Diriyah: A glimpse into a bygone era

Updated 30 January 2013

Diriyah: A glimpse into a bygone era

RIYADH: Old Diriyah, a town on the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh, boasts of a great historic past. So when the day is clear and the skies are spotlessly blue, it draws Saudi and expatriate visitors alike, particularly on weekends.
“My family and friends and I like the countryside. I keep tender memories of the place,” said a foreign diplomat. “Old date trees whose dark green leaves echo a distant past, farms planted to different fruit trees and vegetables, and old buildings which are the mute witnesses to history.
But as renovations in the area progressed, he noted, many of the things that drew weekend visitors are now gone.
“Of course, the renovation is welcome. The new buildings are part and parcel of modern times. Besides, they’re also made of mud-bricks and quite resemble the historic buildings,” added Miriam D. Rontale, a teacher at a local school who majored in history.
Diriyah was the original home of the Saudi royal family and served as the capital city of the first Saudi dynasty from 1744 to 1818.
“My wife and I used to visit Diriyah to have a closer look at the origins of modern Riyadh and I felt I imbibed, as it were, the old Saudi culture,” said Maynard R. Pesig, an engineer at a lighting company in Riyadh.
He noted, however, that many of the old buildings “were gone and the remaining few had been padlocked.”
“Many of the old buildings have been replaced with new and modern structures. The government could have renovated more of them,” he said.
Thamer Al-Hawas, a Saudi from Riyadh, said that he and his family used to visit Old Diriyah because of its cultural significance.
Being a Saudi, he said he wanted to know more of “the past, which is very faraway now but I’m proud of it and I still come here with my family.”
“The restoration of the place is welcome, although I am sad that many of the old buildings and palaces are gone,” he said as he sauntered slowly down the concrete street, which used to be a dirt road.
Al-Hawas said that some of the restored buildings included the Salwa Palace, the residence and first home of the Al-Saud emirs and imams during the first Saudi State. It was considered the largest building in the area, rising four stories high. It was composed of five main parts that had been built at different consecutive periods of time.
“It is believed to have been finished by Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Muhammad bin Saud, who was imam from 1803 to 1814. The Saad bin Saud Palace was one of the largest in the city. It was famous for its courtyard, which used to be a stable. It has been completely restored and is several stories high,” he said.
The Guest House and Al-Turaif Bath are traditional buildings, consisting of a number of courtyards surrounded by rooms.
Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulwahab used to give lessons about his reformed movement of Islam at the Imam Mohammad bin Saud Mosque. It became a center for religious education.
“Students from various parts of the Arabian peninsula used to travel to the Kingdom and visit it,” Al-Hawas added.
Residents of Riyadh and other parts of the Kingdom still visit Diriyah. “While visitors merely drive along the road to have a glimpse of the place, others pull over to have a closer look at Diriyah’s surroundings,” said Jannette Arenque, a teacher at an international school.
“In doing so, we try to summon up the past to see in the mind’s eye what it was like back then,” she added, noting the ruins of mud-brick structures which lay on either side of the valley.

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide


Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.


Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.


Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.


Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.


It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.