Friday, September 25, 2009


I organized a group of guys to go on a museum expedition to the Masmak (Qasr al-Masmak قصر المصمك).

The fort was originally constructed in what is now central Riyadh about 1865 under the reign of Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Rasheed who had taken control of the city from the rival Saud clan. The young Amir Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn Faisal Al Saud (the name rolls trippingly off the tongue…if your tongue is Arabic), who had been living in exile in Kuwait, led a force to capture the Masmak fortress from its Rashid garrison in January 1902. The event, which restored Al Saud control over Riyadh, is now legendary as the symbol for the unification of the Arabs and the founding of Saudi Arabia.

The taking of the fort is pretty well documented in photographs and reminds me a bit, oddly enough, of Tombstone, Arizona — a documented, historic event that has accumulated a thick patina of myth and reconstruction along with the core facts. The fort offers a short and fascinating video chronicling the events, filmed to give a mock black & white documentary look.

The fort itself has been reconstructed numerous times. At first several of us thought we might be seeing original materials since the various reconstructions used what looks like actual baked clay and mud brick construction methods, but it soon became clear that the current building has been carefully reconstructed.

The surrounding area is very hospitable and consists of a large courtyard, leading to other public spaces. When our small troupe arrived there were elaborate preparations underway for celebrating National Day, Sept. 23.

The courtyard area is a popular spot for locals who visit the cafe or simply hang out.

I tried to cue the flag for some dramatic waving-in-the-wind action but had to be content with a nice crescent moon.


  1. This area has ALthumairi street, the eldest souq of Riyadh.

  2. thanks for the comment, Falcon. Yes, it's quite a nice souq at that. And unlike some other countries I won't mention, the vendors won't badger you and trail after you begging you to stop. In fact, at one shop, the guy was having some tea and biscuits and simply invited me to sit and share.