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Culture, Traditions and Art

The culture of Saudi Arabia is defined by its Islamic heritage, its historical role as an ancient trade centre, and its Bedouin traditions. The Saudi society has evolved over the years, their values and traditions from customs, hospitality to their style of dressing, are adapting with modernization. The cultural aspect of Saudi Arabia is represented in the following:

  • Depth of its civilization that dates back to more than one million years, which is confirmed by the archaeological evidence and the heritage prevalent in this country.
  • It was the land of many kingdoms and states that prevailed in the evolution of human civilization.
  • Its distinguished geographical location made it a point of intersection of international trade routes through all the ages.
  • Being the cradle of Arabism and Islam and the country of The Two Holy Mosques.
  • Being a crossroads of cultures and a bridge for cultural communication.

Saudi National Heritage & Cultural Development Campaign

Saudi Arabia was a conclusion of a deep-rooted cultural heritage, as well as an inherent of a series of civilizations that were crowned by Islam religion. Hence, the campaign seeks to highlight the cultural aspect of Saudi Arabia which integrates with its Islamic, political and economic aspects. The campaign’s programs and projects aim at highlighting the cultural importance of the national heritage. The Saudi government gives emphasis to the importance of preservation and care of the national archeological and heritage treasures, highlighting them and being proud of them. Therefore, a number of resolutions were issued in this respect including:

  • The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ patronage of the exhibition of “Saudi Archeological Masterpieces through the Ages”.
  • Issuance of the Royal Approval regarding listing and preserving Islamic antiquities in the holy cities Makkah and Al Madina.
  • Directives of late Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz regarding prohibition the removal of heritage buildings.
  • Directives of HRH Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz Crown Prince and Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior prohibiting excavation works adjacent to heritage buildings or archeological sites.

Saudi Archaeological Expo

Saudi Arabia enjoys great culture and heritage, affirming the depth of its civilization as well as its historic presence through the ages upon which the country stands today. The idea of this traveling exhibition, through a number of renowned museums in Europe and the United States, will acquaint the world with the Saudi culture, and will highlight the particular importance of the antiquities of Saudi Arabia to understand the chain of human history and the current progress witnessed in Saudi Arabia. The exhibition showcases over 320 archeological masterpieces which cover many historic periods starting from the ancient Stone Age (One million years BC) till the Saudi Renaissance time.

Cultural Institutions

A variety of institutions have been established throughout the country to preserve Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage. One of the largest is the Department of Culture at the Ministry of Culture and Information, which sponsors a wide range of cultural programs, including literary and drama clubs, folklore classes, library events, arts and crafts as well as science projects. These clubs cover a range of cultural activities. At the drama clubs, for example, participants engage in writing competitions and performances as part of a team. Other clubs offer Saudis the opportunity to develop various artistic talents.

The Department of Culture regularly sponsors exhibitions, literary readings and symposia at its regional offices as well as its Riyadh headquarters. It also sponsors Saudis to participate in international art and cultural events, including poetry and essay competitions as well as exhibits of calligraphy and artwork. The Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, founded in 1972, sponsors Saudi artists and provides ways for new talents to develop and display their art.

The society has established a library and information center, as well as the Saudi’s first cultural center, located in Riyadh. Other institutions that promote culture include the King Fahd Library in Riyadh, which offers one of the largest collections of rare manuscripts on Arabic and Islamic literature, and is a premier research facility in the Middle East; and the King Faisal Foundation, which offers annual King Faisal International Prizes, including one for Arabic literature. Many King Faisal Prize laureates have gone on to receive other international awards, including the Nobel Prize. The Department of Museums and Antiquities was established in 1974. Today, there are major museums in each of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces, as well many small privately owned ones throughout the country.

Saudi Arabia’s largest museum is the National Museum in Riyadh, which was established in 1999 to celebrate the centennial of the taking of the Masmak Fortress by the young Abdulaziz, an event that led to the founding of the modern Saudi state. There are also private museums, such as the Humane Heritage Museum in Jeddah.

Language

Arabic is one of the oldest groups of languages in the world. The inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula were the first to use the Arabic language in pre-Islamic times. With the expansion of Islam and Islamic culture in the 7th century AD, the Arabic language spread north, east and west. The Arabic language is today one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. There are some 200 million Arabic speakers in more than 20 countries.

