Culture is a broad term, it can refer to natural heritage and scenery, but it can also refer to poetry and the performing arts. Culture includes tangible and intangible elements that change with time. It is both old and contemporary, archaeology is often linked with culture, but so are digital arts nowadays.
Our Culture, Our Identity
Our national identity is embedded in cultural aspects such as the food we eat, the clothing we wear, our centuries-old traditions and heritage. Saudi Arabia has a rich culture shaped by the diversity of its people. With over 34 million inhabitants, Saudi Arabia has 13 regions united by the Arabic language, but each with a unique dialect, heritage, and culinary identity.
Historians, architects, poets, performing artists, and others can be found across Saudi Arabia, as they all play an important role in promoting and enriching our cultural identity. Parents pass down plenty of cultural inheritance to the next generation, and our duty as Saudi is citizens to preserve it.
The Common Greeting
In Saudi Arabia, we greet each other by saying "As-Salamu Alaykum", which means "peace be upon you". A handshake usually follows it if it is a formal meeting or a kiss on the cheek if it has been a while, especially if they are family or a close friend.
Each region in Saudi Arabia has its own cultural identity – e.g., each region has its culinary delights and fashion trends. Historians help preserve each region's heritage and artifacts in museums, and many Saudi artists express their creativity through artwork that they aspire to share with the world.
Poetry is significant to Arabian life and has long been considered one of the highest expressions of literary art. In the days when the Bedouins were constantly traveling, poetry was primarily an oral tradition. Furthermore, people would gather around a storyteller who would spin tales of love, bravery, chivalry, war, and historical events. This was both entertainment and oral preservation of history, traditions, and social values. The Qur'an took the Arab love of language and poetry to new levels, it exemplifies the perfect use of the Arabic language and is the ultimate literary model.
Traditional Performing Arts
Traditional folklore dance is also popular among Saudis, the national dance is the men's sword dance known as "ardha", which is an ancient tradition with its roots in the country's central area known as the Najd. The “ardha” is a group performing art and it involves men carrying swords and a poet (or narrator). The men with swords usually stand in two lines or a circle, with a poet in their midst, it also involves the traditional dance.
Because its primary subject matter has historically been the Holy Qur'an, calligraphy is a quintessential Islamic art form. Today, calligraphy is a dominant theme in metalwork, ceramics, glass textiles, painting and sculpture throughout Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world
Landscape and ArchitectureSaudi Arabia has a unique architectural heritage that has developed over the centuries. Historically, building designs and materials in Saudi Arabia were dictated by the climate, geography, and resources available. For example, builders in the central areas preferred adobe for its malleability, availability, and insulating qualities. In western Saudi Arabia, stone and red brick were common, while Jeddah's builders used coral from the Red Sea.
Contemporary Saudi architects are increasingly looking to these traditional building designs and Islamic concepts for inspiration. New and innovative modern structures have sprung up across Saudi Arabia. This combination of tradition with the ultra-modern strengthens the link between a cherished past and an innovative future.
Moreover, the kingdom's archaeological heritage is long & well-established; there are several locations in Saudi Arabia designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and these are to be cherished.
World Heritage Sites:
Al-Hijr in the province of Al Ula
The archaeological site of Al-Hijr in the province of Al Ula is one of several places in Saudi Arabia designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans. It features well-preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades dating from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. Conservation activity like this is an example of the kingdom's commitment to preserving natural heritage sites.
At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah
Another location that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site is At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah. This property was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, northwest of Riyadh. Founded in the 15th century, it bears witness to the Najdi architectural style, which is specific to the center of the Arabian Peninsula. The recent redevelopment of this district where the Ministry of Culture is based is an example of how Saudi Arabia can seamlessly fuse its past, present, and future.
