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Photographers from around the world compete for Saudi Arabia’s photography award in Al-Wajh city

Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the beating heart of Riyadh, celebrates its 5th anniversary

RIYADH: Picture this: a historic city, home to the leaders of a G20 country, bringing together communities from all walks of life to network. A car-free city, which encourages friendly interaction and engagement, a much-needed revolution for humanity after a two-year lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is what Diriyah will become and represent.

Five years ago, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) was tasked by the Saudi government with redeveloping the “Cradle of the Kingdom” into a world-class and sustainable tourism, entertainment and cultural destination.

When completed, the $50 billion giga-project will include some of the world’s most luxurious restaurants and hotels built in the traditional Najdi architectural style, as well as conservation areas and cultural venues.

Curving along the outskirts of Riyadh and formed on an oasis that separated from the shores of Wadi Hanifa, Diriyah’s mudbrick walls once housed a thriving desert city that was a powerhouse of culture and commerce.

Its At-Turaif district, with its famous citadel, was the original seat of power of the Al-Saud family of the Kingdom. In 1727, the city was named the country’s capital, laying the foundation for what would later become a unified Saudi Arabia.

Located just 15 minutes drive from Riyadh and 25 minutes from King Khalid International Airport, Diriyah Gate is well placed to attract regional tourists. (Provided)

In 2010, nearly three centuries later, the ruins of At-Turaif were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then, in July 2017, the area underwent a careful restoration plan aimed at bringing its historical heritage back to life.

“Nestled around the jewel of the kingdom, the UNESCO World Heritage Site At-Turaif, birthplace of the kingdom and former home of the royal Al-Saud family, Diriyah occupies an incredibly special place in the landscape of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Jerry Inzerillo, Group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. “It will be an iconic tourist destination and will be synonymous with where the history of the Kingdom and the wider Arabian Peninsula began.”

One of the main development goals of Diriyah is to stimulate domestic, regional and international tourism by creating world-class leisure, hospitality and retail offerings in a setting that celebrates both the distinctive natural beauty of the Kingdom and its rich culture. “We know that tourists are educated, more skilled, savvy and sharper than ever, and are looking for experiences that can’t be found anywhere else,” Inzerillo said.

“They want to be pioneers, not only to visit places that offer things that weren’t possible before, but also to offer an authentic cultural experience. It is now more important than ever that our industry caters to these worldly and curious travelers by curating destinations that will satisfy their appetite for the new and the authentic.

Located just 15 minutes drive from Riyadh and 25 minutes from King Khalid International Airport, Diriyah Gate is well placed to attract regional tourists.

Located at the intersection between Europe, Asia and Africa, it is also only 8 hours flight from 70% of the world’s population and only 4 hours from 30% of the world’s population. The 11 km2 culture, history and lifestyle destination is set to become the largest culture and heritage city in the world, which aims to attract some 30 million visitors a year by 2030.

Other cultural highlights will include a grand mosque that can accommodate more than 10,000 worshippers, six museums focusing on Saudi history, filled with a period village. (Provided)

When complete, the site will include at least 28 luxury hotels and resorts, approximately 400 of the world’s top luxury and lifestyle brands, and more than 150 high-end gourmet restaurants and cafes.

Outdoor activities will occupy a prominent place in the tourist offer, concentrated around Wadi Hanifah, where visitors can discover local beekeeping, enjoy 8 km of horse trails, a historic trade route of camel caravans which extends over 7.5 km and discover the unique landscapes of the region. wildlife at the Bariri Diriyah Wildlife Conservation Center.

Tourists are not the only target market, however. There will be over 3,000 residential units in traditional Najdi design and over 300 other luxury branded residences.

Some 180 million handmade mud bricks have been prepared as part of Najdi’s architectural construction work and Diriyah’s authentic restoration, ensuring that every aspect correctly represents a sympathetic and accurate interpretation of Najdi’s life.

The site will also host a brand new academic institution, King Salman University, which will focus on heritage, culture and the arts, as well as several new cultural institutes specializing in Najdi architecture and mud-brick construction, poetry , falconry, Quran recitation, local theatre, dance, music and culinary arts.

Other cultural highlights will include a grand mosque that can hold over 10,000 worshipers, six museums focused on Saudi history, filled with a period village, not to mention the UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-Turaif. itself, and the Al-Taleh Center, which explores the agricultural heritage of the region. There will be souks and bazaars spread all over Diriyah.

