Riyadh’s Al-Masmak fort stands guard over Saudi Arabia’s past

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‘Masmak’ in Arabic means the high, fortified, thick and huge — important qualities for a fort that witnessed King Abdul Aziz’s major initiatives in consolidating the Kingdom. (Shutterstock)
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The museum contains photographs, maps, old weapons, traditional and heritage objects, exhibition and audiovisual halls. (Shutterstock)
Updated 26 April 2018
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Riyadh’s Al-Masmak fort stands guard over Saudi Arabia’s past

  • The Al-Masmak fort is connected with the recapture of Riyadh in Jan.15, 1902, by the late king
  • The SCTH chief Prince Sultan bin Salman developed the exhibits in Al-Masmak Museum that was started in December 2011 to represent the story of its storming

RIYADH: The Al-Masmak fort in the heart of Riyadh holds a prominent place in Saudi Arabia’s history and — 150 years after being built — is telling the story of the Kingdom’s birth via a 3D virtual tour.

The fort is home to a museum that has become an important historical destination and focal point for state guests as well as foreign visitors and local residents.

“As it is a favorite tourist destination, not only the Saudis and expatriates living here appreciate the majesty of this vast architectural wonder, but it draws interest of visitors from outside the Kingdom as well, and most of the foreign guests who arrive on visit here toured the museum,” Majed Alshadeed, a spokesman for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), told Arab News.

“Masmak” in Arabic means the high, fortified, thick and huge — important qualities for a fort that witnessed King Abdul Aziz’s major initiatives in consolidating the Kingdom.

The Al-Masmak fort is connected with the recapture of Riyadh in Jan.15, 1902, by the late king.

However, the story of building Al-Masmak fortress dates back to the reign of Imam Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud, who began work on the fort in 1865. 

The use of the fortress changed after King Abdul Aziz recovered Al-Masmak fort in 1902. After its use as a warehouse for ammunition and weapons for two years, it was turned into a prison before being converted into a heritage landmark in the heart of Riyadh.

The the-then Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz (now King) ordered its upkeep, maintenance and restoration in 1980.

As governor, he led the development of Riyadh from a mid-sized town into a major metropolis in the region and served as an important liaison to attract tourism, capital projects and foreign investment to the Kingdom.

After the proper work the fort was restored to serve as a museum and was inaugurated in 1995 as the Al-Masmak Historical Museum, which tells the story of the Kingdom’s unification and establishment by King Abdul Aziz.

The SCTH, led by Prince Sultan bin Salman, developed the exhibits in Al-Masmak Museum that was started in December 2011 to represent the story of the storming of Masmak and recovery of Riyadh by King Abdul Aziz.

Adding more value to the museum, the SCTH launched a smartphone app for “Virtual Tour via 3D images” of Qasr Al-Masmak or Al-Masmak Palace Museum in March 2016, conjuring up Saudi history digitally to show visitors how the late King Abdul Aziz founded the modern Kingdom. 

Now fans of Saudi tourism, heritage and history can make an online visit to Al-Masmak Museum through a virtual tour, navigating different halls and internal areas through 360-degree camera and 3D images.

The virtual tour allows visitors to view exhibits that highlight the cultural dimension of the Kingdom and its deep-rooted heritage, besides touring the different halls and viewing paintings and photos.

The museum contains photographs, maps, models, display cabinets, old weapons, traditional and heritage objects, exhibition and audiovisual halls.

Each month, the museum receives about 5,000 school students and visitors, with numbers increasing during school breaks.

Since its opening in 1995, more than a million people have visited the museum, according to officials.

Speaking to Arab News, Mohammed Zeyad, a student, said the museum was a special place for those who love history and heritage, and wanted to learn more about the country.

The museum recently hosted a workshop to promote patriotism by highlighting the historic and cultural values of the Kingdom.


Lost in translation? Not for Muslim Hajj pilgrims

Updated 19 August 2018
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Lost in translation? Not for Muslim Hajj pilgrims

  • In all, 80 percent of pilgrims to the western Saudi city of Makkah are non-Arabic speakers
  • Many of the signs directing pilgrims are translated into English, Urdu and in some cases, French

MAKKAH, Saudi Arabia: Lost in translation? Not in Makkah, thanks to a dedicated squad of interpreters gearing up to help two million Muslims speaking dozens of languages at the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The six-day Hajj, which starts on Sunday, is one of the five pillars of Islam, an act all Muslims must perform at least once if they have the means to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Most of the world’s Muslims do not speak Arabic — Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim community by population, while tens of millions of the faithful are native speakers of Urdu.
In all, 80 percent of pilgrims to the western Saudi city of Makkah are non-Arabic speakers, according to Mazen Al-Saadi of the official Hajj translation bureau.
His team provides 24/7 interpretation services in English, French, Farsi, Malay, Hausa, Turkish, Chinese and Urdu — the most widely spoken language among Hajj pilgrims.
For Samir Varatchia, who made the trip to Makkah from France’s Indian Ocean island of Reunion, the men in grey vests — the uniform of the official Hajj translation team — are a welcome sight.
“I really don’t know much Arabic,” Varatchia told AFP.
“The French translation will help us understand things, including the sermons.”
Tunisian interpreter Abdulmumen Al-Saket is happy to help, fielding frequent requests for his phone number.
“We try to help as much as we can, even with reading the maps,” he said.
“Some ask for our personal phone numbers, to call us later if they need help,” he added.
Pilgrims come to Makkah from across the world, including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Many speak only Urdu, Saadi said.
Many of the signs directing pilgrims are translated into English, Urdu and in some cases, French.
Makkah’s Grand Mosque provides a range of translation and interpreting services to pilgrims.
Specialist departments deal with sermons and rulings, and a hotline is available in dozens of languages to answer religious questions.
But for practical matters, Saadi’s 80-strong team is indispensible.
The department has been in place for four years, he said, and is being continuously expanded to deal with rising demand.
“Most (pilgrims) don’t speak Arabic and are afraid to ask in the event of an accident,” Sanaullah Ghuri, an Indian translator, told AFP in Arabic.
A deadly stampede in 2015 left more than 2,000 pilgrims dead in Mina, the Makkah neighborhood where the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual takes place during Hajj.
Many pilgrims were unable to understand security forces’ instructions, delivered in Arabic.
The Hajj presents Saudi authorities with vast logistical challenges.
Islam is currently the world’s fastest-growing religion, according to the Pew Research Center, which says the number of Muslims in the world is expected to rise from 1.8 billion in 2015 to three billion in 2060.
The Hajj sees millions of pilgrims visit the country, all clad in white, to perform rituals in Makkah’s Grand Mosque and on the Mount Arafat plain east of Makkah.
It ends with Eid Al-Adha, a three-day feast which starts with the “stoning of the devil.”
Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most restrictive countries, has recently embarked on an ambitious reform program spearheaded by the powerful young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
That has included pumping millions of dollars into high-tech initiatives.
Providing services for two million pilgrims is no small feat, and authorities are pushing a “smart Hajj” initiative this year to meet the rising demand.
That includes apps providing information on emergency medical services and geographic guides to Makkah and Mina, the two cities home to Islam’s holiest sites.
One app will also translate Hajj sermons into five languages.
But the Indian translator, Ghuri, said the presence of real-life interpreters made the experience of Hajj easier for pilgrims.
“When they see someone speaking their language, they feel more comfortable seeking help,” he said.