The journey to the Edge of the World made us down in the dumps because it turned out to be a failed mission (“A Series of Unfortunate Events”). So as we were heading back to the capital city, we were discussing the discomforts of what took place in that valley and the plight’s silver lining. This was when the place called “Diriyah” surfaced. Thank heavens, all of us, especially Chauffer Sai, were still up for a rebound.
Onel and I were actually a bit disinclined to the idea of choosing the place so that Sai and Rico had to put in a good word for it.
The excitement heightened when we passed by the highway’s exit to Diriyah where we caught a big signage that says “Diriyah: UNESCO World Heritage”. Sai and Rico’s words slowly made sense.
A few minutes later, we parked on the side of Wadi Hanifah’s road, which is just a few meters away from the historical dam. Feast time for the views around was not something we wanted to do upon debarking but to devour the packed lunch. I must admit, the viand made us consume four plates of rice. It goes without saying Rico is really a good cook.
Thereupon, we chatted for a while until the summer breeze–assisted by the birds chirping on the rami–started playing a lulling song. The sweet Cassie perfume being dispersed by the needle bushes (Acacia farnesiana) swaying above us just made it more conducive to slumber. It was perfect time for us to gorge the views around instead.
The sweet-smelling yellow flower of Acacia farnesiana.
Diriyah is a town in Saudi Arabia sitting on the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh. It was the original home of the Saudi royal family and served as the capital of the first Saudi dynasty from 1744 to 1818. The said town is now the seat of the Diriyah Governorate, which includes the villages of Uyayna, Jubayla, and Al-Ammariyyah, among others, and is part of Riyad Province.
There are six open parks (Al-Elb, Lake Park, Bio Treatment, Sud Park, Factories Lake, and Wadi Hanifa) in Diriyah but we ended up with only one. That is the latter, which is Wadi Hanifah—the largest of its type. It is one of the longest stretches of open recreational spaces in Saudi Arabia reaching a length of 80 kilometers, from the north at Prince Salman Road to Hayer in the south. The park rises from the highlands of central Arabia and runs southeast for 75 miles before losing itself in the sands of the Empty Quarter desert. We actually passed by to some of the other mentioned parks where I was able to snap a photo to include here.
For nature lovers, Wadi Hanifa is a decent place to do nature tripping with its acacias, flowing water channel, natural landscapes, and trees. Unfortunately, we were not privileged to catch the glorious wet days (pun intended) of the dam considering the current season. That explains the dry yet fertile Wadi Hanifah made possible by aquifers close to the surface. People have been farming and trading up and down the valley for millennia. It also offers numerous areas to enjoy recreation and the outdoors, most especially for hiking, playing, and picnicking. The valley is landscaped with flora suitable for re-vegetation in accordance with the environs.
“A total of 30,000 desert trees have been planted in the middle of the valley, and about 7,000 palm trees were planted along hiking areas and pathways. Another 2,000 desert trees have been moved from desolate areas in the valley and exchanged with plants that grow naturally by moving them from thick shrubby areas and re-planting them in desolated areas and 42,000 trees have been planted via seeding and cultivation” (sauditourism.com). Some of the trees that I was able to recognize are tamarisk, needle bush (which was already mentioned earlier), Acacia tortilis, Acacia gerrardii, fluffy fountain grass, saltbush, and the common boxthorn.
Heavy rains used to fall on this part of the kingdom until climate change intercepted making the wadi barren and dry. This was the reason why several decades ago, a large sewage facility was constructed to bring water to this area. Cultivating date palms, irrigating public gardens and parks, and running oil refineries became possible since.
It should be noted that Wadi Hanifah became a dumping area and a public health hazard at one point, for many years. Seasonal flooding swept pollutants into residential neighbourhoods leaving stagnant water to imperil public health. In addition, construction firms did mine in the area for minerals. Who would have thought? The place now shows a minute trace of its once infamous state.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the environmental rehabilitation—which took place for ten years—of this valley has won many awards. The said rehabilitation was initiated in 2001 by the ArRiyadh Development Authority through clearing rubbish, grading the banks, landscaping and replanting native flora. “The comprehensive plan for the development of Wadi Hanifa won the Water Center Award in Washington, D.C., USA, as the best plan for the development of water resources in the world for the year 2003. It also won Foundation International Award for Vital Communities in London, Britain in 2007, and the World’s Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010” (sauditourism.com).
Countless palm trees now serve that needed oxygen in the desert to attract fauna and cool breeze in a line of picnic pods along the walk ways for people. Stone-bedded plots likewise fill out the curves of the walking trail and tot a unique gilding to the wadi floor. There were also slabs that are horizontally laid to create steps down to the valley floor to facilitate those who want to play along the trails and under the acacias.
From Left: Sony, Onel (owner of this photo), and Rico
In my homeland, we usually head up to the high lands for a breath of fresh air but not here in Riyadh. Heading down to the low-lying areas like this Wadi Hanifah coulee is the theme.
Yes, we did not make it to the Edge of the World but setting foot on this historical site is also an experience of a lifetime. For a lover of history, it is always an opportunity to get a feel of an old place’s historical thread because it provides an understanding of how the place and its landscape have developed over time. How saddening it would be if we only get to learn by books more so if this were the only way to see them.
Wadi Hanifah is a great rebound in sum.
(Geographical Infomation and Technical Features of the Dam were based on the 2007 On Site Review Report [Wadi Hanifa Wetlands] by Wael al-Samhouri and Mashary al-Naim)
Related Blog Posts
A Riyadh favourite-Wadi Hanifah and Diriyah at alexofarabia.com
Aga Khan Award or Architecture at akdn.org
Wadi Hanifah-No Litter Please, We’re Saudi at theodysseia.blogspot.com
Wadi Hanifah at smyh.wordpress.com
Visit to Al Elb Dam in Wadi Hanifa, Saudi Arabia – PHOTOS at aayjay.wordpress.com
Palm Trees-Wadi Hanifah, Saudi Arabia at yohoproductions.com
The King’s Forest: Rawdat Khuraim at desertelixir.wordpress.com