An Introductory Caveat
Central Riyadh, what could be termed the "downtown business district", was pretty much totally reconstructed
after the Gulf War, in large measure because of the destruction caused by Yemeni shopowners who torched their stores
after receiving the news that they would all be deported after Yemen had sided with the Iraqis. The alternative
was to stand by while all their wares were confiscated by the Saudi authorities. Therefore, my description of the
city I knew will probably not bear a lot of resemblance to what one sees today. That said, the few old "monuments"
depicted in the photos below do -- apparently -- still exist.
Batha -- Downtown Riyadh
The old district referred to as Batha, pronounced "BAHT-hah" was roughly described by two parallel
streets, Al-Batha Street and Al-Wazir Street, which traced long, shallow, opposing S-shapes across the area. Between
them lay the old Arab suqs or markets, a rabbit warren of small streets with (mostly) two storey shops on each
side. Here you could find all the daily necessities: large areas sold incense, for example, or foodstuffs, or
clothing... Like all Mid-Eastern and Asian markets, certain areas sold certain things. Most of the shops were
run by ethnic Yemenis, who had come to Saudi Arabia after the late King Abdulaziz had consolidated the region into
what is now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Many had come on the Hajj or Pilgrimage and never gone home. Others
had family already there. In any event, it was they who dominated commerce in the old sections of the city.
The Bedu Suq
My favorite section of the suqs lay between Wazir Street and the large plaza known by expats as "Headchop
Square". Here you could find all manner of antique Bedu (Bedu is the plural form of "beduin", which is
more commonly seen in English.) handicrafts. In those days much silver jewelry was still available not to mention
camel saddlebags made from pieces of carpet or crude kelims, a nap-less carpet meant for the poorer segments of
society. There were also wonderful brass and copper pots, trays, lamps, and assorted other bric-a-brac available.
Some was Saudi made, though most had probably come in from other sources. Be that as it may, it was a fascinating
place to wander around.
Just off Wazir street and above Khazzan Street was Riyadh Park, a fairly large expanse of "gardens" that
were more or less green most of the year. It was a very difficult thing to do considering Riyadh's heat. However
badly it might have compared with Hyde Park or the Bois de Boulogne, it was nevertheless a bit of greenery appreciated
by all. In the evenings it would be crowded with men, mostly foreign laborers from S. Asia, SE Asia, the Levant,
and Africa. Very few women would be out and about, of course. Those whom one did see were always accompanied
by a male of some kind. In one corner of the park was the Water Tower (see below), which was (is?) the "logo"
for the city. As water towers go, it's fairly attractive, but it's not something one necessarily has to see, if
you know what I mean. Nevertheless, because of its fame, every other Saudi city simply must have one; a sort of
water tower race was in full progress in the Kingdom.