Masmak Fortress

Historic Site in Riyadh

Image by Tim White Getty Images

It’s a scene out of the movies: a big fortress representing an empire. Surrounded by sand, this squat fortification was built around 1865 and was the site of Ibn Saud’s daring 1902 raid, during which a spear was hurled at the main entrance door with such force that the head still lodges in the doorway. Highlights among the exhibits include maps and a fascinating range of photographs of Saudi dating from 1912 to 1937 in galleries converted from diwans (living rooms).

The roofs are covered with painted palm-tree, taramic and ethel wood and exude an old-world charm that evokes an Arabian painting. Inside, the information panels and short, chest-thumping films on the storming of the fortress and the ‘reunification’ of Saudi Arabia are reverential towards the Al Sauds but worth watching nonetheless.