The National Museum in Riyadh is worth a visit if you’re looking for something quiet, yet educational, to do of an afternoon. Not just any afternoon though, you have to find the right afternoon for women and families (or men if you’re one of those).
One day, after visiting the fish market, Nr Noor kindly offered to take a little detour to ask the security guys charged with protecting Saudi’s historical artifacts what the opening times were for the Riyadh Museum, because it’s close by.
Phoning to determine this information is an option but, one thing I have learned about living in Saudi is the difficulty getting anyone from any service or organisation to answer the phone and, if they do (lucky you), then you have to hope they speak English. Even the pigeon variety will do. If I attempt arabic, they think I speak arabic, and a plethora (I knew I could use that word somewhere one day) of Arabic hits me in return. Ummm. Laa afham. (I don’t understand)….
After ascertaining opening hours, we duly undertook our visit to the Riyadh National Museum the next afternoon.
We caught a taxi out. If it’s possible to be dropped right at the front door, our taxi driver (not Mr Noor this time, he had an airport trip. More moolah in an airport trip) wasn’t aware of it. We had a bit of a walk and a minor wrong turn before getting to the entrance which has a very nice water feature out front. We went quite early – almost right on opening time for families, so there weren’t a lot of people about.
Once inside, the Museum is very quiet – almost reverent. It was like being at the library – Shhhhh! Maybe that’s because it was early. We were directed to the start of the displays, after paying 10 Riyals each for the pleasure (I think they put the price down because I was with Kiri and a young, pretty face has that effect in this country) and spent the next hour or so lost in Saudi Arabian history.
There’s a Universe and Creation gallery first up, which is interesting if you like that sort of thing. I recall there was a bit of reading to do and an audio/video to listen to. I didn’t do it so I’m afraid I won’t be imparting any information to you on how good or otherwise it was at this point.
The section I did like was about the various civilisations that have made the Saudi Peninsula their home over the eons. It changed hands a lot. All that battling helps explain the current penchant for walled in homes – other than the need to keep the ladies out of harms view.
Learning about the development, and sometimes demise, of cities was quite interesting. I didn’t mind reading that information and there were a few artifacts to look at along the way to help paint a nice picture of Saudi life back then.
As expected there is a whole segment devoted to the history of Islam and the Prophet. I admit to skipping through that, just a bit.
There’s also an area that deals with Saudi and its first and second states – the liaisons, battles, banishments and comebacks as well as the discovery of oil.
There were a couple of other galleries that we did’t go into – I believe they were about Hajj and the Grand Mosque. Our interest factor wasn’t really up high enough to go through there on this particular day. Maybe another time…
The Museum itself is nice with wide walking areas, relevant displays and the whole set up takes you on a historic journey from the beginning of time (creation) to the current King. It’s beautifully air conditioned – we went during the heat of summer and did appreciate the coolness. I did find the place a little dark, literally. Sure the lighting (or lack of) adds an air of mystique to the history and assists to show off the exhibits, I just found it too shadowy all the way round. But don’t let this put you off going should you get the chance – I’m sure there is a large percentage of people on this planet for whom eyesight issues in dimmed museums is not an issue. And OK, fear of being left alone in a dark place, especially in Saudi, doesn’t help matters either.
Ending the day with a coffee would have been nice, but there isn’t a coffee shop on site. At least, we didn’t find one. So, either pack a snack and take it along – there is plenty of room outside for a picnic and when we came out there were lots of locals taking advantage of the open spaces – or take a few dollars, there is a snack stand outside (no coffee though).
If you don’t know anything about the history of Islam or Saudi then I highly recommend a visit to the Riyadh National Museum as a pleasant, fast track way to finding out.
Map To Riyadh National Museum