When the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as ‘Ithra’ (‘enrichment’ in Arabic), opened in 2017, it became an instant icon; not only because of its jaw-dropping design, which represents a throng of oil-bearing rocks smoothed by desert winds, all wrapped in a 350km-long steel pipe; but also its ambitious vision as Saudi Arabia’s first all-cultural destination. Quite simply, it’s a structure that must be seen to be believed.
Inside, you will find a staggering 85,000m2 of space, housing a museum, theatre, library, cinema, exhibition galleries, ideas lab and knowledge tower. Such is the scale of its halls, and spectacular architecture that it may take you a full day to appreciate Ithra’s wonders. Here’s a sample of the highlights on offer (coffee stop included).
To really immerse yourself in Ithra, it’s worth taking the Ithra Journey Tour: a 30-minute guided visit through all parts of the centre, as well as some of the art installations. Your guide will give you an overview of the building while relaying the story of its creation. It’s a great way to get your bearings and to help you decide which parts of Ithra you would like to delve into further.
A bibliophile’s dream, Ithra’s magnificent library is home to a collection of more than 240,000 books in both English and Arabic, on topics including art and design, as well as history and ancient civilization. Spread over four levels, it also offers plenty of quiet workspaces; and, handily, there’s even a Pattis France coffee shop next door, meaning you can pair your reading session with a latte.
The discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia was a pivotal moment in the country’s history. Learn about the precise events that took place and the impact of the growth of the petroleum industry on the Kingdom’s economy in Ithra’s Energy Exhibit, which is cleverly curated to be accessible for all ages. Kids, in particular, will enjoy the many interactive displays, which demonstrate how oil gets from below ground to petrol pumps, and include the opportunity to drill for your own ‘black gold’.
For aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors, Ithra’s IDEAlab is not to be missed. Designed to spark creativity, and refine and develop ideas before evolving them into prototypes, the lab offers workshops, guidance and mentorship to help release your inner Steve Jobs. Now all you need is a good idea.
Ithra has amassed an impressive collection of historic and contemporary artwork, which is now on display in its museum. Pieces dating from thousands of years ago contrast with more contemporary works by a range of local and international artists. Its Children’s Museum is a particular highlight, with plenty of interactive displays to engage young minds in the creative process. Check out its ‘Kids Vids’, which won the prestigious New York Film Award.
Ithra’s incredible performance space is a show in itself; one to rival some of the world’s great opera houses, with space for 900 people to enjoy live productions. Two years on from its unveiling, the programming is really getting into its stride, with shows as diverse as Japan’s Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre, the Wizard of Oz, and the Dubai Arabic Orchestra.