Riyadh, which lies in the Central Region, is the capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and now rivals any modern city in the world in the splendor of its architecture. Broad highways sweep through the city, passing over or under each other in an impressive and still growing road network. Trees now bedeck the broad streets and avenues, giving pleasure to passers-by and shade to those who linger beneath them. Today the city extends for some 600 square miles (1600 square kilometers) and has a population of more than 5.8 million.
The name Riyadh is derived from the Arabic word meaning a place of gardens and trees (“rawdah”). With many wadis (a former water course, now dry) in the vicinity, Riyadh has been since antiquity a fertile area set in the heartland of the Arabian peninsula.
Of all the Kingdom’s developmental achievements, Riyadh is perhaps the most obvious and accessible to the foreign visitor. From the moment he lands at the King Khalid International Airport, itself a marvel of design wedding the traditional Arab style with the best of modern architecture in a happy marriage of spacious practicality, the traveler is aware that he has reached a city that must be counted one of the wonders of modern times.
Forty years ago the population of Arriyadh was just 100,000. Now it is 6.5 million. 64 percent are Saudi citizens. The greatest number of the expatriates living and working in the city are from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Philippines. There are also workers from Arab countries that include Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon and Syria. European, North American, South Africans, Russian, Antipodeans and Chinese foreign personnels are engaged with vast range of new infrastructural projects. Arriyadh has become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Arab world. Wide range of cuisines can be found in the city’s many eateries. Riyadh has two national English language newspapers, the Saudi Gazette and Arab News.
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According to the 1974 (1393/94 AH) census, the Kingdom’s population was just over 7 million. But, since then, by all accounts the population has grown dramatically. The official estimate in 1987 (1407/08 AH) was 13.6 million. Preliminary results of the 1992 (1412/13 AH) census gave a figure for total population of 16.9 million, of which 12.3 million were Saudi nationals. In 2006, the Central Department of Statistics’ Demographic Survey put the population of the Kingdom at 23.6 million.
Of the Saudi national population, 55.3% are male and 44.6% female. Currently, it is estimated that almost half the Saudi population is under the age of 20.
As an indication of the growth of urbanization, we quote the population figures for the city of Riyadh, capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 1862 (1372/73 AH), the population (as estimated by W. Palgrave) was 7,500. One hundred years later it was 169,000 (Riyadh City Planning Office). By 1982 (1402/03 AH), the estimate was 1.5 million; and by 1985 (1405/06 AH), the figure exceeded 2 million. In 1999, it had reached 3.4 million and in 2006 it was 5.8 million.
Saudi working hours reflect the movement in daytime temperatures. Most government offices open at 7:30 am and close at 2:30 pm Private businesses tend to work from 8:00 am until noon and then after a break reopen from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Retail banks are open from 9:30 am until 4:30 pm with the exception of an extended midday break. Shops and markets open until midnight or 11:00 pm. All shops must close during prayer times. The prayer timings shift throughout the year.
Arriyadh is very much a working capital, in which the business of government for a country of 29 million people is interlaced with the activities of commerce, industry, banking and finance, diplomacy and academia.
Because so much of the city is of recent construction, the ADA has been able to co-ordinate and plan its expansion, to ensure a modern highway system which includes two ring roads, the second of which, an eight-lane highway. A third ring road is at the planning stage. The city’s main artery is King Fahad Road, which runs roughly north to south alongside Olaya Street. Nevertheless, Arriyadh is not immune from acute and growing traffic congestion throughout much of the day. Indeed there are times, particularly during rush hours, when traffic becomes gridlocked. Drivers stuck in their vehicles may not always appreciate it, but their misfortune is a testament to the rapid success of one of the world’s fastest-growing cities.
King Khalid International Airport, equipped to handle 18 million passengers a year through three of its four terminals, last year almost 14 million people came through the airport in some 135,000 flight movements by 36 international and domestic airlines.