Diplomatic Quarter, Riyadh
Sahat al-Kindi (Kindi Plaza) would not, under normal circumstances, be a hotspot of anything other than the teenage boredom, angst and melancholy that is usually associated with suburban malls. This, however, is Saudi Arabia, and Sahat al-Kindi is located in the Diplomatic Quarter, where the religious police or Muttawa3 are far fewer in number than anywhere else in the city. As a result, the square is a popular place for teenagers and children to gather, especially in the evenings and on weekends, and for boys and girls to mingle with minimal interference of the moral authorities. The square itself has a few shops and restaurants, all of which do brisk business catering to diplomats and the clients of the Embassies during the day and teenagers and young families at night. This is hardly the place to go for a quite date, but if you are craving the sort of boisterous social scene, full of the vitality and energy of youth, that is so absent in Saudi cities, this is an ideal location to get your fill.
If you live on a compound, it is very likely that your children will have ample playgrounds to use. This is not true if you live in a villa in Riyadh, and for people who are used to parks as a place in which children can play and socialize, this lack may seem a bit depressing. The Diplomatic Quarter, probably Saudi Arabia’s first, tentative steps toward utopian urban planning and cultural integration, is one of the very few spots where one can find such open and inviting children’s environments. Here playgrounds have been set up along with spaces in which adults can relax and talk. The presence of benches and seating areas is an indication that these were meant to be shared by Saudis, Arabs and Westerners alike, as Saudis are more likely to make use of blankets and the grassy lawns, idea for the picnics that are so favoured by Saudi families.
You never realize just how enjoyable greenery is until you live in Saudi Arabia. In arriving from Canada, the sight of a lone tree or a few birds did not appear to be particularly inviting, but after a few months of living in a place with endless expanses of rock and dust, a green spot seemed like the Garden of Eden itself. The Diplomatic Quarter is probably one of the few places in the whole of Riyadh (apart from the King Abdulaziz Historical Complex) in which there are public green spaces and gardens. Unfortunately, few are well marked, and it can take a few concerted efforts at exploration to discover the best of them, but once you have done so you can be surprised at the lushness and peacefulness of your surroundings. For those looking for a bit of an escape from the harshness of the Saudi terrain, these spots of tranquility are a true God-sent.
Riyadh’s planners (officially known as the ADA – Arriyadh Development Agency) have a strict rule about development in the city: everything must look the same. Of course, this doesn’t apply to the über-wealthy or to anyone building behind walls high enough to block out public view, but it does apply to the vast majority of shops and offices. As a result, the city is rapidly becoming a monotonous sea of Saudi sandstone and Najdi geometry. Leeway is given to the diplomatic representations in the Diplomatic Quarter, not because of any sort of foreign sovereignty (the Embassy is still Saudi territory – read your Vienna Convention, people!), but because of a recognition that the Embassy is intended to represent the people and culture of a given nation. Added to this is the fact that many of the Embassies were built in the 1980s and 1990s, before the Diplomatic Quarter was anywhere near urban Riyadh and when the government didn’t really have much of an idea about anything to do with urban planning. The eclectic architecture can be a treat for anyone visiting the Quarter and the city. Of particular note are the Moroccan and Tunisian official residences, the Ethiopian Embassy, what’s left of the Syrian mission, the Indonesian Embassy and the Qatari legation. Special mention goes to Fortress America and the oddities of the Algerian, Kazakh and Libyan buildings.
Riyadh can be a bit wonting when it comes to places in which one can stroll. Admittedly, there is little incentive to be outside when the weather tops 50 degrees Celsius or when the streets are whipped by dust storms, but when the weather is nice it can be positively depressing. Luckily, the Diplomatic Quarter was designed with a more pedestrian-friendly spirit, even if its roads are ravaged by Saudi youth on weekends. The entire outer perimeter of the Quarter – between the residential and business areas and the protective fence – has been converted into a sort of jogging or hiking trail punctuated by small parkettes. In the 1980s and 1990s, these trails were popular with Saudi families, who adore picnics, but after the September 11th attacks and the upswing in terrorism in Saudi Arabia, access to the Quarter for Saudis was restricted and these areas are now mostly empty. For those who have an easier time at getting into the Diplomatic Quarter, they can be a God-sent as a source of outdoor activity and a way to photograph some of the rock formations and vistas available in the desert. Police patrol the areas regularly, but they are really of no concern. As long as you have proper identification (a passport or iqama), they’re friendly and cheerful, and tend to be more curious of women out on the trail (whether or not they’re in abayas) than anything else.
This place is commonly known over here as DQ, Its beautifully landscaped with a number of parks. A footpath surrounds the area, which meanders through quaint grottos & gardens complete with sun shading & interesting water features. On the western side the footpath overlooks Wadi Hanifah with its many palm groves & farms. Very pleasant for evening & weekend strolls.