Masmak Fort: The birthplace of modern Saudi nation

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Updated 13 October 2015

Masmak Fort: The birthplace of modern Saudi nation

The Masmak Palace is a tourists’ favorite and a must-visit destination in the capital city of Saudi Arabia. Not only do Saudis and expatriates appreciate the majesty of this vast architectural wonder, but it draws interest from across the world as well. However, while we all know about the Masmak Palace and most of us have paid a visit to it at least once, we often overlook the secrets this monument has in store for us.
So, here are some facts that you probably did not know about the Masmak Palace that glorifies the streets of Riyadh. In fact, in the heart of Riyadh’s old quarters, Masmak Fort is a magnificent citadel that takes us back to the history of Saudi Arabia. This is the fort stormed by the late King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1902, creating a turning point in the history of the Arabian peninsula. You can still see his spearhead embedded in its wooden gate.
Today, Masmak Palace is an acute and virtually official symbol of the pivotal rise of the Saudi nation. An episode dramatically recreated in a short film that plays in Masmak’s museum tells the historic story even today. Amid its halls and rooms displaying photographs, weapons and armor, there is a plaque commemorating Saudi Arabia’s national day that refers to the late King Abdul Aziz. The Masmak Fort popularly known as Qasr Al-Masmak stands today as a testament to the late King Abdul Aziz’s bravery that led to the reunification of Saudi Arabia.
Masmak Fort captures the feel of old Arabia and the essence of a struggle that created a modern Saudi state today. As a preserved piece of history, the actual location of the capture of Riyadh by the young Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, it is a great privilege to visit. There is additional interest in the surrounding sights — the grand mosque, Deira Souk and Chop Chop Square.
Within the fort, visitors can find traditional dresses and crafts, a diwan with an open courtyard, functioning well, and a mosque besides many other attractions that are a feast for the eyes. Just 200 meters southeast of Masmak Fort is Al-Thumairi Gate, one of the nine gates that once served the purpose of entering into the city. The walls surrounding the gate were pulled down in 1950. The fort building played a major part in the Kingdom’s history, as it was here that the recapture of Riyadh occurred on Jan. 14, 1902.
Today, the fort is one among several buildings that form the huge King Abdul Aziz Historical Center (KAAHC), consisting of a cluster of other restored buildings in Riyadh. Centennial celebrations of these buildings were held way back in 1999. But the Masmak Fort is an interesting monument to watch. Its palm tree gate is 3.65 meters high by 2.65 meters wide. There is an opening in the center of the door, called Al-Khokha, which is just big enough for one person to pass at a time, and is a defensive feature designed to allow people in and out without opening the door.
The roofs are covered with painted palm trees, taramic and ethel wood. The building received some important renovation in the1980s, and became a rich museum in 1995. The museum includes a display of a range of antics from primitive guns and costumes to a number of agricultural artifacts. In fact, the museum conjures up the ancient history of Saudi Arabia in particular and of the Arabian peninsula in general. Visitors to the fort can travel back in time and witness how the late King Abdul Aziz besieged and conquered it.
The details of this event are illustrated through a picture at the entrance of the museum today. The Masmak Fort primarily served as a military post and an ammunition storehouse until it was acknowledged as a patrimonial symbol of the establishment of Saudi Arabia. The museum lives up to expectations and lures one and all. It shows mementos of the Kingdom’s historic past, including some 20 pictures of palaces found in various parts of the Kingdom.
Apart from the museum, there are other attractions in the area. This includes the Riyadh governor’s office, whose size and architecture is something to behold. Visitors go to the governor’s office for various reasons. The Masmak Fort, the governor’s office, the mosque, and the buildings of the religious police form a circle that is popular with tourists, besides being the seat of the local Riyadh governorate.
At its center is a wide concrete space where the children play at sunset. During Haj holidays recently, more than 25,000 people visited the area, according to Naseer Al-Oraifi, the Masmak museum’s director. Visitors include diplomats from different countries, expatriates and Saudi families.
It is important to mention here that Masmak Fort today is considered one of the most important historical landmarks in the Kingdom. The word ‘Masmak’ means a high, strong and thick building. It has been built in Mohamed Bin Rasheed’s era in 1289 AD. In the beginning of the Saudi state, this building was used as an armory until it was made into an archaeological attraction and a museum.
In 1902, during Abdul Aziz Al-Saud’s drive from Kuwait to capture the Najd, the fort was taken by Al-Saud and marked the passage of the city of Riyadh — then only a small village — into the hands of the Al-Sauds. It was a watershed moment for the establishment of Saudi power, which eventually paved the grounds for the late King Abdul Aziz to establish a modern Saudi nation.
The fort is built in traditional Najdi style, with round conical towers and thick, red-brick walls showing sparse, geometric designs. It is open to the public. In 1995, King Salman, the then Riyadh governor, opened the Masmak Historical Museum. Today, it is a rich museum. The museum contains photographs, maps, models, display cabinets, some old weapons, traditional objects, exhibition and audio-visual halls. The museum receives visitors from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. noon and in the evening from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Mondays and Wednesdays are reserved for families. It is closed on Friday mornings.

