RIYADH: While many countries in the world have halted construction work and put projects on hold due to the pandemic, Saudi Arabia continues to move forward with its giga-projects, including the homeland of its forefathers, Diriyah.
Construction on the first phase of Diriyah Gate has resumed in the past few weeks as plans are set to transform the 7 sq/km Old Town into one of Saudi Arabia’s foremost historic cultural destinations, just 15 minutes from downtown Riyadh.
“The investments in massive upgrades and infrastructure are continuing despite the economic climate,” Danielle Ainslie, chief marketing officer at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, told Arab News. “We have literally begun work in the world’s largest cultural and heritage development,” she said.
Ainslie considers work on a giga-project during this time as a “great global message.”
“There are economies that are still thriving, and Saudi Arabia is one of them. Irrespective of COVID-19, it is business as usual and the focus is on Vision 2030 and realizing Vision 2030,” Ainslie said.
The project is well on its way with a new addition to the team: Princess Deena Nahar Al-Saud recently joined as senior director of brand strategy and experience. With an extensive background in business development and a passion for branding, design and experience, she previously worked with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage where she was a key member in the tourism visa team and led the “Open Hearts, Open Doors” tourism visa launch event.
Speaking to Arab News, she described Diriyah as her favorite location in the city, a space that she said “holds beautiful stories of the past and reminds me of our nation’s inspiring future.”
“Being in close proximity to At-Turaif always leaves me speechless. The walls surrounding Salwa Palace are extraordinary, and I am grateful to have started a journey that will showcase Diriyah to the world,” she said.
Inspired by At-Turaif, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Diriyah Gate will anchor a vision for the future on a jewel from the Saudi past. It will bring together Saudi’s foremost collection of culture, lifestyle, learning and hospitality. The mixed-used development will showcase 300-plus years of authentic history by delivering heritage experiences, empowering education, world-class entertainment, outstanding lifestyle and vibrant shopping and dining.
Unified by an authentic cultural identity that transcends time, Diriyah will be a place of historical significance for Saudis.
As part of the operational phase, the restoration of Wadi Hanifa, a valley that runs for many kilometers and creates an incredible landscape, is as Ainslie described the reason behind the existence of Turaif where a major part of the project will include the replanting of about 20,000 historic palms this year.
Creating free public spaces for all to enjoy, just as London has its Hyde Park and New York has its Central Park, Diriyah will have its own free public space, with researchers investigating the history of the area and staying true to the landscape, planting authentic plants that historically grew in this area.
“That natural oasis or wadi was primarily the reason that the settlement was there, even before the first Saudi state ... and today that is one of the main goals to bring it back to its original state,” Princess Deena said.
Ainslie said that the restoration of the wadi would create one of the Kingdom’s largest and most beautiful parks with three zones — a culture and heritage zone, a living zone, and an ecotourism zone. “We’ve already started the process of replanting trees and not just palm trees, but also other plants that are native to Diriyah.”
“When I close my eyes and I think of Diriyah, I think of palm trees. So, restoring the wadi to this beautiful parkland is going to be really important,” Ainslie said.
Watching families out by the wadi in the evening having picnics and having coffee and dates was “something special,” she said.
“That’s what the development is really about; bringing back the places for families to gather and meet and to enjoy a better climate with the cool breeze and the green,” she said.
Work has already started in Bujairi to improve infrastructure and make it easier for people to get there to enjoy the beautiful sites of Wadi Hanifa and the historical sites of At-Turaif, as well as being a destination for food and dining, Ainslie said.
“Diriyah already is an amazing gathering place and what we’re building is one of the world’s greatest gathering places. And obviously, a key part of that is its dining and food; it is a real reason why people come to visit,” she said.
From luxury and fine dining to local restaurants and food halls, Diriyah will provide something for everyone to enjoy.
Diriyah’s history and landscape has attracted many visitors over the years, and as the Kingdom opens its doors to the world the tourist site is a must-see.
“You wouldn’t go to Egypt without seeing the pyramids. I don’t want people to come to Saudi Arabia without seeing At-Turaif,” Ainslie said.