Saudi Arabia traces its roots back to the earliest civilizations of the Arabian Peninsula. Over the centuries, the peninsula has played an important role in history as an ancient trade center and as the birthplace of Islam, one of the world’s major monotheistic religions.
Since King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, its transformation has been astonishing.
In a few short decades, the Kingdom has turned itself from a desert nation to a modern, sophisticated state and a major player on the international stage.
The first concrete evidence of human presence in the Arabian Peninsula dates back 15,000 to 20,000 years. Bands of hunter-gatherers roamed the land, living off wild animals and plants.
As the European ice cap melted during the last Ice Age, some 15,000 years ago, the climate in the peninsula became dry. Vast plains once covered with lush grasslands gave way to scrubland and deserts, and wild animals vanished. River systems also disappeared, leaving in their wake the dry river beds (wadis) that are found in the peninsula today.
This climate change forced humans to move into the lush mountain valleys and oases. No longer able to survive as hunter-gatherers, they had to develop another means of survival. As a result, agriculture developed – first in Mesopotamia, then the Nile River Valley, and eventually spreading across the Middle East.
The development of agriculture brought other advances. Pottery allowed farmers to store food. Animals, including goats, cattle, sheep, horses and camels, were domesticated, and people abandoned hunting altogether. These advances made intensive farming possible. In turn, settlements became more permanent, leading to the foundations of what we call civilization – language, writing, political systems, art and architecture.
An Ancient Trade Center
Located between the two great centers of civilization, the Nile River Valley and Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula was the crossroads of the ancient world. Trade was crucial to the area’s development; caravan routes became trade arteries that made life possible in the sparsely populated peninsula.
The people of the peninsula developed a complex network of trade routes to transport agricultural goods highly sought after in Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley and the Mediterranean Basin. These items included almonds from Taif, dates from the many oases, and aromatics such as frankincense and myrrh from the Tihama plain.
Spices were also important trade items. They were shipped across the Arabian Sea from India and then transported by caravan.
The huge caravans traveled from what is now Oman and Yemen, along the great trade routes running through Saudi Arabia’s Asir Province and then through Makkah and Madinah, eventually arriving at the urban centers of the north and west.
The people of the Arabian Peninsula remained largely untouched by the political turmoil in Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley and the eastern Mediterranean. Their goods and services were in great demand regardless of which power was dominant at the moment – Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece or Rome. In addition, the peninsula’s great expanse of desert formed a natural barrier that protected it from invasion by powerful neighbors.
The Birth of Islam
Around the year 610, Muhammad, a native of the thriving commercial center of Makkah, received a message from God (in Arabic, Allah) through the Angel Gabriel. As more revelations bid him to proclaim the oneness of God universally, the Prophet Muhammad’s following grew.
In 622, learning of an assassination plot against him, the Prophet led his followers to the town of Yathrib, which was later named Madinat Al-Nabi (City of the Prophet) and now known simply as Madinah. This was the Hijrah, or migration, which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
Within the next few years, several battles took place between the followers of the Prophet Muhammad and the pagans of Makkah. By 628, when Madinah was entirely in the hands of the Muslims, the Prophet had unified the tribes so successfully that he and his followers reentered Makkah without bloodshed.
green background, with in white letters the Muslim creed in Arabic: “There is no god but God: Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
a date palm, representing vitality and growth, and two crossed swords, symbolizing justice and strength rooted in faith.
southwest Asia, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa; extending from the Red Sea in the west to the Arabian Gulf in the east; bordered on the north by Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait, on the south, by Yemen and Oman, and on the east by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain.
varied; fairly barren and harsh, with salt flats, gravel plains and sand deserts; a few man-made lakes but no permanent streams; in the south, the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter), the largest sand desert in the world; in the southwest, mountain ranges of over 9,000 feet.
June through August, over 110 degrees Fahrenheit midday in the desert; humidity in coastal regions up to 100 percent; elsewhere, mild; possible winter temperatures in the northern and central regions dropping below freezing; rainfall, from none at all for up to 10 years in the Rub Al-Khali, to 20 inches a year in the mountains of Asir Province.
27 million, including nearly 8.5 million expatriates (2010 census).
Islam, which is the basis of the legal system and of government.
Arabic; English widely spoken in urban areas.
September 23, commemorating the foundation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud, the founder (1932-1963), followed by his sons: King Saud (1953-64), King Faisal (1964-75), King Khalid (1975-82), King Fahd (1982-2005) and the current ruler, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, seen on the left with the late King Fahd and the late Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz.
Islamic state based on principles prescribed by the Qur’an (Islam’s Holy Book) and the Shari’ah (Islamic law); Provincial Council System, Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura), and Council of Ministers.
