Articles/Al Masmak Fortress: Repository of Riyadh’s history

Al Masmak Fortress: Repository of Riyadh’s history

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24 APR 2021

Source: Abeer Al-Amoudi

Riyadh is a modern metropolis that offers a seamless mix of towering skyscrapers and ancient buildings. The latter is epitomized by the 150-year-old Al Masmak Fortress in the heart of the old quarter. Visitors to this well-preserved building will be stepping back in time to the late 1940s.

Historic background

The fortress was built in 1865 by King Abdullah bin Faisal Al-Saud. In 1902, Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdulaziz besieged the fortress after returning from Kuwait and later united the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Today, the palace serves as a proud reminder of Saudi Arabia’s storied history.

Masmak Museum

In 1995, the fort was restored to serve as a museum, and is a favorite destination among tourists wanting to explore Saudi Arabia’s roots. The museum displays remnants of the Kingdom’s historic past, including maps and photographs of Saudi Arabia dating from 1912 to 1937 alongside a range of historical artifacts, artworks and audiovisual presentations.

The museum is open from 8 a.m. to noon and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Friday. Mondays and Wednesdays are reserved for families.

Architectural style

Masmak literally means in Arabic a “high, strong and thick building”. The vast clay and mud-brick palace has small triangular windows for ventilation, light and deflect rainwater. The fort has a quadrilateral plan fortified at the corners by four circular towers 18 meters high – they taper upward to form crenellations at the top. The plain mud-brick outer walls hide the mosque, a diwaniyeh (sitting room), well and several rooms grouped around open courtyards.

The palace is accessed through a gate situated on the west wall. Built from palm tree trunks, this gate is 3.6 meters high and 2.65 meters wide. It leads to an open courtyard preceding the mosque at the north. The prayer space is a hypostyle room lit and ventilated from above. The walls of the diwaniyeh are still covered with the original plaster.

In the center of the fort, a fifth crenelated tower rectangular in shape is attached to the mosque and the diwaniyeh. Behind this tower, several rooms are arranged around a colonnaded courtyard. From there, stairs lead to the second floor housing the governor's residence, treasury and guesthouse.