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Narrative of a Year's Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia,|
1865 by William Gifford Palgrave, p.389-400:
Before us stretched a wild open valley, and in its foreground, immediately below the pebbly slope on whose summit we stood, lay the capital, large and square, crowned by high towers and strong walls of defence, a mass of roofs and terraces, where overtopping all frowned the huge but irregular pile of Feysul's [Faisal ibn Turki ibn Abdullah Al Saud, in Arabic فيصل بن تركي بن عبد الله آل سعود] royal castle, and hard by it rose the scarce less conspicuous palace, built and inhabited by his eldest son, 'Abd-Allah. Other edifices too of remarkable appearance broke here and there through the maze of grey roof-tops, but their object and indwellers were yet to learn.
All around for full three miles over the surrounding plain, but more especially to the west and south, waved a sea of palm-trees above green fields and well-watered gardens; while the singing droning sound of the water-wheels reached us even where we had halted, at a quarter of a mile or more from the nearest town walls.
On the opposite side southwards, the valley opened out into the great and even more fertile plains of Yemamab [al-Yamama], thickly dotted with groves and villages, among which the large town of Manfoohah, hardly inferior in size to Riad itself, might be clearly distinguished. Farther in the background ranged the blue hills, the ragged sierra of Yemamah, compared some thirteen hundred years since by 'Amroo-ebn-Kelthoom the Shomerite, to drawn swords in battle array; and behind them was concealed the immeasurable Desert of the South, or Dahna.
On the west the valley closes in and narrows in its upward windings towards Derey'eeyah [Dir'iyyah], while to the south-west the low mounds of Aflaj [al-Aflaj] are the division between it and Wadi Dowasir [Wadi ad-Dawasir].
But eastward it communicates through undulating and broken ground with the long valley of Soley' or Wadi Soley', whose northerly branch runs far up behind the inner chain of Toweyk under the mountain of 'Atalah, while its southerly extremity traverses a broad extent of sands, thinly sprinkled with an occasional grove or village, and, passing through them, ends at the town of Hootah, long the rival and now the discontented vassal of Riad.
Here the province of Hareek borders the desert, and encroaches on it northward and eastward, till it almost gives a hand to the outskirts of Katar [Qatar] and the limits of 'Omanite rule. Due east in the distance a long blue line marks the furthest heights of Toweyk, and shuts out from view the low ground of Hasa and the shores of the Persian Gulf.
In all the countries which I have visited, and they are many, seldom has it been mine to survey a landscape equal to this in beauty and in historical meaning, rich and full alike to eye and mind. But should any of my readers have ever approached Damascus from the side of the Anti-Lebanon, and surveyed the Ghootah from the heights above Mazzeh, they may thence form an approximate idea of the valley of Riad when viewed from the north. Only this is wider and more varied, and the circle of vision here embraces vaster plains and bolder mountains; while the mixture of tropical aridity and luxuriant verdure, of crowded population and desert tracts, is one that Arabia alone can present, and in comparison with which Syria seems tame, and Italy monotonous.
A light morning mist, the first we had witnessed for many days, hung over the town, and bespoke the copious moisture of its gardens. But the hot sun soon dissipated the thin and transient veil; whilst the sensible increase of heat indicated a region not only more southerly in latitude than that hitherto traversed, but also exposed to the burning winds of the neighbouring desert, that lies beyond the inner verge of Yemamah, like one vast furnace, up to the very shores of the Indian Ocean.
Barakat and myself stopped our dromedaries a few minutes on the height, to study and enjoy this noble prospect, and to forget the anxiety inseparable from a first approach to the lion's own den. Aboo-'Eysa too, though not unacquainted with the scene, willingly paused with us to point out and name the main features of the view, and show us where lay the onward road to his home in Hasa.
