Saudi Arabia -Land of Mystery

Flag of Saudi Arabia and Map of cities visited Images:

Sandwiched between the ancient empires of Rome and Asia, I joined a girlfriend on a short tour of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), a mysterious land of endless sand dunes steeped in religious and cultural traditions; in times gone by, an important trade centre, caravans laden with spices and frankincense traversing the Arabian Peninsula.

In 1932 King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud united the various tribes into a nation, which is today the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Not bad if you can name a country after yourself!

KSA is an absolute monarchy - the current King is Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud while his son, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud (known as MBS) is seemingly taking the country into the 21st century.

The Al Saud family is a large one, said to be around 15,000 with approx. 2,000 in the inner circle - most of the top government positions are held by a family member.

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed, and home to the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina attracting millions of pilgrims each year. The Saudis take pride in protecting the integrity of their holy land -The Quran is the basis of their constitution and a declaration of faith is even quoted on their flag.

Pilgrims at The Great Mosque of Mecca, known as the Masjid al-Haram, home to the Ka'bah, believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael (Credit:; Kings since 1932 (Credit: photo by Jane of painting taken at the Al-Taybat Museum, Jeddah); The preferred dress of women Photo: Jane; I am wearing an abaya and hijab (Photo: Jane); garment worn by men at Mecca Credit:

In 1938 oil was discovered and Saudi Arabia became enormously wealthy - today it remains the largest oil exporter controlling the world’s oil price, retains the 2nd highest oil reserves and the 6th in gas reserves. No wonder education is free as is the healthcare system; no personal income tax either! The population is around 32 million, of which up to half are under 35. The Al Saud family became wealthy too - said to be as high as $1.4 trillion, which includes holdings in Saudi Aramco - the state-owned petroleum and natural gas company.

Straddled between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf it’s the largest country and economy in the Middle East, home to the largest desert in the world, no permanent rivers, yet dotted with shaded oases, dramatic mountains, stark landscapes and marine reserves.

We spent 2 days exploring Jeddah before the start of our tour. A sprawling city hugging the Red Sea, it’s always been an important port, even more so when the Suez Canal opened in 1869.

No-one walks in middle eastern countries - its usually too hot - thankfully it was winter temperatures were mild. With little public transport taxis and Ubers were quick, easy and reasonably priced. The Corniche extends about 30kms, dotted with sculptures, green spaces and cafes - popular with locals, relaxing on their own carpets, picnicking under trees enjoying the gentle sea breeze.

Photos: Jane

As you can see above there are interesting art works and architecture including the prestigious Jeddah Yacht Club, it’s restaurant shaped like a sail.

A mosque is never far away in fact there are around 94,000 in Saudi -along The Corniche the mosque floats on the Red Sea. Islam is the only permitted religion.

We often heard the call to prayer, locals flock to mosques 5 times a day - or roll out their mats to face Mecca, in the parks or even the streets. Sometimes shops and cafes will close for 10 minutes during prayer time.

Cinemas were banned until a few years ago and the heat in summer is extreme – so the locals head for one of 4,000 shopping malls, meeting freinds for coffee or to see a movie and of course to shop! We visited The Red Sea Mall, filled with black clad women, shops filled with black hijabs, but then there is the ice cream shop!

Red Sea Mall, sculptures and modern buildings grace The Corniche. Photos: Jane

Join me tomorrow as I share more of Jeddah.