Arabic is the official language of many Arab nations in the Middle East and northern Africa, including the Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. Written Classical Arabic is the standard written language of all Arab nations. It is the language of the Holy Quran, the sacred book of the Islam, and has changed little over the centuries. A spoken form of written Arabic is used for formal speech, radio and TV news broadcasts and in films, plays and poetry. This form also serves as a common spoken language for Arabs from all parts of the Arabic speaking world.

Spoken Arabic appears in a variety of dialects one of which is the Gulf dialect (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE). English is also an important language in Saudi Arabia, widely spoken as a second language by educated Saudis.

Arab and Islamic Traditions

Saudi traditions are rooted in Islamic teachings and Arab customs. The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season, and the national holidays that follow them. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the Eid Al Fitr holiday. The Pilgrimage season draws millions of Muslim pilgrims from around the world come to Makkah every year. It concludes with the Eid Al Adha holiday. Saudis’ valuable Arab traditions include generosity and hospitality. Arabic coffee (its preparation is also a form of cultural tradition) is often served in small cups along with dates and sweets as a hospitality gesture offered to visitors, friends or family.

Folk Music, Dance & Poetry

Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage is celebrated at the annual Jenadriyah National Culture and Heritage Festival. One of Saudi Arabia’s most compelling folk rituals is the “Al Ardha”, the country’s national dance. This sword dance is based on ancient Bedouin traditions: drummers beat out a rhythm and a poet chants verses while sword-carrying men dance shoulder to shoulder. “Al sihba” folk music, from the Hejaz, has its origins in Al Andalus. In Makkah, Medina and Jeddah, dance and song incorporate the sound of the “Mizmar”, an oboelike woodwind instrument in the performance of the “Mizmar” dance. The drum is also an important instrument according to traditional and tribal customs. “Samri” is a popular traditional form of music and dance in which poetry is sung especially in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia.

Poetry is especially important to Arab cultural life, and has long been considered one of the highest expressions of literary art. It was primarily an oral tradition during the nomadic days of Bedouins, a form of preservation of history, traditions and social values. Poetry remains popular among Saudis today in the form of media (e.g. televised poetry competition) or traditional oral poetry. For instance, the annual Jenadriyah National Culture and Heritage Festival, features the reading of poetry by established poets.

The Arts

The General Presidency of Youth Welfare is responsible for the plastic arts movement in Saudi Arabia. It prepares both an annual and a five year plan for the encouragement and development of the arts, and organizes regular competitions and exhibitions. It also arranges exhibitions of Saudi Arabian art abroad to provide Saudi artists with an international forum and to strengthen cultural ties with the host Arab and western countries. The Presidency is an active participant in the Arab, regional and international Youth Festivals and Exhibitions. It also participates in the Biannual Arab Exhibition which is supervised by the Arab Plastic Artists Union. Two other organizations play a key role in the artistic life of Saudi Arabia: The Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts; and The King Fahd Cultural Center.

Festivals

Janadriya Festival: This is a major cultural event amongst the Riyadh Festivals and Events. It is held annually and is the oldest and the most traditional of all the festivals. It is usually held from the 12th to the 26th of February each year. This festival is considered to be the National Festival of Heritage and Culture in the Janadriyah region of Riyadh. The Jenadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival, organized by the National Guard under the command of the Crown Prince, also plays a crucial role in preserving Saudi national heritage. The festival begins with a traditional camel race and is intended to embrace all aspects of Saudi Arabian traditions and culture. A feature of the festival is the performance of traditional music by musicians from all over the Kingdom and national dances, including the Ardha, by folklore troupes. The festival runs for two weeks each year and is attended by more than one million Saudi citizens.

Riyadh Festival for Shopping and Leisure: This festival is held every year in the month of July. Visiotrs can shop all types of things right from garments, accessories and electronic goods. The festival is held in Riyadh.

Food Festival: The Saudi Food Festival is among the most popular amongst the Riyadh festivals and events, and it is the longest established food exhibitions in Saudi Arabia. It is a bi-annual event and it is a grand opening for the leading food production companies to exhibit their new products, technologies and the equipment they use.