We then descended the slope and skirted the walls of the first outlying plantations which gird the town. Here more than one whom we met saluted our guide in the friendly tone of an old acquaintance; but above all, a lad whom Aboo-'Eysa had picked up some years before; a destitute orphan of this vicinity, whose education and means of livelihood he had, with a generosity less remarkable in Arabia than it might be elsewhere, provided for, till the youth was .able to work out for himself his own way in the world. He now happened to be filling a water-skin from a well near the roadside at the moment of our arrival. The boy ran up to kiss Aboo-'Eysa's hand, and to prove by the evident sincerity of his delight at seeing him again, that gratitude is no less an Arab than a European virtue, whatever the ignorance or the prejudices of some foreigners may have affirmed to the contrary.
With a little knot of companions walking by our side, and laughing and talking their fill, we entered on a byway leading between the royal stables on one hand, and a spacious garden belonging to 'Abd-el-Lateef, Kadee of the town, on the other. After a while we came out on the great cemetery, which spreads along the north-eastern wall, and contains the population of many past years; low tombs, without stone or memorial, inscription or date. Among these lies Turkee [Turki ibn Abdullah, in Arabic ترکي بن عبدالله], father of the present monarch, and close beside him his slaughtered rivals Mesharee [Mushari ibn Abd al-Rahman] and Ebn-Theney'yan, with many others of note in their day, now undistinguished from the meanest and poorest of their fellow-countrymen.
This burial-ground is intersected by several tracks, leading to the different town-gates; we ourselves now followed a path ending at the north-eastern portal, a wide and high entrance, with thick square towers on either side; several guardsmen armed with swords were seated in the passage. Aboo-'Eysa answered their challenge, and led us within the town.
Here we found ourselves at first in a broad street, going straight to the palace; on each side were large houses, generally two storeys high, wells for ablution, mosques of various dimensions, and a few fruit trees planted here and there in the courtyards.
After advancing two hundred yards or rather more, we had on our right hand the palace of 'Abd-Allah, a recent and almost a symmetrical construction, square in form, with goodly carved gates, and three storeys of windows one above the other. We contemplated and were contemplated by groups of negroes and servants, seated near the doors, or on the benches outside, in the cool of the morning shade.
A little farther on, to the left, we passed the palace of Djeloo'wee [Jiluwi ibn Turki], brother of Feysul, and at this time absent on business in the direction of Kela'at-Bisha'.
At last we reached a great open square: its right side, the northern, consists of shops and warehouses; while the left is entirely absorbed by the huge abode of Nejdean royalty; in front of us, and consequently to the west, a long covered passage, upborne high on a clumsy colonnade, crossed the breadth of the square, and reached from the palace to the great mosque, which it thus joins directly with the interior of the castle, and affords old Feysul a private and unseen pasage at will from his own apartments to his official post at the Friday prayers, without exposing him on his way to vulgar curiosity, or perhaps to the dangers of treachery. For the fate of his father and of his great-uncle, his predecessors on the throne, and each of them pierced by the dagger of an assassin during public worship, has rendered Feysul very timid on this score, though not at prayer-time only.
Behind this colonnade, other shops and warehouses make up the end of the square, or more properly parallelogram; its total length is about two hundred paces, by rather more than half the same width. In the midst of this space, and under the far-reaching shadow of the castle walls, are seated some fifty or sixty women, each with a stock of bread, dates, milk, vegetables, or firewood before her for sale ; around are crowds of loiterers, camels, dromedaries, sacks piled up, and all the wonted accompaniments of an Arab market.
But we did not now stop to gaze, nor indeed did we pay much attention to all this; our first introduction to the monarch, and the critical position before us, took up all our thoughts. So we paced on alongside of the long blind wall running out from the central keep, and looking more like the outside of a fortress than of a peaceful residence, till we came near a low and narrow gate, the only entry to the palace.
Deep sunk between the bastions, with massive folding doors iron-bound, though thrown open at this hour of the day, and giving entrance into a dark passage, one might easily have taken it for the vestibule of a prison; while the number of guards, some black, some white, but all sword-girt, who almost choked the way, did not seem very inviting to those without, especially to foreigners.
