Defining culture can be a difficult task. It is a broad term and has different meanings to different people. For example, culture can mean natural heritage and the landscape, but it is in other prescriptive; it is poetry and the performing arts. Culture has tangible and intangible aspects. It evolves over time. It is both ancient and modern. Archaeology is often associated with culture, but today so are the digital arts.
Ministry Of Culture
The Ministry of Culture symbolizes the national and international advancement of culture in the Kingdom. The Ministry will preserve the Kingdom’s historical past and promote a culturally rich future that fosters art and culture. The Ministry was created on the 2 June 2018 by Royal Order A/217, under the leadership of His Highness Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud. The Ministry has a crucial role to play in delivering Saudi Arabia’s ambitious transformation programme, Vision 2030. Our goal is to contribute towards building a vibrant, thriving, and ambitious nation.
The Ministry of Culture has three objectives for its work: promoting culture as a way of life, enabling culture to contribute to economic growth, and creating opportunities for global cultural exchange. A flourishing cultural sector will have an impact beyond its remit; it will strengthen national identity, increase employment opportunities, and improve the quality of life by promoting social cohesion, health, and happiness. Culture will also help to forge stronger links with countries around the world.
The Ministry of Culture established commissions around inpidual sub-sectors to deliver its objectives. Each will have a dedicated team helping to drive activity forward. This clear sector focus is intended to ensure faster and more efficient execution of plans and thus create a more straightforward path to attracting top talent and leadership. UNESCO splits culture into seven domains, and the Ministry's framework for defining culture takes into account UNESCO's definition and combines it with our local understanding of Saudi Arabia. This holistic approach led the Ministry to identify multiple sub-sectors, which will form the cultural space the Ministry oversees in coordination with the following commissions:
Our culture and our identity
Our national identity is embedded in cultural aspects such as the food we eat, the clothing we wear, and our centuries-old traditions and heritage. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a rich culture shaped by the persity of its people. With over 34 million population, the Kingdom has 13 regions united by the Arabic language, but each with a unique: dialect, traditions, heritage, and culinary identity. The Saudi Socicaity holds many key occuptaions which they all play an important role in promoting, sustaining, and enriching our cultural identity.
The Common Greeting
When we greet each other in Saudi Arabia, we say "As-Salamu Alaykum", which means "peace be upon you".
Saudi Arabia's people adopt social values influenced by Islamic teachings. These values include courage, generosity, hospitality, and strong family relationships. Saudis learn to embrace these customs from their families and in school at a young age. These millennia-old customs have evolved and are highly appreciated. The Saudi family, for instance, is kind and hospitable to strangers, neighbors, friends, and relatives. It is a great honor, according to Islamic teachings and Bedouin culture, to feed a traveler or anyone who shows up at your doorstep; this is especially true in Saudi Arabia. The simplest expression of hospitality is coffee – its preparation alone is an intricate cultural tradition, and it is often served in small cups along with dates and sweets. Another gesture of hospitality is the burning of incense (oud) to welcome guests.
The year's highlights are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, where it is customary to buy presents and clothes for children and visit friends and relatives. The other highlight is the Hajj season, during which millions of Muslim pilgrims worldwide come to Makkah. The Hajj season concludes with the Eid Al-Adha holiday, in which it is traditional for families to slaughter a sheep in memory of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to draw closer to God. The Kingdom observes two other annual holidays: Founding Day (February 22) and Saudi National Day (September 23).
Each Kingdom region has its own cultural identity. Each region's architecture and design are influenced by its location, climate, and topography; similarly, each region has its culinary delights and fashion trends. Historians help preserve each region's heritage and artifacts in museums, and many Saudi artists express their creativity through artwork that they aspire to share with the rest of the world.
Poetry is significant to Arab cultural life and has long been considered one of the highest expressions of literary art. In the days when the Bedouin were constantly traveling, poetry was primarily an oral tradition. People would gather around a storyteller who would spin tales of love, bravery, chivalry, war, and historical events. This was both entertainment and oral preservation of history, traditions, and social values. The Holy Qur'an took the Arab love of language and poetry to new levels. It exemplifies the perfect use of the Arabic language and is the ultimate literary model. Poetry remains popular among Saudis today. They gather at cultural events, most notably the Jenadriyah Annual Culture & Heritage Festival, and avidly read the works of established poets.
Traditional Saudi Folklore
It is very popular among Saudis. The national dance is the men's sword dance known as the "ardha". An ancient tradition with its roots in the country's central area known as the Najd, the “ardha” is a combination of singers, dancers carrying swords and a poet or narrator. Men carrying swords stand in two lines or a circle, with a poet singing in their midst, and perform the traditional dance.
