A Saudi hospitality project will allow visitors to walk in the footsteps of the royal family, in palaces steeped in history
MAKKAH/RIYADH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced the launch of the Boutique Group, which plans to turn a number of historically and culturally significant palaces in Saudi Arabia into ultra-luxury hotels.
The move is part of efforts to showcase the Kingdom’s rich heritage and vibrant culture to domestic and foreign visitors, as well as the hospitality for which the country is renowned. The first phase of the project focuses on the development of three historic destinations: Al-Hamra Palace in Jeddah, Tuwaiq Palace and Red Palace in Riyadh.
Al Hamra Palace
Al-Hamra Palace is one of the most historically significant palaces of the modern era, according to Saleh Al-Misnad Al-Tamimi, a contemporary Saudi history researcher.
Inspired by Andalusian culture and style, it was built during the reign of King Saud bin Abdulaziz for Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz but was not intended to host official functions and conferences.
The palace, located north of the US embassy, was relatively small when it was built in the late 1950s, Al-Tamimi told Arab News. It was later expanded and transformed into a place to receive royal guests and hold official meetings.
The prince had an office on the south side of the building, directly overlooking the palace mosque, according to Al-Tamimi. Palace workers would hear requests and complaints from citizens, then relay them to the royal in his office, near reception.
The palace hosted many important events, Al-Tamimi said, including the first conference of foreign ministers of Islamic countries in March 1970, which resulted in the formation of the General Secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, now known as the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Cooperation.
Among the many foreign leaders and heads of state who met King Faisal at the palace were US President Richard Nixon, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Lebanese President Suleiman Frangieh and Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeiry. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a rare exception, who was instead received at the royal court at Khuzam Palace.
Al-Hamra Palace was built by the Arab Engineering Company, which had built many similar structures in Jeddah, including those belonging to Prince Nawaf bin Abdulaziz and politician, economist and poet Mohammed Surur Sabban.
After its development by Boutique Group, Al-Hamra Palace will have 77 rooms, including 33 luxury suites and 44 luxury villas.
Mohammed H. Al-Ruwaili, of the Al-Sudairy Cultural Center in Jouf, described the launch of the Boutique Group as a civilizational, historical and cultural investment leap that will open up Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage and treasures to the world. . and enjoy.
He said the project aims to capitalize on the aspect of Saudi heritage represented by the luxurious palaces nestled in nature and once owned by kings and princes, turning them into tourist attractions that visitors from all over the world can enjoy. .
With their eye-catching courtyards, gardens and floors, they will be transformed into world-class luxury hotels with ornate interior decorations and unprecedented architectural designs, he told Arab News.
“I think we are on the verge of making a significant and qualitative shift in investing and introducing valuable historical and cultural destinations in our country,” Al-Ruwaili said, referring to the first phase of the Boutique group project.
“The announcement (by the Crown Prince) is historic as it will likely be followed by milestones and milestones that Saudi citizens will benefit from.”
Abdullah Almuneef, dean of the faculty of tourism and antiquities at King Saud University, also welcomed the announcement, saying the project will ensure the restoration and preservation of historic sites by turning them into elite tourist destinations.
“It is an important experience for the Kingdom, similar to that in Europe, where many famous palaces have benefited from restoration and preservation projects,” he said.
The red palace
King Abdulaziz ordered the construction of the Red Palace in Riyadh in 1942 to serve as the residence of his son, Saud, who was then the crown prince. It was also used to receive official guests.
After King Saud moved to his Nasiriyah Palace in 1956, the Red Palace became the seat of the Council of Ministers during the reigns of King Faisal, King Khalid and King Fahd, before becoming the seat of the Committee of Grievances .
It was called the Red Palace because of the distinctive color of its exterior. Among the notable guests hosted within its walls were Egyptian Presidents Nasser and Sadat, Syrian President Shukri Al-Quwatli, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and King Talal bin Abdullah of Jordan.