Long earth-seats lined the adjoining walls, and afforded a convenient waiting-place for visitors; and here we took up our rest at a little distance from the palace gate; but Aboo-'Eysa entered at once to announce our arrival, and the approach of the Na'ib [deputy or viceroy].
The morning was not far advanced, it might be eight o'clock or little later. The passers-by were many, for the adjoining market was open, and every one coming and going on his daily business. However no one approached to question us, though several stared; we were somewhat surprised at this unwonted absence of familiarity, not yet fully knowing its cause. After a good half-hour's waiting the ice was broken.
The first who drew near and saluted us was a tall meagre figure, of a sallow complexion, and an intelligent but slightly ill-natured and underhand cast of features. He was very well dressed, though of course without a vestige of unlawful silk in his apparel, and a certain air of conscious importance tempered the affability of his politeness.
This was 'Abd-el-'Azeez, whom, for want of a better title, and without the smallest allusion to Downing Street, I shall call the minister of foreign affairs, such being the approximate translation of his official style, "'Wezeer-el-Kharijeeyah." His office extends to whatever does not immediately regard the internal administration, whether political, fiscal, or military. Thus it is his to regulate the reception of ambassadors from foreign courts, or the expedition of such from Riad itself; to his department belongs the conveyance of government letters, messages, and all the detail of lesser affairs regarding allies or neighbours, especially where the Bedouin tribes of Nejed are concerned; in his keeping are the muster-rolls of the towns and provinces; and lastly, he exercises an executive superintendence over export and import duties, a profitable charge, particularly when in the hands of one not over famed for strictness of conscience or contempt of gain.
His personal qualities are those which distinguish the majority of old Riad families, and are indeed common enough throughout 'Aared. A reserved and equable exterior, a smooth tongue, a courteous though grave manner, and beneath this, hatred, envy, rapacity, and licentiousness enough to make his intimacy dangerous, his enmity mortal, and his friendship suspected. This is the peculiar stamp of the 'Aared race, the pith and heart of the Wahhabee [Wahhabi] government; we have already seen a sample of it in Mohanna at Bereydah [Buraydah]; but here it is a province of Mohannas. "Hateful and hating each other," were words contantly recurring to my mind while amongst them; and Saul or Doeg, Joab or Achitophel [Ahitophel] may furnish their correct type to my readers.
However the base-work and groundcolour of their character is envy and hatred; rapacity and licentiousness, though seldom wholly wanting, are accessory embellishments; pride is universal, vanity rare. Add to this, great courage, endurance, persistence of purpose, an inflexible will united to a most flexible cunning, passions that can bide their time, and audacity long postponed till the moment to strike once, and once only; and it will be easily understood why the empire of these men is alike widely spread and widely hated, submitted to and loathed, now firm in quiet pressure, and now varied by broad blood-streaks and desolating terror.
But before I enter on the details of the fifty days that followed in this strange town, and whatever remains to relate regarding it, I must draw somewhat largely on the stock of confidence and belief which I trust that my readers kindly afford me as an Englishman, though a traveller. I am quite aware that the events, the characters, the scenes which I must now set before them are in their telling subject to a double inconvenience; the first that of appearing, to some at least, hardly credible, the second that of making myself much more often than is desirable the hero of my own tale.
But either inconvenience, however great, must of necessity yield to the truth of facts; so it looked, and so it happened; I can only relate, and leave comments to others. My object is to give as correct, indeed as complete an idea as may be of a land, a government, a town, a people, not uninteresting nor unin- structive when considered whether in themselves or in the analogies they present with other nations, systems, or governments. Such analogies, most often suggested by themselves beside or against my will, cannot fail to present themselves to the minds of my readers; nor, if example be of any use, is it amiss that they should; our best glass for seeing our own selves is our neighbour's face. May I be permitted to hope that, whoever may perchance consider his natural face in this Eastern mirror, will not at once, like one of old, go his way, and forget what manner of man he was, or is. These remarks will, I trust, suffice as preface and apology, where needed, for what follows.