Historic Jeddah (the Gate to Makkah)
Historic Jeddah is situated on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. From the 7th century AD, it was established as a major port for Indian Ocean trade routes, channeling goods to Mecca. It was also the gateway for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca who arrived by sea. These twin roles saw the city develop into a thriving multicultural Centre, characterized by a distinctive architectural tradition, including tower houses built in the late 19th century by the city's mercantile elites and combining Red Sea coastal coral building traditions with influences and crafts from along the trade routes.
Rock Art in the Hail Region
This property includes two components situated in a desert landscape: Jabel Umm Sinman at Jubbah and the Jabal al-Manjor and Raat at Shuwaymis. A lake once situated at the foot of the Umm Sinman hill range that has now disappeared used to be a source of fresh water for people and animals in the southern part of the Great Narfoud Desert. The ancestors of today's Arab populations have left traces of their passages in numerous petroglyphs and inscriptions on the rock face. Jabal al-Manjor and Raat form the rocky escarpment of a wadi now covered in sand. They show numerous representations of human and animal figures covering 10,000 years of history.
Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape
In the eastern Arabian Peninsula, the Al-Ahsa Oasis is a serial property comprising gardens, canals, springs, wells, and a drainage lake, as well as historical buildings, urban fabric, and archaeological sites. They represent traces of continued human settlement in the Gulf region from the Neolithic to the present, as seen from remaining historic fortresses, mosques, wells, canals, and other water management systems. With its 2.5 million date palms, it is the largest oasis in the world. Al-Ahsa is also a unique geocultural landscape and an exceptional example of human interaction with the environment.
Hima Cultural Area
Located in an arid, mountainous area of southwest Saudi Arabia, on one of the Arabian Peninsula's Ancient Caravan routes, Ḥimā Cultural Area contains a substantial collection of rock art images depicting hunting, fauna, flora, and lifestyles in a cultural continuity of 7,000 years. Travelers and armies camping on the site left a wealth of rock inscriptions and petroglyphs through the ages and until the late 20th century, most of which are preserved in pristine condition. Inscriptions are in different scripts, including Musnad, South-Arabian, Thamudic, Greek and Arabic. The property and its buffer zone are also rich in unexcavated archaeological resources in cairns, stone structures, interments, stone tool scatters and ancient wells. This location is at the oldest known toll station on an important ancient desert caravan route, where the wells of Bi'r Ḥima date back at least 3,000 years and still produce fresh water.
Ministry of Culture
The MoC has three objectives: promoting culture as a way of life, enabling culture to contribute to economic growth, and creating opportunities for global cultural exchange. A flourishing cultural sector will have an impact beyond its remit; it will strengthen national identity, increase employment opportunities, and improve the quality of life by promoting social cohesion, health, and happiness. Culture will also help to forge stronger links with countries around the world.
The MoC established commissions around individual sub-sectors to deliver its objectives. Each will have a dedicated team helping to drive activity forward. This clear sector focus is intended to ensure faster and more efficient execution of plans and thus create a more straightforward path to attracting top talent and leadership. UNESCO splits culture into seven domains, and the Ministry's framework for defining culture takes into account UNESCO's definition and combines it with our local understanding of Saudi Arabia. This holistic approach led the Ministry to identify multiple sub-sectors, which will form the cultural space the Ministry oversees in coordination with the following commissions:
In general, activities are delivered by commissions in each sector, businesses, and artists. The MoC will support these entities in delivering activities that align with Saudi Arabia's values and ambitions.
Saudi Arabia aims to forge cultural partnerships and joint activities with friends from other nations. This will bring the best of international culture to Saudi Arabia, enabling the country to export its unique and perse culture to the world. International cultural exchanges can build bridges between different nations across the world.The MoC helped in delivering a small number of events with national significance. These include:
- G20 Summit in Riyadh: The Ministry worked closely with other entities and ensured that visitors to the G20 summit in Saudi Arabia were able to fully experience Saudi culture
- Expo 2020: The Ministry also supported Saudi Arabia's contribution to Expo 2020 in Dubai. Saudi Arabia's Sky Pavilion was one of the largest pavilions at the event and showed how Saudi Arabia is building upon its rich heritage and traditions