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Easing visa regulations makes Russia big attraction for Saudis

Russia witnessed a 10 percent increase in international tourists in 2018. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 14 October 2019

Easing visa regulations makes Russia big attraction for Saudis

  • Tourists can visit the country’s regions by simply applying online

MOSCOW: Walking the cobblestone streets around Moscow’s Red Square, tourists from far and wide enjoy the crisp, cool fall air, surrounded by architectural wonders dating back hundreds of years.
Similar to Saudi Arabia, which has begun promoting tourism for the first time, Russia has opened its doors wider to the world by easing visit restrictions, increasing the flow of tourists.
Zarina Doguzova, head of the Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation, explains to Arab News the dynamics behind it all. “Russia is now very focused on easing visa restrictions and formalities. At the moment, an electronic visa is used for tourists coming to the regions of the Far East, as well as to the Kaliningrad region. And just a very short while ago, an electronic visa regime went live in the territory of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region,” said Doguzova.
Doguzova stressed to Arab News the importance of working with Saudi Arabia to increase mutual openness and to develop a successful travel industry in both countries.
“Saudi Arabia is on the list of countries whose tourists can visit Russian regions using an electronic visa. We are always happy to see tourists from your country visiting us. Moreover, from Jan. 1, 2021, an electronic visa will work throughout Russia, and we consider it a real breakthrough for global tourism. The same can be said about Saudi Arabia — the things you are doing are a new step in the development of global tourism,” she added.
Doguzova went on to explain that a significant easing of visa restrictions increases incoming tourism by an average of 10-15 percent for a country.
“Tourism is at the intersection of the economy and the country’s image, and that is why its value is even higher. Therefore, we are now developing the concept of Russia’s systematic promotion in international markets in terms of tourism potential.”
Russia is one of the 49 countries on the list recently announced by Saudi Arabia whose citizens will be able to apply for tourist visas to the Kingdom for the first time.
Ahmed Al-Khateeb, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), announced on Sept. 27, 2019, at an event held in the Kingdom’s capital that international investors agreed to invest SR115 billion ($30 billion) in the tourism sector.
Al-Khateeb and Doguzova met at the 23rd session of the General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization held in St. Petersburg in September, the first high-level event hosted by Russia for the UN in the field of tourism.

FASTFACT

14,000 Saudis attended the 2018 FIFA World Cup using FanID, an identification document required by the Russian authorities that provided visa-free entry to Russia for foreigners that purchased tickets to the match.

At 6.6 million sq. miles, Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of landmass and an exotic destination for many. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia gave it a serious incentive to develop tourism, with 14,000 Saudis arriving under the FanID visa that was launched before the start of the games. The e-visa system allowed fans to enter Russia visa-free once they had purchased their match tickets.
The number of tourists has soared since then, placing Russia on the global travel map. Russia saw a 10 percent increase in international tourists, with 4.2 million tourists overall in 2018, the state-run Vesti news website reported, citing the Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards.
Doguzova said there are many points of interest for both Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation to maintain a mutual tourist flow.
With President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Saudi Arabia, Doguzova hopes that both countries will sign the first framework agreement on tourism.
“For the first time, the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism has drafted such a document and agreed on it with the interested parties. This agreement will create a legal basis for further cooperation in tourism and will contribute to the development of tourism between our countries,” she said.
Doguzova noted that Russia has previously raised the issue of a possible visa-free regime between both countries and will continue to discuss the issue. “We are excited about Saudi Arabia’s efforts to promote tourism. A trend to lift visa restrictions is underway in the world because people want to cross the borders at will in order to travel. Visa liberalization is now taking place all over the world, and both Saudi Arabia and Russia are making significant progress in this field.”
“We want millions of tourists from all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, to discover our country,” she added.