The Riyadh series, Travel

Riyadh’s Most Beautiful Historical Secret: Old Diriyah!

“We were meant to explore this earth like children do, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of discovery. Allow yourself to see the world through new eyes and know there are amazing adventures here for you.”

Laurel Bleadon Maffei

Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, is filled with interesting and unusual things to see. From quirky restaurants to interesting historical sites, this rich city offers something for everyone. With the new tourist visa opening last year, the Saudi government has a goal of radically boosting tourism in the next ten years.

If you ever find yourself in Riyadh, or find yourself planning a trip to Riyadh, I reccomend that you pay a visit to the one and only Diriyah.

Diriyah (الدرعية) dates back to the fifteenth century and was the original home of the royal family of Saudi Arabia. It is located on the banks of Wadi Hanifa and it was the original capital city of Saudi Arabia. Now Diriyah is recognised for it’s historical value and beautiful surroundings.

I had heard many things about Diriyah from both my Saudi and Expat friends, so one afternoon I decided to pay a visit to Diriyah. After drinking a lovely cup of tea in the Tea Club, we left Riyadh Park mall and drove to Diriyah. It took approximatly eight minutes to drive there.

The biggest problem that we faced was parking: this is something that could be improved, as we found there to be very little parking space. We did manage to find a parking spot about fifteen minutes away, but this may not have been suitable for everyone.

After we found a space everything else was plain sailing. We walked down the road towards Bujairi and we could see Diriyah in the distance. As it was Friday, locals were out in full force to eat together in the park: I really love the way Saudis picnic together!

It is worth noting that Bujairi is filled with lovely coffee shops and it’s the perfect place for an afternoon stroll or wander. Please remember thought that like many places in Saudi, the shops and restaurants will remain closed until after 4pm on Fridays because of prayer.

When we walked through Bujairi, the sun was slowly setting which somehow made the Saudi architecture seem even more beautiful. There is something magnificent about the clean cut stone walls against a pale blue sky.

After walking for just under ten minutes we were able to see the Old city of Diriyah and it was beautiful. Unfortunatly, we were unable to enter Diriyah but we heard that is possible to enter after obtaining permission from an office in the Diplomatic Quarter.

Have you visited Diriyah? Let me know if you enjoyed it in the comments below. Please also write any questions that you have about Saudi Arabia, I would love to answer them for you.

The Amman Series, Travel

Desert Castles in Jordan

As a little girl I spent time walking through the ruins of castles and forts with my family so naturally I had to do some exploring whilst in Jordan and to be sure, Jordan has many castles and ruins worth exploring.

If you are prepared to hire a car and drive for just over an hour from Amman to reach the dessert, then I highly reccomend a visit to the castle ruins in the dessert and the city of Azraq.

Qasr Amra

 Qasr Amra (قصر عمرة ), a UNESCO world heritage site, is possibly the most well known of Jordan’s desert castles. The castle was built by Walid Ibn Yazid some time between 723 and 743 before became the Umayyad caliph Walid II. The castle now stands alone on Jordan’s main East – West highway, roughly 85 kilometers away from Amman. Today the castle is considered a key example of Islamic art and architecture.

The remaining building is more of a remnant of a much larger luxury complex that included a castle: it did not serve any military function, it was merely a luxurious royal retreat.

My favorite part of the building certainly had to be the remaining frescoes on the ceilings and wall which tell the tale of rulers and hunters. Above one of the bath chambers lies the first representation of heaven painted onto a hemispherical surface. Constiliations have been ornately painted onto the ceiling and are accompanied by paintings of zodiac figures.

Qasr Al-Karaneh

Qasr Kharana (قصر خرّانة‎) is located 37 miles of east of Amman and lies in close proximity with the border of Saudi Arabia. Historians and Archaeologists believe that the castle was built some time before the 8th century AD. The castle however contains some Sassanid influences (read about the Sasanian Empire here.)

Qasr Kharana is very well preserved and is today one of the most visited desert castles in Jordan. Historians debate the original purpose of the castle: many argue that the building’s layout does not suggest that the castle had a military use but suggests the castle may have served as a resting place for traders. Other historians disagree as the castle is far from a water source and is not located on any major trade routes.

Qasr Hallabat

The complex of Qasr al-Hallabat is located in Jordan’s eastern desert. Historians believe that the castle was originally a Roman fortress that was built by Emperor Caracalla in the late second century AD. It is believed that the fortress was constructed to protect its inhabitants from the threat of Bedouin tribes. The castle is located on what was once the Roman highway connecting Damascus to Aqaba.

In the Eight century the Umayyad ruler Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik gave the order for the all Roman structures to be demolished and redesigned as grand Umayyad complexes. The new, renovated fort included a mosque, a complex water system and a bathhouse.

Today, the three wall sections of the mosque remain visible and intact. The palace itself is constructed of limestone and black basalt has a square floor plan with towers at each corner. The palace is decorated by beautiful mosaics of animals, frescoes and stucco carvings.

