Culture

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. 

Social Values

Saudi Arabians adopt social values influenced by Islamic teachings which preserve the noble Ancient Arab traditions. These values include courage, generosity, hospitality, and strong family relationships. It is a great honor, according to Islamic teachings and Bedouin culture, to feed a traveler or anyone who shows up at your doorstep.

The simplest expression of hospitality is coffee. Its preparation alone is an intricate cultural tradition. It often served in small cups along with dates and sweets. Another gesture of hospitality is the burning of incense (oud) to welcome guests.

Annual Celebrations

The year's highlights are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, where it is customary to buy presents and clothes for children and visit friends and relatives.

The other highlight is the Hajj season, during which millions of Muslim pilgrims worldwide come to Makkah. The Hajj season concludes with the Eid Al-Adha holiday, in which it is traditional for families to slaughter a lamb in memory of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice to show ikhlas and draw closer to God.

Saudi Arabia observes two other annual holidays: Founding Day (February 22) and Saudi National Day (September 23).

Cultural Aspects

 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

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.
 

 

Dress

Saudis prefer traditional clothes to Western styles of dress and generally wear modern adaptations of age-old designs. The loose flowing traditional garments are practical for Saudi Arabia's hot windswept climate and in keeping with the Islamic ideal of modesty.

For example, men wear an ankle-length cotton shirt, known as a thawb. On their heads, they wear a large square of cotton (ghutra) that is folded diagonally over a skullcap (kufiya) and held in place with a cord circlet (igaal). The flowing, full-length outer cloak (bisht), generally made of wool or camel hair, completes the outfit. In the old days, the bisht was also used as a blanket while traveling. 


Saudi women customarily wear a black outer cloak (abaya) over their dress, which may well be modern in style. On their heads, they traditionally wear a black scarf wrapped around the head and secured with circlets, hats, or jewelry.  Some Saudi women wear veils made of sheer material. In a harsh desert environment, a thin veil provides protection from constant exposure to the sun, which can damage the skin and eyes. Today, a veil is also a sign of modesty and virtue.

Jewelry

Jewelry has been an essential part of Arabian dress for thousands of years. More than just personal decoration, jewelry symbolized social and economic status. For the migrant Bedouins, it was also an easily transportable form of wealth and security.


Traditionally, jewelry was made of silver and gold, but jewelers today use pearls and coral from the coastal regions, as well as stones like turquoise, garnets, and amber from the kingdom's mines. Coins, chains, and tiny bells were frequently applied in decorations. Islamic calligraphy and motifs served as the main source of inspiration for these elaborate designs, which included geometric forms, leaves, crescents, and flowers.

Cuisine

The foods are tied mainly to the terrain: Saudi Arabia is 95 percent desert, and many traditional dishes reflect the ancient trade caravans and nomadic lifestyles of desert dwellers. Basmati rice and heavy spices from the East were easy to transport on long caravans, dried black limes were carried from neighboring countries, and local dried dates and camel's milk were essential to the ancient diet. Coffee, and all varieties of tea are commonly consumed.  

Lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day, and it almost always includes a rice dish, like Kabsa, which is flavorful spiced rice topped with meat, and a tomato and chili salsa and yogurt are often served on the side to brighten it up, along with a simple chopped salad.

Arabic Calligraphy

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 Architecture

Saudi 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 Ministry of Culture (MoC) was created by royal decree in June 2018. It was established to be a new, dedicated guardian for Saudi Arabia's cultural sector at home and abroad.

Culture is an essential part of the ambitious national transformation program overseen by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Vision 2030 states that culture is "indispensable to our quality of life" and notes that Saudi Arabia must increase both the quality and quantity of its cultural activity. The MoC will deliver on both counts.

Objectives

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.

Commissions

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:
   

Cultural Events

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.


International Partnerships


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

Jenadriyah Festival

The most famous cultural event in Saudi Arabia is the Jenadriyah Annual Heritage and Cultural Festival. For two weeks a year, the festival gives over a million Saudis a glimpse into the past. First held in 1985, the festival highlights the Saudi Arabia's commitment to keeping the traditional culture and crafts of Saudi Arabia alive.

The festival includes almost every aspect of Saudi culture - Artisans, such as potters, woodworkers, and weavers, demonstrate their traditional crafts in shops with palm-frond-roofed porches. Folklore troupes perform the ardha and other national dances, while singers around Saudi Arabia's perform traditional songs and music. Literary figures from across the country participate in poetry competitions between contemporary poets reciting historic verses. Visitors can also stroll through the past in a heritage village, which resides permanently in Jenadriyah.

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