Al-Diriyah, where it all began

Guest post by Alberto Di Gennaro – SANDS

The Al-Masmak Fortress, (Masmak means a high, strong and thick building), a clay and mudbrick fort located in the center of Riyadh, occupies a place of honor in the history of Saudi Arabia. From a military stronghold in the past, it was converted in 1959 into a museum showcasing one of the most important landmarks of Saudi heritage.

By visiting the museum, artifacts representing the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can be observed, starting with ancient guns, agricultural wrecks, traditional Saudi Arabian costumes, etc.

The Al-Masmak Fortress was built in 1865. Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, also known simply as Ibn Saud, was the first King of Saudi Arabia and, in 1901, at the age of 21, succeeded his father, Abdul Rahman bin Faisal, becoming the leader of the Al Saud dynasty, with the title of Sultan of Nejd. In 1902 he regained Riyadh from Governor Al Rashid of the Al Rashid family, who fought against the Al Saud for supremacy in central Arabia.

The Al Saud ruled much of Arabia from 1780 to 1880, but, while Ibn Saud was still an infant, his family, driven out by their rivals, the Rashids, became exiles in Kuwait. In 1901 Ibn Saud, then 21, set out from Kuwait regaining in 1902 Riyadh from Governor Al Rashid.

Al-Masmak Fortress is one of the most significant national monuments still standing today. The fortress is now intended as a museum dedicated to the history of the unification of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; it is divided into 6 main parts: the fortress’s gate on the western side, the mosque to the left of the entrance, the majlis facing the entrance, the well on the northeastern side, the towers in each of its four corners, and the courtyard.

The main entrance to the Al-Masmak Fortress was a large gate, within which was a smaller postern gate almost a meter off the ground known as the Al Khokha. This small entrance was easily defensible as it required the person entering to hop over the waist-high ledge. Al-Masmak Fortress was built according to Najd architecture.

The traditional form of Najd style of architecture is characterized by simple adobe or mud houses designed to provide insulation against the fierce heat of summers and bitter winds witnessed during winter. Decorative aspects are limited to crenellations, molding, and elaborated finials rendered in mud then plastered with mud.

The roofs consist of flat tamarisk tree trunks then whitewashed. This building style was wiped out with the embracing of western architecture. The Al-Masmak fortress is not a simple monument but a vivid reminder of the history and culture of Saudi Arabia.

Guest post by Alberto Di Gennaro – SANDS

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