views updated Jun 08 2018


Saudi Arabia's capital and largest city.

Riyadh is located in the southern Najd region. More correctly transliterated as al-Riyad ("the gardens"), the city is also the capital of a large province of the same name. Nearby are the ruins of alDirʿiyya, the original seat of the Al Saʿud family until an invading Egyptian army destroyed the village in 1818 and put an end to the first Saudi state. The Al Saʿud thereupon relocated at Riyadh, which became the capital of the second Saudi state of the mid-nineteenth century. With a second decline in Saudi fortunes, Riyadh was lost to the rival Al Rashid dynasty of Haʾil in 1891. But in 1902, Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman (also known as Ibn Saʿud) infiltrated the town with a small band of followers. Launching a surprise attack on al-Musmak fortress, Abd al-Aziz succeeded in capturing the Al Rashid governor and restoring Saudi control over Riyadh.

Over the next two decades, the Al Saʿud used Riyadh as their base to extend their authority once again over all of Najd. From the late 1920s, Saudi Arabia had two capitals, with the king resident in Riyadh, the capital of Najd, but most of the ministries and embassies located in al-Hijaz. By 1955 most government ministries and head offices had moved to Riyadh. The Foreign Ministry and foreign embassies remained in Jiddah until 1985, when they too were required to move to the capital. Riyadh's population was estimated at only 169,000 in 1962, but the oil boom (beginning in 1974) dramatically transformed the city and caused its population to increase to over 1.5 million. By 2003 the capital's population was estimated at nearly 4.5 million. The skyline has been enhanced in recent years by two skyscrapers, the thirty-story al-Faysaliyya Center and the Kingdom Tower.

Very little of the old city remains intact; the old mud-brick fort of al-Musmak has been preserved and Ibn Saʿud's al-Murabbi Palace was restored during the country's centennial celebrations in 1999. Many buildings in the new diplomatic quarter, which is known as al-Dirʿiyya because of its proximity to the old village, imitate the traditional mud-brick architecture. Near this quarter are located the new King's Office Complex (al-Yamama Palace) and the headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Also nearby is the campus of King Saʿud University; founded in 1957, it is the country's oldest university. Imam Muhmmad ibn Saʿud University, one of the kingdom's three Islamic universities, is located in Riyadh as well. The city is the inland terminus of a railroad from al-Dammam on the Persian Gulf coast, and the previous international airport has become a major air force base. The government is the largest employer in Riyadh, although light industry and retail firms are also important.

see also al saʿud family.


Facey, William. Riyadh: The Old City from Its Origins until the 1950s. London: Immel, 1992.

j. e. peterson


views updated Jun 08 2018

Riyadh Capital of Saudi Arabia, in the e central part of the country, c.380km (235mi) inland from the Persian Gulf. In the early 19th century, it was the domain of the Saudi dynasty, becoming capital of Saudi Arabia in 1932. The chief industry is oil refining. Pop. (2002) 3,627,700.