Back to the Gold Souk

I ran out of time to explore the old city and the Gold Souk last time I was down there. Went down there again today and I'm glad I did. Spent some time in the Gold Souk, the largest of the old shopping areas specializing in gold and silver jewelry. The gold was real, but all that stuff looks so damned gaudy as to be tasteless. Not even Mr. T would wear some of this stuff. Didn't see any Saudis buying this gold jewelry at all, and if they're not buying it, who is? 

I ended up being more attracted to the silver chains and bracelets. One of the shop owners pulled out some silver charms, pendants, and chains, and I noticed that there were six horseshoe charms and one camel. Bought all of them to give to the Mule Train Ladies when I return to the States. The gold stuff? No need to go back and rethink my lack of purchase. 

I spent the remainder of the mornings exploring the remaining old buildings that are being knocked down rapidly in preparation to build yet another unoccupied commercial office building. Next post will address that in some detail.

Compound Livin'

After nine weeks in the hotel, our new compound finally opened up to us and four of us made the move over the weekend (in Saudi Arabia, that would be Friday and Saturday). Riyadh Village is one of the oldest western compounds in the area, but after years of abandonment followed by years of refurbishment, it now serves the western expat community here in Riyadh. The remainder of our company's western personnel will make the move here over the next couple of weeks.

I haven't seen so many Brits living in one place since Afghanistan and the UK before that. The bulk of the occupants here are British and that includes a few from my company. Very friendly and welcoming to us "Yanks," even though none of the Americans here are Yankee -- we're mostly from California and the South.

The compound has a very nice restaurant/pub and a set of swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball courts, and sports a Saudi Army live fire range next door.  Last night, I watched red tracers flying damn near everywhere.  I don't think the Saudis have an appreciation for the concept of range fans and impact areas. A Brit at lunch today told me that he finds bullets all over the compound that were fired into the air over us. He didn't find it as amusing as I did. 

The only disadvantage of living here, apart from getting hit by stray fire, is this place is out in the boondocks. It's another 17 kilometers away from where we work.  And while I'm starting to get the hang of driving on the roads here and sharing them with the worst drivers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, I witnessed my first instance of "Drifting" today.  If you don't know what that means, here's a YouTube video:

I love watching these clips. Anyway, back to the compound. Here's a shot of my villa. While it's a little drafty during the night, and the feral cats tend to nest in it, it does have TV and a satellite connection with lots of channels.  So, who's complaining?

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As rough as the outside might look, and again, apart from a few unsightly bullet holes, the insides have been totally refurbished.  I'm finding it quite comfortable. The only thing missing now is my wife's presence. 

Chop Soukey: A Trip to Old Riyadh

There's very little left of the old city of Riyadh. The old mud brick buildings have mostly been knocked down to make room for "modern" skyscrapers or storefronts that dominate the new city. I wanted to find some real history to investigate after reading a couple of books on Saudi Arabia. In Riyadh, that means going to  the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre in the old city. Here one will find old souks, Fort Masmak, old mosques, the King's Palace, and Chop Chop Square. I headed to the fort first, probably the most iconic historical monument still standing.

Fort Masmak. Originally built in 1865, it was captured in 1902 by Amir Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud (aka Ibn Saud), the future king of Saudi Arabia.

Fort Masmak was the original fortress that helped to protect the old city of Riyadh. The modern history of Saudi Arabia begins here, when the future king captured this fort away from another tribe to begin the consolidation and rule over the Arabian Peninsula.

A view of the alley along the old fortress wall.

Old wooden door in the fortress.

Water well inside the fort.

King Ibn Saud married many women from various families and provinces in order to solidify his rule over the kingdom. He had 45 sons. Unlike other monarchies where rule is passed down from son to son, Ibn Saud implemented a brother to brother succession. That worked fine until today. The last three living sons of Ibn Saud are in their late 80s and early 90s and the dynasty won't last but a few more years. There's thousands of "princes" in the greater Saud family. Far fewer of them are in the families of the four major lineages that have ruled Saudi Arabia since the death of Ibn Saud. The battle for succession within the House of Saud probably already is happening. Most hope that the battle doesn't spill into the streets of the kingdom. Uncertain times are coming for Saudi Arabia.

Outside the historical center are old souks where gold, jewelry, watches, carpets, oudh (incense), and traditional Arabic garb are sold.

Another shot of the souk. The metal gates above all the shop entrances are dropped down on the shops and customers inside every time there is public prayer -- five times a day. One has to time visits to the souk, the historical center, and nearly every other activity within the kingdom around prayer times. These closures account for at least three unproductive hours of commercial activity every day. During Ramadan, an entire month unproductive time needs to be factored-in. 

Back at the historical center, I visited the old mosque and Chop Chop Square. The Square, aptly named by locals, is where public executions by beheading are conducted following Friday prayers in the early afternoon. These beheadings aren't as common as they once were due to the lack of skilled, Numidian swordsmen/executioners who provide this service to the kingdom. I'm told, however, that there's a queue of condemned prisoners awaiting execution in the next week or so. 

Chop Chop Square. The mosque is located within the structure on the left.

Looking back to Fort Masmak from Chop Chop Square.

Prayers again were about to happen and I didn't want to get stranded in the souk waiting for them to end half an hour later.  I left without having the opportunity to walk through the gold and watch souk. I did, however, end up buying the traditional Arabic headscarf and iqal (the dual-corded black headband) to bring home for souvenirs.