Diriyah: Shaping the future, preserving the past
Over the past three months, we at Arab News decided that Diriyah — the Kingdom’s birthplace — would be the center of our special coverage to mark the 91st Saudi National Day. Little did we know that this journalistic experience would be like entering a time machine, allowing us to travel between the past, the present and the future.
Our efforts took us back centuries, to the defining moments that shaped our present; we revisited the epic sacrifices of our kings and all the heroes who fought beside them. But the journey has also taken us forward, to the dawn of a new era and an exciting new role for Diriyah which, thanks to the ambitious plans of our leadership, aims to soon become a world-class destination.
Today, we are proud to invite you, our readers, to share that journey with us. Through the pages of this souvenir issue, and through the dedicated, interactive Deep Dive on our website you will discover that Diriyah has always been central to the story of Saudi Arabia.
It was here, on the banks of the Wadi Hanifah, that the forebears of King Abdulaziz first settled in the 15th century. It was here that the flower of the First Saudi State blossomed in the 18th century, and that widespread peace, security and unity first spread out across the Arabian Peninsula. Here, too, the Najdi masterbuilders created the imposing palaces of the At-Turaif district, which in 2010 was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And in 1818, it was here that the great disaster of the siege of Diriyah befell the embryonic Saudi state.The destruction and persecution that followed might have finished another people. But out of that calamity grew a fresh — and ultimately successful — determination to forge a bright future of self-governance.
Today, the priceless national treasure that is At-Turaif is at the heart of the extraordinary plan by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority to transform Diriyah into a global historical, cultural and lifestyle destination that will create tens of thousands of jobs and attract 27 million visitors every year.
The future of the Kingdom, in other words, is rooted firmly in its past. This is why it is so fitting this National Day to celebrate the achievements of our forebears, even as we embrace the ambition of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, enshrined in the Vision 2030 blueprint, to see our great country and its many treasures opened up to the world.
Researching elements of our National Day coverage took me back to a world I had all but forgotten, to when I was a student. Then, I had heard of Diriyah, had learned about it and memorized the key dates and glorious moments in its history, but had never actually seen it.
Three years ago, when I visited the project for the first time, I was spellbound, not only by the wonder and beauty that is the UNESCO site of At-Turaif, but by the bold ambition for the entire Diriyah area. By early 2022, you too will be invited to discover the wonders of this place, as the first assets are delivered.
On Saudi National Day, Arab News celebrates the priceless cultural treasure that was the birthplace of the Kingdom.
As I write these words, there are graceful buildings rising, beautiful parks created and craftsmen, fashioning the new in the vernacular of the past, are mastering the skills of the Najdi architects of old.
Last but not least, I need to say that for the past three months I have been working with an enthusiastic team at Arab News to bring to life this great story, and I owe them a huge thank you for making this project a success.
Our coverage has also been made possible by the unprecedented access and support we had from the "rock star team" at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. Most importantly, I want to thank both my editor-in-chief Faisal J. Abbas and the authority’s chief executive Jerry Inzerillo, without whose combined passion, persistence and punctuality this project would not have seen the light of day.
A final note for our readers, both at home and abroad: A Saudi historian once told me that, throughout history, Arabia had been united only twice. The first was during the time of the Prophet Mohammad and the subsequent caliphates, and the second during the rule of Al-Sauds.
It is remarkable to think that had this country not been unified, a mere century ago, by King Abdulaziz, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today would probably be a broken country ruled by a dozen different tribes.
A nation’s past is a fragile thing, to be cared for, protected and built upon. The great Diriyah project achieves all this and more. On this National Day, we invite all of you to take pride in our past, and to reflect upon a future in which Saudi Arabia will continue to thrive, innovate and evolve — and, most importantly, be thankful to be living in such a peaceful, prosperous and prominent nation.
Have a joyful National Day!
- Noor Nugali is Assistant Editor in Chief of Arab News. Twitter: @NoorNugali