29 May 2017

Riyadh Rambles - Masmak Fort

Riyadh is not the first place you think of when you talk about a romantic break.  Mr EE is not someone to do things the easy way, however, and nor, really, am I.  A few weeks ago, during the school holidays, he had an evening meeting/social event scheduled in Riyadh and I had been asked to attend as well.  The date was close to my birthday so we decided to make a break of it.  The meeting was in the evening and not child friendly so we arranged for someone to stay at home with the children and pets and left the house at 3am for a romantic break in the most conservative capital in the world.

Masmak Fort Riyadh
Masmak Fort, Riyadh.  Where the Third Saudi State was born.
Jeddah is, by Saudi standards, very relaxed and cosmopolitan.  Life here is pretty easy going but we had heard that Riyadh was much more buttoned down.  When we canvassed opinions of what to see and do we got a mixed response.  Half of our friends (local and expat) said we would be wasting our time, the other half have us a list of must see places.

Masmak Fort Riyadh
The walls of the fort are made of Adobe
Masmak Fort Riyadh
Interior of the Fort
Mr EE had been a few times before, but as is typical of business trips, had seen practically nothing of the city.  The city itself reminded me very strongly of Astana.  Set on a flat plain in the middle of nowhere with futuristic buildings.  Even the dry climate was very evocative of Kazakhstan; with a spring temperature in the mid 30s it reminded me of Astana on a mid summer day.  That is where the resemblance finishes, however.  Astana is a young city in every sense of the word and exudes an air of fun that was missing from Riyadh. As always first impressions start when you step off the plane and into the airport.  Riyadh airport was swanky, particularly compared to Jeddah (which was voted last year the worst airport in the world although to be fair I have been in much, much worse).  The atmosphere, however, was very different, much more restrained.  I had packed my most sober abayas in consequence but did have to laugh as I was approached a few times by women who wanted to know where they could get something similar, I am clearly a fashion trend setter! 

Masmak Fort Riyadh
Some of the interiors are decorated in traditional style
Masmak Fort Riyadh
Others have museum displays.  Most have detailed information.
This one was a bit of an (amusing) let down with the 'small, medium and
large cannon balls'
 We went straight to the hotel for breakfast and a sleep.  After midday everything shuts down until about 4pm anyway (very civilised in my opinion) so we didn’t feel bad taking the time to rest after our horrendously early start.  Refreshed we took a cab to the Masmak Fort.  This compact mud brick fort was built by the Al Rasheeds who had taken control of Riyadh from the Al Sauds in the late 19th century.  In 1902 the future king, Abdulaziz Al Saud took control of the fort.  This was the start of the fight to establish the Third Saudi State.  These days the fort is a museum, entrance is free but certain times are restricted to men only so you have to check in advance to make sure that entry will be permitted to families (ie women).

Doors Masmak Fort RiyadhMasmak Fort Riyadh

Masmak Fort Riyadh

 The doors in the fort are heavily and beautifully decorated in typical Najd style.

The museum is self guided and if you follow the ‘tour’ it takes you through most of the ground floor.  The information is detailed, well laid out, and provided in both Arabic and English.  We spent a happy two hours learning about an event in history about which we knew almost nothing beyond the bare bones.  One of the real treats of expat life is learning, not only about the culture that hosts you, but also about the history of the country you call home, something you might otherwise never do.

Masmak Fort Riyadh
The interiors are cool, dark and mysterious.

Masmak Fort Riyadh
The Cafe is sparse but comfortable

Masmak Fort Riyadh
The fort was served by a well, allowing it to resist sieges. 
There are number of artefacts, mostly weapons and armour, on display and almost all the doors are sumptuously decorated in typical Najd style.  The museum also hosts a small gift shop and a café area.  By the time we had finished looking around we had hit Maghrib prayers so, rather than looking round the adjacent souk (no different to the ones in Jeddah) we used the time to take a few pictures of the sunset before taking a taxi onwards to our next destination.

Masmak Fort Riyadh
The evening light gives a beautiful warmth to the walls.

Masmak Fort Riyadh
Masmak Fort at Sunset

lease click on the picture for more information on life in Saudi Arabia

Ersatz Expat


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