<La Vie Tang>The Moldering Ruins of the Ancient Capital

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To welcome the sunrise in the desert, I got up early before the crack of dawn, drove along the desert highway toward the east of Riyadh.

Riyadh lies on the plains of the Hanifah Valley (Wadi Hanifah), and to obtain the view of the sun rising up in the east requires a more-than-one-hour’s drive through the Dahana Desert and hilly areas to the other end of the plain belt where I could really gaze into the far distance and enjoy a glorious sunrise.  

Continuous rolling hills, weathered cliffs of different strange shapes, a scattering of derelict houses and herders’ tents surrounded by a dense of wild bush and cacti on the plain, the whole stretch of land was depopulated, assuming a scene of desolation along the sand-swirling road.  

My resolution finally paid off that I arrived just a moment before the sun broke out, and it was just at the right moment to watch the rising sun appearing behind the high mountain and flaming the eastern sky with myriad golden rays piercing through clouds. It’s a pity that the mist was so thick that obscured the sun after a short while. After all the way back to the city, I soon went on to the next destination, the ancient city of Dir ' Iyya.  

Sixteen kilometers to the northwest of Riyadh is the ancient city of Dir ' Iyya, the capital city of the ancient Saudi during the period between 1774 and 1818 and the birthplace of the Saudi royal lineage. There is an account of this historic stage, which was in the middle of the 18th century, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was forced to leave his hometown and came to the town of Delayyah which was inhabited by only more than 70 households, together with the chief of the town, Mohammed ibn Saudi, to defend and promote religion, in order to preserve the tenets of Islam (basic teachings). At that time, a gathering of Islamists and scholars from all sides appeared in the small town. With the gradual development of the town, the Saudi lineage seized the good opportunity to rise in response to conform to the time, thus laying the foundation of the royal family. After their successors used force to seize two cities of Mecca and Medina, the former tribe developed into a powerful kingdom, which decided on Dir'iyya as the capital and established the King’s place inside the city.  

Until 1818 when the Ottoman Empire intended to suppress the sectarian activities of Islam, the governor to Egypt, Muhammad Ali, was sent to lead armed forces to invade Dir'iyya, who burnt the violently-destroyed city into ashes. Based on records from historians of later ages, Dir'iyya seemed never to be inhabited after this battle, and it is accordingly not difficult to assume the extent of the devastation the city suffered from the war.  

When arriving at the tourist area on the opposite side of Dir'iyya, I found that entirely different pictures were presented at opposite sides just as like as an apple is to an oyster. Newly-built pseudo-classic architectures provide services of hotel, restaurant and shopping mall, with artificial landscapes such as ponds and palms around, lending an auspicious and tranquil atmosphere.  

On the other side, instead, walls and houses that were built of yellow soil have long fallen into ruin. Though, for years, the government has been working on the reconstruction of the complex thus to restore its glory, it is really difficult to imagine the flourish in those years from an expanse of wasteland.  

I didn’t come at the right time that the ruins had then been closed for renovation and so was unable to enter the ancient city to visualize what its former glory looked like back to those years. The palace of Saudi Arabia Kingdom, according to official announcement, among others, was the priority to be rebuilt in the ruins. The security staff was so determined to stop me behind the cordon and only let me approach within a distance. The ancient city was surrounded by a 2.5-kilometer-long wall, on which the original patterns have long been blurred by wind erosion. From some repaired part, many triangle arrow holes and quadrilateral holes could be seen densely covered on the castle facades. My tour guide explained that it was for defending troops to observe the state of the enemy outside and make strategic disposition.

The ancient city boasts its unique architectural style known as Najdi, more and more antiquities unearthed with a continuous archaeological development, which allows future generations to understand more about the ancient Saudis’ life and civilization course. The ruins of the ancient capital city have been included into the World Heritage List in 2010, and the government planned to turn it into a memorial park with both cultural and tourist functions through renovations and expansions. At present, rows of date palm trees and other trees are grown outside the ruins of the ancient capital, and facilities for barbecue and picnics are provided in the recreation area. It is said that every year when wet season comes, dried waterways under the ruins will be filled up with water which greens the grass and brings bright sceneries.  

On the way back to the city, I dropped by to visit the Camel Trading Centre. As it was not the trading time and only a few camels were left at the center, I didn’t have the chance to see how the nomadic people run their trading nor to experience the noisy atmosphere from the loud trading spot.  

I climbed on the viewing bridge at the rooftop of the King’s Centre Tower again after returning to the hotel. Through the glass, Riyadh looked so resplendent when the evening lights were lit and flashed up.

Tang Yu Lap

Hantec Honorary Chairman

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The desert highway

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