Saudi Arabia:
the mud houses of old Riyadh

What? 
A neighbourhood of crumbling mud-brick houses right in the center of Riyadh

Why visit? 
These houses are literally crumbling. Most Saudis prefer to live in air-conditioned comfort in American style suburbs- these old traditional houses are slowly disappearing.

Where? 
Right in the center of Riyadh, in the Al-Deera area, next to the Masmak fortress and Deera Square. Map


RIYADH IS NOT particularly rich in attractions. A century ago, this was a small desert settlement of mud brick houses and a fortress. Now it's a gleaming capital of glass, steel and motorways. A bit like LA in the desert.

In the historical center of Riyadh there are a few places that attract the few people who come sightseeing here. The Masmak fortress is still there, and is worth visiting. Built of mud, it gives a good insight in traditional Arabian architecture.

Next to it is Deera Square, also known as 'Chop Chop Square'. It looks pretty, but don't visit on Friday mornings, which is when public executions take place...
However, just south of Deera Square (crossing Thumairi St) is the rest of Old Deera, a neighbourhood of mud-brick houses where no self-respecting Saudi will live these days. The buildings are literally crumbling and are used as warehouses and lived in by Saudi Arabia's immigrant workers.

It's hard to visit these houses- clearly they are not geared up to welcome foreign tourists. But you can peak around and you will see some of the same architectural elements, executed in mud, that you just saw at Masmak fortress. Of course, Masmak fortress is immaculately preserved-whereas these houses do not seem to get any care at all. 

These houses are made of mud bricks and wood, the traditional way. Without upkeep they will slowly disappear, unless the Saudis realize that this is part of their heritage....
Trucks load and unload merchandise as some of the buildings are used for storage. 
Even if the roof has gone, you can still make out some of the traditional details. 


Near Deera are several cafes where you can try that most traditional of Arab refreshments: coffee (very mild!) with dates. 


Getting there:
From Deera square, it's a short walk after crossing Thumairi St, just south of the square. 

Useful links:
Mud Houses in Riyadh
Protecting Deera's heritage

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