Turaif beckons visitors to experience old Riyadh

RIYADH: Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr.

Published — Friday 8 February 2013

Last update 8 February 2013 12:50 am

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The Turaif Quarter in the northwest part of Riyadh was something of a sleepy backwater until it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 29, 2010. It would be sleepy no more.
“More and more visitors started visiting the place after it was declared a World Heritage Site,” said Mohammad Ali, a Sudanese national who works as a translator at a local firm. He added that it has become an increasingly popular destination for both Saudi and foreign tourists.
Turaif is the second historic site in Saudi Arabia to be added to the World Heritage List, following Madain Saleh in 2008.
Ali, who has worked in Riyadh for more than 30 years, added, “My family and friends still visit the place regularly even though we have already been there countless times. It’s just like communing with nature,” he said.
Fifty-one-year-old Eller B. Mendoza added, “Architects like me, and others in related fields, visit the place not only to pleasantly while away the afternoon hours, but also to enhance our knowledge of our profession with whatever we can learn from what’s going on there.”
He noted that a delegation from Harvard University traveled all the way from Boston in the United States to visit Diriyah (as historical Riyadh is known) in October 2011. The delegation also visited Al-Turaif.
The delegation visited Riyadh as part of its efforts to find a model for postgraduate studies on aspects of cultural development programs.
“Tourists who visit the place inevitably rendezvous with history. Once there, their minds travel back into time and they think they are in another place. In their mind’s eye, they can sense the ambiance that was back then,” said Mendoza who has been an architect since 1982.
Turaif, the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, bears witness to the Najdi architectural style in the Arabian Penisula. In the 18th and early 19th century, its regional political and religious roles increased and its citadel became the center of the House of Saud and the spread of Wahhabism, the Islamic reform movement in Arabia.
“The citadel of Turaif is representative of a diversified and fortified urban ensemble within an oasis. It comprises many palaces and is an outstanding example of the Najd architectural decorative style,” said Mendoza.
Turaif comprises many of the remains of a relatively comprehensive urban ensemble of which the vast majority of components are still in place despite many of the buildings being in ruins.
Mendoza noted that “the urban and architectural components of the area were not altered or reconstructed during the 20th century.”
“The buildings are generally in a state of ruin. A major program of restoration work is in place with due respect to the original locations, plans and techniques,” he said.
The government has secured the area since 1976 under the Antiquities Act 26M, 1392 (1972), which protects movable and immovable ancient heritage registered as “antiquity,” a term that can apply to sites which are, at least, 200 years old.
The Ministry of Education and the Council of Antiquities backed by local police departments are responsible for enforcing the law. A new bill that defines a protection zone of 200 meters around the boundaries of Turaif is pending approval.
A detailed global management plan for Turaif is being drawn up for the future management structure of the area. The plan is being prepared by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).

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