Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state
RIYADH: The first phase of an aspirational project conceived five years ago, with the aim of showcasing the history of the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has come to fruition according to plan.
Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit.
Around the world, delegates from Saudi public figures and DGDA staff joined forces to witness a historic development when Diriyah opened its doors for the international community.
“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. “We are celebrating two big milestones.
“For the first time in the history of the Gulf, the Kingdom is welcoming the World Travel and Tourism Council, all the ministers of tourism, CEOs of hotel companies, CEOs of airline companies — it’s 5,000 people coming to the Kingdom to see what’s going to be one of the great tourism countries in the world.”
Inzerillo reflected on what it meant to him personally to see Diriyah’s fruits of labor before the eyes and ears of the entire world.
“It makes my heart pound because the thing that I am most proud about is that we are 1,600 staff now: 85 percent Saudi, 36 percent Saudi superstar women, 16 percent of which are in management, and 14 percent of our staff is from Diriyah. My heart and soul are my team and that’s the thing that I am most proud about,” Inzerillo said.
Prudence Solomon Inzerillo, Inzerillo’s wife, said: “I think the changes are profound and I think the whole devotion and commitment to celebrating culture, heritage, history art … I think it’s such an incredible gift, it’s really important.
“I think that everyone should appreciate the history and the culture that you have. It’s so rich and diverse and I think that it is a real privilege and a pleasure to be here to witness the changes that have happened over the last four-plus years that we’ve been here and it’s extraordinary.”
The celebrations began at the birthplace and first ruling base of Al-Saud’s family, the UNESCO World At-Turaif Heritage Site. Tour guides waited to guide visitors through the site. They were standing in front of Salwa Palace which is a 10,000-square-meter complex that was originally built by Mohammed ibn Saud the first ruler of the First Saudi State.
Every hand-made mud brick found in At-Turaif’s ancient buildings has a story. Each wall contains the secrets of power struggles and every corner holds a story of hospitality and unity.
The visitors from around the world saw not only the modernity and luxury of the present-day Kingdom but were able to take a step back in time as they watched live performances of traditional ardah dance and walked narrow pathways that paint an atmospheric picture of the Kingdom’s past.
This private event marked the official opening Bujairi/At-Turaif. It attracted a wide range of guests from many countries.
Guadalupe Galvan Hernandez visited Mexico City, to attend the festivities. World Summit of the Travel and Tourism Council.
“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News. “I have seen many things. Diriyah is incredible; it’s all history. When we arrived we saw so many structures and it’s a blend of modernity and traditions.
• At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will open their doors to the public on Dec. 4.
• The Global Summit of the World Saudi Arabia’s first ever Travel and Tourism Council will be held.
• At-Turaif will offer 75-minute guided walking tours in both Arabic and English that will take visitors through the original seal of power of the Al-Saudi family.
“The people are very kind, they are very nice people. Sometimes when you come from a country like Mexico it’s hard to understand some things and it makes you fear, somehow, the way you will be treated and they (the Saudis) were really, really kind and nice people.”
After the At-Turaif tours and performances, guests made their way towards Bujairi Terrace where Inzerillo, and Saudi Minister for Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, gave their inaugural speeches. Inzerillo started by praising Saudi leadership.
“I want to praise and give thanks to our dynamic prime minister, our Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been instrumental in every single detail of the Vision 2030 master plan for Diriyah,” he said.
“And thanks to his support we are one of the giga projects that tonight — on this historic night, in the birthplace of the Kingdom, the birthplace of the Arabian Peninsula, the ancestral house of Al-Saud — we open assets of 2030 in 2022.”
Al-Khateeb said: “Today we are celebrating the opening of phase one, (which is) just 1 to 2 percent of the total project, and we thank you for being with us today.
“This is a testimony and proof that Saudi Arabia started its planning and now we are in the execution phase and you will see an opening in all of the giga projects every year. Diriyah is a good example, with the opening of Bujairi Terrace.”
Many DGDA employees couldn’t hide their feelings when Buajiri Terrace was opened to welcome the outside world.
Helena Zakade Inzerillo was among the guests at the inauguration. She is the daughter of the DGDA CEO. In 2019, at the age of 12, she spoke to Arab News during King Salman’s inauguration of the Diriyah Gate project and told how proud she was of her father and his mission to transform the city “with his heart and soul.”
Three years later, she was delighted to be at Bujairi Terrace to see her father’s passion and ambitions come to life.
“When I first came four years ago and saw Diriyah I was absolutely in shock,” she said. “I mean, this is an absolutely beautiful place that nobody really knew about outside of the Kingdom.
“I really believe that people should be seeing this place, people should know about this place and the significance of it.
“To see it come to this, to see the success, to see so many people come from around the world, and to see people’s perspectives completely change upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, and seeing the hospitality of the people here and seeing the significance of our country here, it means so much to me.”
Helena said she truly believes in her father’s mission to spread to the world the message and meaning of Diriyah and its importance to the Kingdom.
“This means so much to me, to my family as a whole,” she added. “We have seen the process over the past four years, the amount of hard work, the tireless hours of my dad’s work for the past four years here in Saudi.
“And we have seen the transformation of Riyadh, of Diriyah, and the passion of the place that my dad has spread and how much he loves this place.”
As history and modernity collided in the form of many luxurious dining experiences, the air was filled with the scent of bukhour. A gala dinner was held in Bujairi Terrace. Then, light shows illuminated the At-Turaif pathways and walls.
The laser and firework display lit up the Najdi architecture of Salwa Palace, and the sky above it, with the words “The city of the earth,” “Only one Diriyah,” and simply “Diriyah.”
“As a 2030 giga project, we are already opening assets in 2022,” Inzerillo said. “So Turaif, all redone; Bujairi district, 20 new restaurants and after tonight we will take a few days and open to the public in a few days; 2 km of the Wadi Hanifah; new sales centers; welcome centers; community centers. So 2030 is now 2022.”
At-Turaif Terrace and Bujairi Terrace officially open to the public Dec. 4. Inzerello explained what’s next.
“After tonight we are going to open up a lot of assets,” he said. “We have the first hotels under construction that will open next year, the first museums that will open next year, we have already planted 6 million trees on our way to 50 million trees, plants and bushes.
“Every year now we will open assets, we will ground-break assets and we will announce assets every year until 2030.”
Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world to give visitors a taste of the past and a glimpse of the future.