as the first diplomatic representation of the US in the Gulf region.
Due to its location and the importance it holds as a commercial city with Saudi Arabia’s busiest ports, it has received the utmost care and attention from the government and is considered substantial to the kingdom’s economy and the oil market globally.
As an oil manufacturer with Saudi Aramco on its heel, the city is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Kingdom.
With Saudi Aramco’s base and compounds adding to its elegance and allure, it is relatively the cleanest and most organized of cities, resembling US cities with its modernity and fine neighborhoods.
Baleegh Abdullah, an Aramco employee based in Jeddah who has traveled to Dhahran frequently, told Arab News: “It’s a beautiful, modern city; I enjoy having some peace and quiet when I head there. It’s the exact opposite of Jeddah with its crowded streets.”
Meanwhile, Ahmad Abdulrahman from Yanbu, who studied at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran and lived there, said that the city seemed to have “coincidentally merged with Dammam and Alkhobar’s urban extension.”

History and war
On Oct. 19, 1940, during World War II, an Italian air force plane struck Dhahran while aiming for Bahrain, but there were no casualties.
In 1944, the US built an air base in the city with the construction taking two years before it was completed in 1946. The base remained in Saudi Arabia until 1962.
During the Gulf War, the city witnessed a large loss when an Iraqi missile hit US Army barracks in 1991, taking the lives of 28 Americans.

Well No. 7 and Max Steineke
When Standard Oil of California first discovered oil in Bahrain in 1932, it led to speculations on oil prospects in the Arab peninsula. By 1933, the Saudi government had allowed SoCal to explore for oil.
On arrival in Saudi Arabia to assist in the agreement signed with SoCal, Steineke climbed up the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC, later became known as Aramco) ladder, becoming chief geologist by 1936. He asked diggers to start digging the seventh deep-test well. 10 months later, liters of oil were found.
In 1938, when SoCal decided to back out due to lack of results, Steineke managed to urge his superiors to wait until the results of the last drilling test well in Dammam, No. 7, leading to many more successful commercial oil ventures in Saudi Arabia. Steineke received the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Powers Award for his drilling methods, leading to further oil exploration in Saudi, and specifically Ghawar, the number one productive oil field in the world.

King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals
The prestigious university in Dhahran was founded in 1963 as College of Petroleum and Minerals by a royal decree in order to advance the high demand for petroleum and minerals. It was later elevated to university status in 1975 and renamed after King Fahd in 1986.
The university has an acceptance rate of 10 percent and is known to be the most selective in the Kingdom.
In 2015, it was named the top university in the Arab world via QS University Rankings as well as in 2016.

Cirque du Soleil prepares ground-breaking show in King Fahd Stadium

Updated 21 September 2018

Cirque du Soleil prepares ground-breaking show in King Fahd Stadium

RIYADH: A joint press conference between the MBC Group, the General Entertainment Authority, and Cirque du Soleil was held at King Fahd Stadium on Thursday afternoon to answer media questions and give some details about Cirque du Soleil’s upcoming special performance, part of Saudi Arabia’s 88th National Day celebrations. The show is slated to be one of the biggest performed by the Cirque and their first in Saudi Arabia. It is a one-night-only, exclusive event, designed especially for this occasion.
Daniel Fortin, vice president of Creation at Cirque du Soleil, teased the audience with a few details of the upcoming show. “With a cast and crew of over 300, this is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done,” he said.
“Without giving too much of the plot away, the story is centered around the sun, and takes place from sunset to sunrise. Everything from the costumes to the stage props was created as a homage to Saudi culture. You’ll see a lot of Bedouin influences in the staging and in the music. We drew inspiration from a variety of sources, such as traditional Bedouin tents, desert scenery, even the stadium itself.”
The show has been in development for six months, and the cast and crew have been preparing for the show at the King Fahd International Stadium since the beginning of August.
The show will contain new technology, and 16 unprecedented acrobatic acts. However, Fortin refused to share too many details. “You’ll just have to see what we have planned at the show.” He said. “But I think you will be impressed. We’re doing things we’ve never done before.”
Tickets to the show sold out in less than 48 hours after their release; an incredible feat as the show has allocated more than 27,000 seats for the performance. Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, spokesperson for the General Entertainment Authority, was pleased— but not entirely surprised— by the public’s reaction to news of the show. “We felt that variety in the types of events we brought to Saudi Arabia was important,” he said, “and we conducted a number of research workshops to determine what sort of events would be well-received by the public. Cirque du Soleil was mentioned frequently in our research, so we’re very happy to have had the opportunity to bring them here.”
MBC head of events Omar Al Radi also expects a big response to the televising of the show, which he estimates will break records. “We’re broadcasting the show live on both our local and international channels, such as those in Europe and in America.” he said.
“We’re expecting over 200 million views. Probably record-breaking numbers. MBC is proud to have been part of bringing this historic event to Saudi Arabia, and we can’t wait for you to see it.”