Saudis prefer traditional clothes to Western styles of dress and generally wear modern adaptations of age-old designs. The loose, flowing traditional garments are practical for the Kingdom's hot, windswept climate and in keeping with the Islamic ideal of modesty. Men wear an ankle-length shirt of cotton, known as a thawb. On their heads, they wear a large square of cotton (ghutra) that is folded diagonally over a skullcap (kufiyyah) and held in place with a cord circlet (igaal). The flowing, full-length outer cloak (bisht), generally made of wool or camel hair, completes the outfit. In the old days, the bisht was also used as a blanket while traveling. Women customarily wear a black outer cloak (abaya) over their dress, which may well be modern in style. On their heads, Saudi women traditionally wear a shayla – a black, gauzy scarf wrapped around the head and secured with circlets, hats, or jewelry. Traditional dress is often richly decorated with coins, sequins, or brightly colored fabric appliqués. Some Saudi women wear veils made of sheer material. In a harsh desert environment, a thin veil protects from constant sun exposure, which can damage the skin and eyes. Today, a veil is also a sign of modesty and virtue.
Jewelry has been an essential part of Arabian dress for thousands of years. More than just personal decoration, jewelry symbolized social and economic status. For the migrant Bedouins, it was also an easily transportable form of wealth and security. Traditional jewelry was mostly made of silver, although gold was also used. Jewelers used stones such as turquoise, garnets and amber from the Kingdom's rich mines, and pearls and coral from the coastal areas. Tiny bells, coins and chains were also used for decoration. Designs primarily evolved from Islamic calligraphy and motifs, and featured intricate patterns of geometric shapes, leaves, crescents, and flowers. Today, Saudi women still receive gifts of jewelry from their husbands when they marry or have children. Unlike their ancestors, who received large amounts of bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces as part of their dowry, modern Saudi women wear jewelry in traditional and contemporary designs with diamonds and a variety of precious metals. Solid gold bracelets remain a traditional gift for girls.
As a Muslim country, alcohol is not served in Saudi Arabia, although this does not restrict the variety of beverages available there. Fresh juices like hibiscus, orange, and mango, as well as non-alcoholic cocktails are widely offered. Coffee, and all varieties of tea are commonly consumed. The foods are tied mainly to the terrain: Saudi Arabia is 95 percent desert, home to the Empty Quarter known as Ar-Rub Al-Khali, and many traditional dishes reflect the ancient trade caravans and nomadic lifestyles of desert dwellers. Basmati rice and heavy spices from the East were easy to transport on long caravans, musky dried black limes were carried from neighboring countries, and local dried dates and camel's milk were essential to the ancient diet. To this day, dates — as well as qahwa, a lightly roasted coffee ground with cardamom pods and flavored with saffron and sometimes cloves — remain vital to the culture of hospitality. In fact, both are routinely offered to guests entering a home, or even an office. Lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day, and it almost always includes a rice dish, like kabsa, considered the national dish of Saudi Arabia. Kabsa is richly spiced (every household tends to have its own favorite seasoning blend) without being piquant or having much "spicy heat". The flavorful rice is topped with roast chicken, meat or even fish, and a tomato and chili salsa is often served on the side to brighten it up, along with a simple chopped salad.
Dating back 1,400 years to the first century of Islam, calligraphy is a revered art in Saudi Arabia. Because its primary subject matter has historically been the Holy Qur'an, calligraphy is a quintessential Islamic art form. Today, calligraphy is a dominant theme in metalwork, ceramics, glass textiles, painting and sculpture throughout Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world. Inscriptions often adorn the interior walls of mosques, as well as public and private offices and homes. Saudi museums collect and display rare manuscripts. Other entities provide training in the art form and hold competitions to encourage new generations of young artists.
Architecture & Architectural heritage
Saudi Arabia has a unique architectural heritage that has developed over the centuries. Historically, building designs and materials in Saudi Arabia were dictated by the climate, geography, and resources available. For example, builders in the central areas preferred adobe for its malleability, availability, and insulating qualities. In western Saudi Arabia, stone and red brick were common, while Jeddah's builders used coral from the Red Sea. Contemporary Saudi architects are increasingly looking to these traditional building designs and Islamic concepts for inspiration. New and innovative modern structures have sprung up across the country. This combination of tradition with the ultra-modern strengthens the link between a cherished past and an innovative future. Moreover, the Kingdom's archaeological heritage is long & well-established; there are several locations in Saudi Arabia designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and these are to be cherished.
The Spiritual Architecture of Minarets
Minarets are the most visible man-made structures in Saudi Arabia. They jut from the skyline of every Saudi urban center, from the smallest village to the largest city, a testament to a Muslim society's bond with God. The reason minarets rise above all surrounding structures is to allow the call to prayer to be heard by inhabitants of all homes in a mosque's neighborhood. Traditionally, muezzins used to climb up the stairs to the top of the minaret and call the faithful to prayer five times a day. The melodic call of the muezzins could be heard rising from minarets across all Muslim cities. Nowadays, most minarets are wired for sound and the muezzin is no longer required to make the demanding walk up the minaret. Every mosque has at least one minaret, although two are more common, and larger ones have more, with the Holy Mosque in Makkah boasting 12 magnificent ones. They range in size from some 20 feet in small village mosques to 360 feet in the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. Some are simple, while others are elaborately decorated with stone and tiles.
