Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Riyadh from Philip's Encyclopedia

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.


Summary Article: RIYADH from Capital Cities around the World: An Encyclopedia of Geography, History, and Culture

Riyadh is the capital and largest city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East. The city is in the Najd, the highlands area in the center of the country, in Riyadh Province, of which it is also the capital. The population of Riyadh is 5,254,560 (2010), while that of the wider metropolitan area is about 7 million, about one-quarter that of the country. The name Riyadh is Arabic and means “the gardens.”

Historical Overview

The first settlement at the site of Riyadh was founded by the Banu Hanifa tribe as early as the third-century AD and was named Hajr. It was the capital of a province called Al Yamamah but waned in importance in the late ninth century. In 1737, Deham ibn Dewwas gained control of the settlement and built a wall around it. The First Saudi State was formed in 1774 with Diriyah as capital. After it was defeated in 1818 and Diriyah destroyed, the Second Saudi State was created in 1823 by Turki ibn Abdallah who made Riyadh the capital. From 1865 Riyadh was ruled by the Al Rashid family whose capital was in the city of Ha'il. King Abdulaziz ibn Saud recaptured Riyadh from the Al Rashid family in a decisive battle in 1902, and in 1932 established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with Riyadh as capital.

The kingdom was at first a poor desert state, but after vast oil reserves were discovered near the Persian Gulf in 1938, Saudi Arabia stated to become extremely wealthy. The royal family of Saudi Arabia has enjoyed seemingly unlimited resources. By 1976, the country had become the largest oil exporter in the world. It had succumbed to enormous influence from the United States and its major oil companies, and is a major purchaser of American and British weapons. The government's friendship with the West has angered many of the country's citizens, as well as anti-American and anti-Israel radical Islamists in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. As a result, Saudi Arabia has come to be in the center of Islamic terrorism, both as a victim and as a source of recruits for both domestic and global terrorism, including most of those who were responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on targets in the United States. The Saudi government has tried to balance its close political and economic ties with the United States against ever louder domestic and regional calls to turn against the United States. In addition, in 2011 the government was facing growing protests by many of its own citizens on demanding a turn to democracy and an end to excessive social and economic inequalities.

Major Landmarks

Riyadh has a small old city district called Al-Bathaa in which the main landmarks are the Fortress, site of the 1902 battle in which Riyadh was recaptured by King Abdul Aziz, and Murabba Palace that the king built afterwards. The National Museum, opened in 1999, features high technology presentations about Saudi Arabia's history and culture, and about Islam. Next to the Great Mosque is As-Sufaat, or Deira Square, a large expanse where on many Fridays public beheadings of condemned criminals take place. For this reason, the square is sometimes referred to in English as Chop-Chop Square. Souk-al Thimairi is the city's most famous old bazaar. The northern part of Riyadh is more modern, and has many high-rise buildings, upscale shopping malls, and wide highways. The major landmark is Kingdom Center, also called the Burj al Mamlakah, a 99-floor (1,000 ft; 300 m) high-rise office tower with a distinctive opening at the top that is spanned by a top-floor pedestrian bridge from which visitors are afforded a spectacular view. At the base is a large three-level shopping mall in which one floor is reserved for women shoppers only. Riyadh's second-tallest building is Burj al Faisaliya. It stands out because of a unique ball near the tapered top in which there is a restaurant. The Royal Saudi Air Force Museum is at a freeway exit in the city's outskirts.

Kingdom Center, also called the Burj al Mamlakah, a 99-floor (1000 feet; 300 m) high-rise office tower and shopping mall in Riyadh.

(Fedor Selivanov/Shutterstock.com)

Culture and Society

Riyadh is a sprawling, fast-growing, and ever more modern city. At the same time, it is religiously conservative, and is trying to resolve conflicting opinions about issues such as whether or not Islamic law allows women to drive automobiles. Many museums and other attractions in the city have separate visiting hours for men and women. There are more than 4,300 mosques in this heavily Muslim city. The language of Riyadh is a recognizable dialect of Arabic called Nadji Arabic. The mode of dress follows the principles of hijab, that is, strict modesty is required.

Further Reading
  • Al-Hammad. “Riyadh: City of the Future,” Cities: The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning 10, no. 1 (1993): 16-24.
  • Menoret, Pascal.Development, Planning and Urban Unrest in Saudi Arabia,” Muslim World 101, no. 2 (2011): 269-85.
  • Struyk, Raymond J.Housing Policy issues in a Rich Country with High Population Growth,” Review of Urban & Regional Development Studies 17, no. 2 (2005): 140-62.
  • Copyright 2013 by Roman Adrian Cybriwsky

    Related Credo Articles

    Full text Article Riyadh
    The Macmillan Encyclopedia

    24 39N 46 46E A city in Saudi Arabia, in the centre of the Arabian Peninsula. Riyadh and Mecca are joint capitals of the kingdom. The...

    Full text Article Riyadh
    Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary

    \rē-yäd\ also Er Riad \er-rē-äd\ or Riad. City, of Saudi Arabia, in E cen. part ab. 235 mi. (380 km.) from Persian Gulf; pop....

    Full text Article Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    Penguin Encyclopedia of Places

    Cap. of Nejd and joint cap. (with Mecca) of Saudi Arabia in an oasis in the centre of the country 800 km (500 miles) ENE of Mecca. Pop....

    See more from Credo