The 24 government ministries:
- Civil Service
- Commerce and Industry
- Communications and Information Technology
- Culture and Information
- Economy and Planning
- Foreign Affairs
- Hajj (Pilgrimage)
- Higher Education
- Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance
- Municipal and Rural Affairs
- National Guard
- Petroleum and Minerals Resources
- Social Affairs
- Water and Electricity
The 13 provinces and their capitals:
founding member of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), United Nations, League of Arab States, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); member of many international organizations, including the World Bank , the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization (WTO); and signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
country code 966; area codes Riyadh – 11, Jeddah/Makkah/Taif – 12, Eastern Province (Dammam/Dhahran) – 13, Madinah/Tabuk/Jawf/Northern Borders – 14, Qasim/Hail – 16, Asir/Jizan/ Najran/Bahah – 17
Greenwich Mean Time plus three (GMT+3) = Eastern Standard Time plus eight (seven during Daylight Savings Time).
Islamic (Hijrah), dating from emigration of the Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah; weekend, Friday and Saturday.
The 12 months of the Islamic lunar year
Muharram, Safar, Rabi’ Al-Awal, Rabi’ Al-Akher, Jumada Al-Awal, Jumada Al-Akher, Rajab, Sha’ban, Ramadan, Shawwal. Dhu Al-Qadah , Dhu Al-Hajjah .
closure of all offices and schools on Eid Al-Fitr, the feast of the breaking of the fast, from the evening of the twenty-fifth day of Ramadan through the fifth day of Shawwal; Eid Al-Adha, the culmination of the Hajj, from the fifth through fifteenth day of Dhu Al-Hajjah; and September 23, National Day.
Government offices Sunday through Thursday from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm; private businesses from 8:00 am to noon and 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm; general banking from 8:00 am until noon and from 5:00 pm until 8:00 pm and markets and shops from 8:00 am until 10:00 pm.
Saudi Riyal (SR) pegged to U.S. dollar ($1=SR3.745); bank notes, in Arabic and English, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 riyals; coins in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 halalahs, with 100 halalahs equal to one riyal; metric system in use.
Entry visas required. In the United States of America, visa section at Embassy: 601 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20037, (202) 342-3800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (202) 342-3800 FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting ; consulates in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York.
Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAA),
Important cities in Saudi Arabia
Mecca: The birthplace of the Prophet Mohamad
Medina: To where the Prohpet moved in 622 AD.
Jubail: The biggest and most important of the eight industrial cities built by Saudi Arabia as an effort to expand their non-oil economy.
Jeddah: The location of Eve’s Tomb. The name of the city could come from the word for grandmother: Jaddah.
About Mecca and Medina: Mecca and Medina are the two most holy places for Muslims.
Among the improvements added during the enlargement and renovation of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina are twenty-seven automated sliding domes in the roof which can be opened to admit light and air.
Saudi Arabia has a unique responsibility to the world of Islam since one of the Five Pillars of Islam or religious duties of every Muslim is the Pilgrimage, or Hajj, to the Holy City of Mecca once in his or her lifetime. About one million foreign visitors a year attend Al Hajj or The Pilgrimage. In 1998 more than twenty thousand buses, six thousand hospital beds and ten thousand doctors were on standby for the millions of pilgrims expected to make The Pilgrimage to Mecca. The Holy Mosque in Mecca was also the first place of worship for Muslims: “The first house of worship appointed for men was that at Bakka”. Non-Muslims are not allowed to visit Mecca.
Interesting Facts about Saudi Arabia
The British explorer, Richard Burton, entered Mecca in 1853 disguised as a Muslim.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of desalinated water: thirty-three plants produce nearly two million cubic meters of fresh water from the sea.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s driest countries, with rain only in the extreme north and south.
Miswak, the root of the arak tree, is used to clean teeth.
Many of the words we use today originate from Arabic, among them alcohol, alkali, admiral and alchemy.
Colonel T.E. Lawrence, a British soldier, known as Lawrence of Arabia, helped defeat the Turks in the 1914-1918 war. His account of the campaign is written in his book, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Modern Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Company, ARAMCO, is the world’s largest producer of oil. Saudi Arabia has twenty-six percent of the world’s share of present oil production.
Saudi Arabia was a founding member of OPEC.
The King Fahd Causeway, linking Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, is fifteen and a half miles long and is the second longest causeway in the world.
The first university in Saudi Arabia was founded in 1957 and had twenty-one students; now there are seven universities and ninety-four colleges with more than one hundred and seventy thousand students.
One of the ways in which the Arab world is investing its oil revenues in growing non-oil economic enterprises can be seen in the use of information technology.
Public housing is provided for students and people with low incomes and public employees.
Saudi Arabia is a generous provider of aid to the developing world.