Don’t be fooled by the laid-back air of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. This region of Saudi Arabia might not have cities with the fast-paced buzz of Jeddah or the urban flair of Riyadh, but this corner of the kingdom has its own compelling story to tell: It’s where the country’s wells of black gold were first discovered, and where the world’s largest oil company was born. It’s also where a small fishing village grew into one of the Middle East’s largest ports, and where Arabia’s biggest and most impressive cultural center was forged.
It’s a region rich in diversity, heritage and quiet drive that offers something for visitors of all ages. Here are some of the Eastern Province’s top cultural draws:
Rising 90 meters from the desert, Ithra’s sculpted form dominates both the Dhahran skyline and the region’s cultural scene. Built close to the site where oil was first tapped in 1983, Ithra (the Arabic word for “enrichment”) is a world-class cultural center. The future meets the past in the state-of-the-art building, which spans more than 80,000 square meters and includes a vast library, theater, cinema, ideas lab and knowledge tower, along with a range of curated galleries and installations designed to inspire, engage and delight. Little ones will particularly love the Children’s Museum. One visitor to the museum said, “The kids particularly enjoyed playing in a sea of jenga blocks, the infinity mirror room, the illusion and perspective room, coloring corner, and indoor cave. When it was time to leave, it wasn't easy convincing our toddler to let go of all the flashy and attention-grabbing displays!”
Look up the center’s packed program of events, workshops, talks and performances to see what’s scheduled. Entrance to Ithra is free, but events and the cinema require tickets.
Just a stone’s throw from Ithra is the Energy Exhibit, a hands-on, immersive voyage into the world of petroleum, its science, energy and technology. The focal point of this kaleidoscopic space is a 12-player interactive game that brings energy production to life through touch-screen gaming. Don’t miss the cutting-edge exhibits, especially those on alternative energy sources.
The historic neighborhood of Bayoniya got a makeover in 2018, courtesy of a coterie of young Saudi artists who turned its streets into a giant canvas, complete with an explosion of graffiti. The Alfan Sharqy (Art is Eastern) graffiti exhibit was organized by Dawi Gallery, under the sponsorship of Princess Abeer bint Faisal Al Saud, and saw six of the area’s traditional houses transformed by a rainbow of murals, chromatic calligraphy and abstract designs. The walls here are a reminder that exciting and transformative art can appear in the most unexpected of places.