Qasr Al-Azraq

Qasr al-Azraq (قصر الأزرق‎) is a large fortress located in Jordan approximately 100km East of Amman. The Fortress was strategically built next to the nearby oasis; the only source of water in the region. The Romans were the first to use this site and later a mosque was built in the center of the grounds. The Fortress was renovated later in history by the Ayyubids, who used basalt to reconstruct the building.

During the years 1917-1918, T.E Lawrence based some of his operations in the castle.

The Amman Series, Travel

Jerash

The small country of Jordan, in the Middle East, is well known for it’s hospitality, culture and historical sights. From an archaeological perspective Jordan contains some of the most spectacular sites in the world including the world renowned tourist attraction that boasts over 500,000 visitors each year: Petra.

On this occasion I want to talk about the beautiful and historical aincient city of Jerash.

Jerash جرش ‎  is an aincient city located in the north of Jordan, only 48 kilometres north of Jordan’s capital city, Amman. Otherwise known as ‘the Pompeii of the East’, Jerash serves as a fantastic day trip for both adults and children.

The city of Jerash dates back to the Neolithic times and incredibly rare ruins and artifacts have been found which have dated back to roughly 7500 BC. The current site of the old city of Jerash includes beautifully preserved ruins of places of worship and other buildings from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods.

Recommendations

When visiting Jerash you should wear sensible footwear; if you wish to see the whole site you will need to do a lot of walking.

Take a good camera with you; Jerash is an ideal location to photograph.

In the Roman theatre, two or three men will usually be ready to play wonderful traditional Jordanian songs as you walk in. The men will be happy to play songs for you, just be prepared to provide them with a tip afterwards as this is a cultural expectation.

Before going to Jerash, read about the history of the site, so that you can spend your time admiring the beauty of the ruins.

I would advise that you take water and snacks, just be sure to clear up after yourselves.

Travel

Wadi Rum

Jordan might be a small country, but it is filled to the brim with many breathtaking and beautiful sights. Whether you prefer the ancient ruins of the Rose City of Petra, or the hive of activity in downtown Amman, Jordan is sure to offer something to suit everyone.

If you ever find yourself fortunate enough to visit Jordan, I would recommend a visit to Wadi Rum – it is undoubtedly one of the most mesmerizing places on Earth.

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Wadi Rum  وادي رم‎  is a valley that is located roughly 60 km to the east of Jordan’s southern port city, Aqaba. Otherwise known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is currently the largest valley in Jordan.

Since prehistoric times, many cultures have inhabited Wadi Rum such as the Nabataeans who left their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples. The West of Wadi Rum is most known for its connection with British officer T. E. Lawrence, who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917–1918. In the 1980’s one of the rock formations in Wadi Rum, was renamed “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” after Lawrence’s book written in the aftermath of the First World War.

 “The hills on the right grew taller and sharper, a fair counterpart of the other side which straightened itself to one massive rampart of redness. They drew together until only two miles divided them: and then, towering gradually till their parallel parapets must have been a thousand feet above us, ran forward in an avenue for miles.”  – T.E Lawrence (Seven Pillars)

If you wish to loose yourself and escape the world of phone calls, text messages and life’s demands then take a trip to one of the many Bedouin camps. The hospitality that you will experience undoubtedly will be second to none!

My Recommendations: 

I would recommend that you travel to Wadi Rum with close friends or family, it is such a beautiful place to make memories.

Be prepared to ask questions about the Bedouin lifestyle and culture, your visit will be the perfect opportunity to learn more and listen to some fascinating stories.

You really should book a guided tour of the vast dessert and explore some of the most amazing sites and hidden secrets that the valley has to offer.

Sneak away from your friends and family and take a few moments to sit under the stars, I am sure that you will find it a breathtaking experience. I enjoy sitting and listening to the echoes of the valley or watching the sunset whilst listening to a good playlist.

If you are able to, try to stay in Wadi Rum for more than one night, it truly is a beautiful place to escape to.

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The Riyadh series

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia

As somebody who has grown up in a house full of history lovers, I have a firm appreciation for museums and history, therefore, when I moved to Riyadh one of the first places that I wanted to visit was the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.

I booked my first taxi in Riyadh and off we drove into the chaos of the city! I remember that the traffic was so bad that day, but I didn’t care! It was so interesting to drive through the city for the first time.

When we arrived at the museum I was taken aback. The building was huge and appeared empty (I later learned this was because I had visited on a school day.)

When I started to walk around the museum and visit the different exhibits I have to say that I was really impressed. The exhibits were filled to the brim with detail and interesting information.

One of my particular favourites was the timeline of Islamic history; it was very informative and useful as I often struggle to remember dates.

I also enjoyed learning interesting facts such as the fact that there used to be elephants in Saudi Arabia -who knew?

If you do go to the museum, be sure to check the opening times online on the museum website.

Also, the museum is also located next door to Murubaa Fort. The two sites are seperated with beautiuful green gardens – I loved exploring the area in the sunshine.

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia would make a fun family day out and I would certainly reccomend a trip if you have the chance.

The gardens that separate the museum from Murubaa fort.