World Heritage Sites:
Al-Hijr in the province of Al Ula
The archaeological site of Al-Hijr in the province of Al Ula is one of several places in Saudi Arabia that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans. It features well-preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades dating from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. Conservation activity like this is an example of the Kingdom's commitment to preserving natural heritage sites.
At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah
Another location that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site is At-Turaif District in Ad-Diriyah. This property was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, northwest of Riyadh. Founded in the 15th century, it bears witness to the Najdi architectural style, which is specific to the center of the Arabian Peninsula. The recent redevelopment of this district where the Ministry of Culture is currently based is an example of how Saudi Arabia can seamlessly fuse its past, present, and future.
Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah
Historic Jeddah is situated on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. From the 7th century AD, it was established as a major port for Indian Ocean trade routes, channeling goods to Mecca. It was also the gateway for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca who arrived by sea. These twin roles saw the city develop into a thriving multicultural Centre, characterized by a distinctive architectural tradition, including tower houses built in the late 19th century by the city's mercantile elites and combining Red Sea coastal coral building traditions with influences and crafts from along the trade routes.
Rock Art in the Hail Region
This property includes two components situated in a desert landscape: Jabel Umm Sinman at Jubbah and the Jabal al-Manjor and Raat at Shuwaymis. A lake once situated at the foot of the Umm Sinman hill range that has now disappeared used to be a source of fresh water for people and animals in the southern part of the Great Narfoud Desert. The ancestors of today's Arab populations have left traces of their passages in numerous petroglyphs and inscriptions on the rock face. Jabal al-Manjor and Raat form the rocky escarpment of a wadi now covered in sand. They show numerous representations of human and animal figures covering 10,000 years of history.
Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape
In the eastern Arabian Peninsula, the Al-Ahsa Oasis is a serial property comprising gardens, canals, springs, wells, and a drainage lake, as well as historical buildings, urban fabric, and archaeological sites. They represent traces of continued human settlement in the Gulf region from the Neolithic to the present, as seen from remaining historic fortresses, mosques, wells, canals, and other water management systems. With its 2.5 million date palms, it is the largest oasis in the world. Al-Ahsa is also a unique geocultural landscape and an exceptional example of human interaction with the environment.
Ḥima Cultural Area
Located in an arid, mountainous area of southwest Saudi Arabia, on one of the Arabian Peninsula's Ancient Caravan routes, Ḥimā Cultural Area contains a substantial collection of rock art images depicting hunting, fauna, flora, and lifestyles in a cultural continuity of 7,000 years. Travelers and armies camping on the site left a wealth of rock inscriptions and petroglyphs through the ages and until the late 20th century, most of which are preserved in pristine condition. Inscriptions are in different scripts, including Musnad, South-Arabian, Thamudic, Greek and Arabic. The property and its buffer zone are also rich in unexcavated archaeological resources in cairns, stone structures, interments, stone tool scatters and ancient wells. This location is at the oldest known toll station on an important ancient desert caravan route, where the wells of Bi'r Ḥima date back at least 3,000 years and still produce fresh water.
In general, activities are delivered by commissions in each sector, businesses, and artists. The Ministry of Culture will support these entities in delivering activities that are in line with the Kingdom's values and ambitions.
Saudi Arabia aims to forge cultural partnerships and joint activities with friends from other nations. This will bring the best of international culture to the Kingdom, whilst also enabling the Kingdom to export its unique and perse culture to the world. International cultural exchanges can build bridges between different nations across the world. The Ministry of Culture helped in delivering a small number of events with national significance. These include:
- G20 Summit in Riyadh: The Ministry worked closely with other entities and ensured that visitors to the G20 summit in the Kingdom were able to fully experience Saudi culture.
- Expo 2020: The Ministry also supported Saudi Arabia's contribution to Expo 2020 in Dubai. Saudi Arabia's Sky Pavilion was one of the largest pavilions at the event and showed how the Kingdom is building upon its rich heritage and traditions.
The most famous cultural event in Saudi Arabia is the Jenadriyah Annual Heritage and Cultural Festival. For two weeks a year, the festival gives over a million Saudis a glimpse into the past. First held in 1985, the festival highlights the Kingdom's commitment to keeping the traditional culture and crafts of Saudi Arabia alive. The festival includes almost every aspect of Saudi culture. Artisans, such as potters, woodworkers, and weavers, demonstrate their traditional crafts in small shops with typical palm-frond-roofed porches. Folklore troupes perform the ardha and other national dances, while singers from around the Kingdom perform traditional songs and music. Literary figures from across the country participate in poetry competitions between contemporary poets reciting historic verses. Visitors can also stroll through the past in a heritage village, which resides permanently in Jenadriyah.
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