When complete, the site will include at least 28 luxury hotels and resorts, approximately 400 of the world’s top luxury and lifestyle brands, and more than 150 high-end gourmet restaurants and cafes. (Provided)

These offers have not gone unnoticed in the wider region. Diriyah has been chosen to be the Capital of Arab Culture for 2030. It has already hosted the Jax Arts Festival and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, a platform that supports the artistic and creative movement and helps keep pace with the cultural transformation of the Kingdom. “Culture and heritage underpin everything we do in Diriyah and are embedded in our strategy at every stage of development,” Inzerillo said.

“Our starting point is always that Diriyah is above all a place of culture. This is what sets us apart from any other mixed-use development or giga-project; the fact that we at DGDA are stewards of this magnificent piece of Saudi heritage that we are privileged to preserve, share and celebrate with the world.

Environmental sustainability is at the heart of this restoration plan.

The project is a key contributor to Saudi Arabia’s sustainability goals and is aligned with the Saudi Green Initiative and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic diversification and social reform agenda.

Native and drought-tolerant species have been used in the landscaping of the site, reducing the demand for irrigation and thus saving water. The project’s wadis and escarpments are also being rehabilitated and protected, including the historic date palm plantations of Wadi Hanifah.

At the same time, the DGDA claims to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions. These efforts already seem to be bearing fruit. DGDA recently received LEED for Cities and Communities platinum pre-certification for the first phase of Diriyah’s development, in recognition of its progress towards sustainability, zero emissions and equity goals.

Embracing its outdoor space, the development will include an open-air plaza with over 20 outdoor event spaces, a 3km escarpment promenade overlooking Wadi Hanifah and At-Turaif, and over 2km2 of Wadi Hanifah Park, filled original and newly planted palm trees and children’s play areas. With health, fitness and well-being in mind, planners are also building a sports and recreation center and over 9 km of cycle paths.

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Diriyah is also expected to host many other major sporting events. With its distinct road network, it has been a popular choice to host this world famous Formula E racing event over the years. Diriyah was also the host of “Clash on the Dunes”, the first heavyweight boxing championship to be held in the Middle East. Sports brands aren’t the only big names attracted to Diriyah. The site recently hosted an exhibition by Cartier, one of the most prestigious jewelry houses in the world.

Amidst all this rapid development, planners have not lost sight of the local population. Diriyah’s graduate development program has already welcomed 70 graduates to improve their skills and introduce them to job opportunities.

Planners also created the Diriyah town hall to keep the community informed, launched a recycling program and organized regular blood drives to support the local health system.

“One thing that I am particularly proud of is the commitment and achievements of the DGDA in enabling the people of Diriyah to achieve their goals,” Inzerillo said. “The DGDA has celebrated and continues to celebrate the local community, showcasing social, cultural and historical achievements, connecting to the roots of the Saudi state and creating solid foundations on which to build the best possible future for the community.”

Job creation – prioritizing Saudi workers – has been particularly high on the agenda, in line with the government’s Saudiization drive.

About 85% of DGDA’s workforce are Saudis, of which 36% are women and 16% are women in senior positions. Diriyah residents themselves make up 14% of the workforce.

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The fifth anniversary of the launch of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority was an incredible milestone, Kiran Haslam, the organization’s chief marketing officer, told Arab News podcast “The Mayman Show”. Click here.

The beating heart of the Kingdom celebrates unique individuals from around the world, while recognizing locals and encouraging them to participate in the development of their beloved city.

Since September 2020, the DGDA has more than doubled its workforce, today employing more than 1,000 people. It was included on the “Great Place To Work” list for Saudi Arabia – a global survey that recognizes organizations based on their work environment and employee satisfaction. For Inzerillo, an important measure of the project’s success will be its economic impact.

“Long term success will be once Diriyah contributes positively to the Kingdom’s GDP, creates around 55,000 jobs and attracts our target of 30 million visitors per year,” he said. However, imbuing a sense of national pride among ordinary Saudis is by far the greatest prize of all.

“Diriyah is more than a giga-project. Diriyah is critical because it anchors the Kingdom on its identity and on its soul, and the soul cannot be measured with money,” he said.

“The soul is measured by its culture and its people. That’s why it’s very important.