Featuring some of the holiest sites in Islam, Saudi architecture is undoubtedly stunning. But in addition to ornate, centuries-old mosques, the country is home to ultramodern cultural centers, historical districts built of coral limestone from the Red Sea and some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Watch the video below to take a tour of five impressive architectural sites in Saudi. Then read on for more information about each of these awe-inspiring places, including what you can see or do at each.
Overlook all of Riyadh from inside the glass skybridge observation deck that sits atop Kingdom Centre.
One of the world’s tallest buildings, Kingdom Centre tower in Riyadh is an iconic part of the Saudi capital’s skyline. Designed by local architecture firm Omrania and Associates and the U.S.-based Ellerbe Becket, the modern multipurpose building features east and west wings that soar 300 meters high. The building’s unique curved shape and some of the materials used were carefully planned to keep the building cool. The narrowest ends of the building face east and west, where heat is greatest. Wrapped around the building is a reflective glass wall that is heat-resistant to Arabia’s intense sun.
Afraid of heights? There’s plenty more to explore inside this modern work of architecture, including a shopping mall, restaurants, a hotel, sports facilities and even a wedding venue. “We have planned several extraordinary weddings, as the Kingdom Tower and the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh are the most iconic architectural oasis in Saudi Arabia,” says Dounia Eldorra, a wedding specialist at the Four Seasons in Kingdom Centre.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014, Jeddah’s historical district of Al Balad was founded in the seventh century; today, the neighborhood’s preserved architecture tells stories of the city’s past. Here, you’ll find houses built from the 16th to early 20th centuries. One reason these homes are unique is that, unlike other regional high-rises that were constructed out of clay, Al Balad’s were built with coral limestone brought in from the Red Sea. The impressive woodwork adorning these structures is another striking feature. In 1869, the Suez Canal opened, and Jeddah profited along with it. Merchants began decorating Al Balad’s traditional buildings with ornate wooden details around the doors and windows and carving highly decorative wooden bay windows and balconies, known as rawasheen.
From the Nassif House to Al Alawi market, there’s a ton to see in Al Balad. Learn more about this historic neighborhood on visitsaudi.com.
Ithra resembles a larger-than-life Zen garden. Designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta, the buildings are arranged purposefully to symbolize unity. The tallest, known as Knowledge Tower, stands 18 stories tall and represents Saudi’s future. The ground-floor pieces of this architectural work represent the present, and those underground are the past.
In the middle of the Saudi desert sits Maraya, which translates to “mirror.” The 5,000-square-meter building’s exterior is covered in 9,740 square meters of mirrors, which reflect the desertscapes surrounding it in AlUla. “AlUla was at the crossroad of cultural exchange for millennia. With Maraya, we are one step further to realizing our vision to re-create a place to dream, a place that inspires and facilitates the sharing of cultures and ideas,” says Phillip Jones, chief destination management and marketing officer at the Royal Commission for AlUla.
Both imaginative and uber-efficient, the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) might remind you of something you’ve seen in a science fiction movie. In truth, there’s a lot of science going on inside this sleek, solar-efficient and LEED Platinum-certified structure. The 70,000-square-meter energy and environmental research campus serves as a nonprofit dedicated to finding the most efficient and effective uses of energy.