Diriyah’s redevelopment recalls a time of unparalleled prosperity in First Saudi State

Diriyah’s redevelopment recalls a time of unparalleled prosperity in First Saudi State
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Updated 21 February 2023

Diriyah’s redevelopment recalls a time of unparalleled prosperity in First Saudi State

Diriyah’s redevelopment recalls a time of unparalleled prosperity in First Saudi State
  • Will history repeat itself with the upcoming Diriyah Gate Project? Can the city rediscover its old luster?

“Nejnaj” is an Arabic word that means to move something and turn it over. If used to express an opinion, it means an unwavering persistence leading to persuasion.

Saudi historian Othman Ibn Bishr uses the word in his descriptions of the social aspect of Diriyah, which left him stunned by the picturesque views unfolding before his eyes, standing on Jabal Al-Qurayn, which overlooks the city’s mud palaces, and Wadi Hanifa with its palms and other trees. 

He wrote: “We saw Diriyah in the time of Imam Saud bin Abdulaziz. Its people were blessed with a lot of money, gold and silver-studded weapons, thoroughbred horses and Omani camels, luxurious clothes, and all sort of luxuries.”

The historian, who lived through the First Saudi State, highlighted the large number of transactions, and the purchasing power in the seasonal market in Diriyah during the eighteenth century. He wrote: “A landscape bursting to life, where the sound of nejnaj reminds of buzzing bees, the shouts of people buying and selling goods, with shops lining its eastern and western sides (referring to Wadi Hanifa).”

Ibn Bishr highlighted the impact of the purchasing power in Diriyah. He said that there was no gender discrimination in the market during the First Saudi State, and men and women alike would go to sell and buy goods, under the direct supervision of the leadership. The quality of life in Diriyah, the historical capital, had a great economic impact on the prices of houses and shops throughout Diriyah and its neighborhoods, with demand exceeding supply. 

The number of houses and shops for sale was very limited in the eighteenth century. Finding a house for sale, a rare occurrence at the time, directly implied the incurring of a hefty price equivalent to seven thousand riyals. As for shops, the monthly rental income generated by one shop was about 45 French riyals, which is an Austrian currency made of 23 grams of silver, and equivalent to 40 Saudi riyals nowadays.

Caravans of upscale clothing came from various neighboring civilizations, and when they reached Diriyah, the sales percentage increased significantly. The expansion of houses in Diriyah came at the expense of palm trees as well as other types of trees, forcing the buyer to purchase them for 45 riyals a palm.

The prices of wood and carpentry were absurd due to the high demand for construction purposes in Diriyah. Many houses were palaces and structures known as “makaseer,” the plural of “maksourah” which is, by definition, a structure larger than a mud castle.

The Saudi historian then discussed the economic aspect of “nejnaj” reflected by the flowing of people in the market and the surrounding neighborhoods, where one could listen to the sound of its occupants and their repetitive discourse, similar to the sound of “a strong torrent cascading from the high mountain.”

What was the purchasing power of Diriyah in the eighteenth century? Is history repeating itself with the upcoming Diriyah project? Residents of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as outsiders with their different classes, were encountered there, and the racial diversity is not surprising due to the security and unity that Diriyah added to various areas of the Arabian Peninsula that were managed from its castles in At-Turaif.

Ibn Bishr, an authentic Saudi source who witnessed the First Saudi State, in describing Diriyah’s purchasing power, expressed the economic, social, and cultural past of the city reflected through the human cohesion that is particular to the Najd area.

These aspects are not new elements added to the Diriyah project, but rather an authentic reality. Accordingly, this project promises to take us back to that reality where sales, purchasing power, prosperity, and quality of life were unparalleled. We will definitely return to this standard known as “nejnaj,” with Riyadh’s population set to exceed 15 million people this decade.