The palace consists of 16 suites and rooms equipped with air conditioning and ceiling fans, as well as a system that allows sunlight to illuminate the interior of the palace. After the redevelopment, the palace will have 71 rooms, including 46 luxury suites and 25 luxurious guest rooms.
Tuwaiq Palace is located in the diplomatic district of Riyadh, occupying an area of approximately 24,000 square meters. Designed in 1981 and completed in 1985, it received the Aga Khan International Award for Architecture in 1998.
Today, the palace is a center for cultural activities, conferences, seminars, specialized exhibitions and social activities. It also hosts workshops, festivals, meetings and training events.
It comprises several halls, public facilities and reception areas behind a long undulating wall clad in Riyadh stone, a beige-colored limestone quarried in Saudi Arabia.
It also has a three-story guest house overlooking the valley, with four suites and 25 rooms.
There are several reception halls and amphitheatres, all equipped with presentation and translation facilities, in addition to dining halls and other hospitality services.
Three distinctive white canopies span the main halls, whose walls of glass offer a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding valley, gardens and scenic outdoor pathways. After redevelopment, the palace will feature 96 rooms, including 40 luxury suites and 56 luxury villas.
Although not currently included in the redevelopment plan, Khuzam Palace has great potential to become a boutique hotel. Located in Al-Nazla Al-Yamaniya, in the southeast of historic Jeddah, the palace was named after the Khuzam tulips that grow abundantly on its grounds. Construction began in 1928 and was completed in 1932.
“The palace was built of stone bricks and its roof was constructed of Javanese timber,” Al-Tamimi said. “About three years later, the Egyptian National Company built reinforced concrete annexes there, including the palace that King Abdulaziz used to receive kings, heads of state, ministers, ambassadors and high officials.”
According to Al-Tamimi, Khuzam Palace was where the concession agreement allowing oil exploration was signed between the Saudi government, represented by Finance Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Suleiman, and Standard Oil of California, represented by Lloyd Hamilton, May 29, 1933. .
The palace also hosted the signing ceremonies of a border agreement with Kuwait and a reciprocal memorandum with Egypt regarding construction projects, according to Al-Tamimi. Other notable events that took place there include the renewal of the Jeddah Treaty with the British government in 1943, the signing of the Dhahran Airfield Agreement with the United States, a trade agreement with Syria and a friendship treaty with Pakistan.
The palace’s importance throughout the kingdom’s history has been such that its iconic main gates were once featured on Saudi banknotes.
Al-Saqqaf Palace, also known as Al-Bayyadiyah Royal Palace, is located in the holy city of Makkah. It should be included in the next phase of the Boutique Group project, as it is currently undergoing restoration work.
“The palace is a high beacon of architectural art and one of the oldest archaeological buildings,” Makkah history researcher Samir Ahmed Barqa told Arab News.
“It represents heritage architectural designs and bears the Islamic architectural character as it contains a lot of Islamic arts and decorations. He has also witnessed many high-profile occasions throughout a royal era, whose roots stretch to the first Saudi state.
The site consists of two older palaces, Al-Bayyadiyah Al-Shamali and Al-Bayyadiyah Al-Janoubi, which were combined with a newer palace built by King Abdulaziz, who lived there from 1924.
“The palace became the seat of government when the founding king came to Makkah,” Barqa said. “After that, the palace was used as the headquarters for King Abdulaziz’s deputy in Hejaz, his son Prince Faisal, and later it was used as the headquarters of the Muslim World League, and then as the headquarters of Makkah Police.”
King Abdulaziz ordered the construction of several halls to accommodate visiting presidents, kings and other dignitaries, as well as heads of Hajj missions. The palace became the seat of the Royal Court in 1953, then was occupied by a number of government departments between 1960 and 1982.
It has over 100 rooms, including a central meeting room. The main entrance stands out for its exquisite grandeur.
If included in the boutique project, it would undoubtedly become an important attraction for religious tourists visiting Makkah and captivated by the heritage of the Kingdom.