Accompanied by some attendants from the palace, 'Abd-el-'Azeez came stately up, and seated himself by our side. He next began the customary interrogations of whence and what, with much smiling courtesy and show of welcome. After hearing our replies, the same of course as those given elsewhere, he invited us to enter the precincts, and partake of bis Majesty's coffee and hospitality, while he promised us more immediate communications from the king himself in the course of the day.
Accordingly we followed him within the gate, and passing its long and obscure continuation came into a sort of interior lane, or open corridor. On one side were the apartments occupied by the sovereign, his private audience room, his oratory, so to call it, or special Musalla, "place of prayer," and behind these the chambers of his numerous harem, and of his unmarried daughter, an old maid of fifty at least, who acts as her father's secretary in important correspondence, and with whom, for this very reason, Feysul has never been willing to part, in spite of her numerous and pressing suitors.
This quarter of the palace is spacious and lofty, three stories in height, and between fifty and sixty feet from the ground to the roof-parapet. In these very rooms was Mesharee killed by 'Abd-Allah [Abdullah ibn Rashid], the father of our old acquaintance Telal [Talal ibn Abdullah]. In front of this mass of building, but on the inner side and on the right of the passage just mentioned, is a square unroofed court, surrounded with seats, and here Feysul sometimes gives a half-public audience.
From this court a private door, well guarded and narrow like the first, lead to the apartments described, which form, so to speak, a separate palace within the palace. They own, however, a second point of communication with the rest of the building, by means of a covered way, thrown out from the second storey across the passage where we now stood; a third is given by the long gallery that leads above its columns to the mosque at about a hundred yards' distance; on all other sides whatever intercourse from without is carefully excluded.
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, located in southwest Asia, occupies about 80% of the Arabian peninsula. Saudi Arabia is bordered by on the north by Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait, on the east by the Persian Gulf and Qatar, on the southeast by the United Arab Emirates and Oman, on the south by Yemen, and on the west by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The capital of Saudi Arabia is Riyadh. Some of the borders are unspecified, so estimates of the area of Saudi Arabia range from 1,960,582 to 2,240,000 square kilometers (about 864,900 square miles). The estimated population of Saudi Arabia for July, 2009 is 28,686,633 (including 5,576,076 non-nationals). The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic.
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king's official title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932 by ABD AL-AZIZ bin Abd al-Rahman AL SAUD (Ibn Saud) after a 30-year campaign to unify most of the Arabian Peninsula. A male descendent of Ibn Saud, his son ABDALLAH bin Abd al-Aziz, rules the country today as required by the country's 1992 Basic Law.
Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its soil for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. The continuing presence of foreign troops on Saudi soil after the liberation of Kuwait became a source of tension between the royal family and the public until all operational US troops left the country in 2003.
Major terrorist attacks in May and November 2003 spurred a strong on-going campaign against domestic terrorism and extremism. King ABDALLAH has continued the cautious reform program begun when he was crown prince. To promote increased political participation, the government held elections nationwide from February through April 2005 for half the members of 179 municipal councils. In December 2005, King ABDALLAH completed the process by appointing the remaining members of the advisory municipal councils. The king instituted an Inter-Faith Dialogue initiative in 2008 to encourage religious tolerance on a global level; in February 2009, he reshuffled the cabinet, which led to more moderates holding ministerial and judicial positions, and appointed the first female to the cabinet.
The country remains a leading producer of oil and natural gas and holds more than 20% of the world's proven oil reserves. The government continues to pursue economic reform and diversification, particularly since Saudi Arabia's accession to the WTO in December 2005, and promotes foreign investment in the kingdom. A burgeoning population, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output and prices are all ongoing governmental concerns.
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