The first time I passed by the shop called “Traditionals” at Granada Mall in Exit 9, I fell in love with its kaleidoscopic atmosphere. The shop sells traditional Saudi handicraft and antiques. I have always wanted to do some traditional kind of shopping and visual feasting on something variegated here in the capital city.
The luster that vintage items projects is like an aphrodisiac to my optical organs. The sad part is, I was only able to steal a photo of the shop’s entrance. When I got inside, I humbly asked the one in charge if I could take pictures but he simply pointed his index finger at the signage that says “No Photography”. I rest my case. I left the store with a heavy heart…It has been more than a year since.
A couple of weeks before new year’s first day, a good friend of mine, Ace, asked me to tag along with him in his second visit to Souq Al-Thumayri, Souq Al-Dheera, and Souq Al-Zil. These markets are all located in the area of the historical Al Masmak Palace and Fortress in Dirah, which is approximately half a kilometer past Al Batha Street. According to Saudi Tourism’s “Guide to Shopping in KSA”, said markets are considered three of the most important and frequented traditional markets in the kingdom. And, the things I wanted to photograph at Traditionals are swarming in those markets. The latter was the only thing I needed to know. I instantly dropped a big and heavy “yes”, especially when Ace told me that I could bring other friends. Traveling with friends is always cheaper and more fun! Nothing is more gripping than starting the new year with travel for someone like me.
In the chilling morning of the new year’s second day, I (armed with my Panasonic Lumix GF), Ace, Marwin, and Alvin cruised our way to Dirah for almost an hour drive from Exit 7.
The excitement that was enveloping us on the way turned into displeasure when we were caught in traffic and could not find a parking lot. The whole Dirah was already teeming with cars and tourists by the time we arrived. It took us more than 30 minutes to find two blank spaces for the cars. But as soon as we began probing the shops, the enjoyment was rekindled. A little bit later, each of us started to build a world of our own.
I traipsed all over the available commercial shops in sight such as “Camel Corner”, which can be contacted via their Facebook Page, “Traditional Centre”, “Asia Carpet Centre”, and so forth.
I saw brasses (in multiple forms), daggers (in curved sheaths), swords (in gold and silver scabbards), clocks (from England), shishas (in various sizes); crystals (as bulbs), multicolored lamps, gold stores, keychains, dreamcatchers, figurines (of camels and elephants), telephones, gramophones, phonographs, Middle Eastern chandeliers, coffeepots, jars, jewelry boxes, carpets, Islamic prayer beads, comforters, incense, incense burners, and a whole heap more.
It should be noted that all the antique items I tested were working.
Then it just dawned on me that the whole souq area was a different world. As I was walking through the streets and checking each of the shops, I felt like I got stuck–but enjoying–in a 17th-century time warp world, which I called “The Land of Golden Souqs” for obvious reasons.
Everywhere I looked, there was a presence of colorful items, especially the slightly reddish yellow ones.
These old pieces of the old world radiate a touch of magic as if I could be transported to Narnia the moment I touch any of the clocks.
Then I got to this corner where a peculiar view caught my attention: A man, who was sunbathing to mollify the freezing blows of the winter season.
So I shot him twice.
I exclaimed at how the photographs turned out. Sometimes, the best photographs are usually the ones from stolen shots. The man simply exuded some of life’s subtleties that make for a unique and captivating photo. All because he did not feel self-conscious.
I actually thought the man in the photo will get mad at me for stealing shots of him but he smiled–much to my surprise. He even enthused to have me take pictures of the carpets inside his store.
As I was digging intently into the photos, I noticed my three companions already converging–while the shops were closing for prayer time.
After all that had happened, that day was the most colorful and nitid one I ever had–literally and figuratively!
It is a fact that the kingdom boasts numerous state-of-the-art malls but the most unique shopping experience lies within the souqs. These traditional outdoor markets in the old town of Dirah are the best places in the kingdom if you are up to finding ornate traditional Saudi souvenirs and making a colorful and nitid day.
5 Things To Experience In Riyadh’s Historic Neigborhood (destinationriyadh.com)
Dirah Souk in Riyadh: A Time Travelers Wonderland (waim.yamsafer.me)
Abaya Finder: Dirah Souk 1/2 (thepinktarha.com)
A Stroll Through Diriyiah (destinationksa.com)
Things to see in Riyadh (eyeofriyadh.com)
See and Do in Riyadh (expatarrivals.com)
Souq al-Thumairi (lonelyplanet.com)
The Princess Souq (blueabaya.com)
Traditional Souqs (arriyadh.com)