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Saudi Arabia 

For centuries Arabia has appealed to travellers all over the world, inspired by travel reports, Lawrence of Arabia, and of course the tales of 1001 Arabian nights and romanticism. Today’s Saudi Arabia is still a land of mystery largely due to its fundamentalist Islamic state and its ridgid admissions policy. Saudi Arabia is incredibly difficult to visit, there’s no tourist visa for this country. The best way to get in is by invitation of a Saudi person or company, or, if you’re a Muslim, on a pilgrimage to one of the holy cities.

The Al Faisaliah Complex is an urban development of some 240, 000 square metres in Riyadh. The building is centred around Saudi Arabia’s first skyscraper-the 267 metre high office tower, alongside a five star hotel, a banqueting and conference center, luxury apartments and a three-story retail mall.

About half of Saudi Arabia consists of uninhabitable desert. Here there are no permanent rivers and lakes and the average temperature in July is about 40ºC. These unfriendly circumstances have deeply influenced the Arab way of life. Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East. The Saudi Arabian state was first established in the central region of the Arabian Peninsula in the early 18th Century, but king Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud founded the present day state only in 1932.

Saudi Arabia is a fairly rich country, due to its vast oilfields, but this wealth is not evenly divided. The royal family effectively owns the country. There is minimal political freedom and little tolerance of opposition groups.

The country’s capital is Riyadh, situated in the very interior of the country, 300 km from the Persian Gulf. It’s a modern booming oil city with lots of high rise buildings. The most interesting cities perhaps are the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Mecca is the most holy city in Islam. The city is revered for being the first place created on earth, as well as the place where Ibrahim together with his son Isma’il, built the Ka’ba, a rectangular building made of bricks. Around the Ka’ba is the great mosque, al-Haram. Medina, once called Yathrib, was chosen as the new headquarter when the Muslim community had to flee from Mecca in 622. This city of the Prophet is also the place were Muhammad died in 632.

Both cities are strictly off limits to non-muslims. Nearby Jeddah the major Red Sea port of the country can be visited, and gives a unique insight into the culture and history of the West of Saudi Arabia.

The whole of the Middle East is topographically tilted, so in the southwest of Saudi Arabia there are mountains as high as 3000 meters, while the east has lowlands. The mountain area has the greenest and freshest climate especially compared to the deserts in the east. Extensive irrigation projects are now gradually transforming these deserts into farmland, yielding dates and grains.

 


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