Saudi Arabia is an Arab country in Western Asia. Saudi Arabia extends from the Red Sea in the west to the Arabian Gulf in the east. It is bordered in the north by Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait, by Yemen and Oman in the south and in the east by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain.
We know Saudi Arabia for the oil it produces and some strict laws it imposes. The world celebrated when the women of the country were allowed to drive. But there is so much more to learn about this wealthy nation.
Interesting facts about Saudi Arabia
1. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to the religion’s holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina. Performing Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires traveling to Mecca. Approximately two million people make the trip annually.
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state and Non-Muslims are not given Saudi citizenship. The country bans any type of public religious worship from anyone that is not Muslim. However people are free to practice their religion in private.
2. Saudi Arabia remains an absolute monarchy. Ibn Saud is considered the father of the Saudi nation. He united the four regions into a single state and in 1932, after proclaiming independence for Saudi Arabia, he crowned himself king. He is one of the few people in history to have a country named after him. Such swag!
The country has been ruled by the Al Saud family since then and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is the current king. He is also the third richest monarch in the world with a net worth of $18 billion.
3. The Arabian Peninsula is the world’s largest peninsula.
4. Most of us have embarrassing and funny drunk stories. How many times have you sat with your friends telling about the time when you drunk dialed your ex or slept on the footpath? Whatever your story is, it can’t beat the drunk story of Winston Churchill. In 1921, Churchill was determining the boundaries between Saudi Arabia and Jordan after having a generous amount of brandy. Legend says that he hiccupped and his hand slipped creating a random triangle shape and in result Saudi Arabia got several thousand square kilometers of Jordanian land. This tract of land has become known as “Winston’s Hiccup.”
5. The country is constructing the tallest building in the world. Once completed, the Jeddah tower will be the world’s first 1 km (3281 ft) high building.
6. Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the world without a river. Most of the fresh water here comes from desalinization plants or underground reservoirs.
7. Saudi Arabia is mostly a desert. Ninety-five percent of the country is classified as a desert or semi-desert. The Rub Al-Khali, in the southern part of the country, is the largest sand desert in the world.
8. So it’s definitely surprising for many people that the country imports camel and sand from Australia. The sand found in Saudi’s deserts is not suitable for activities like construction and glass making. Therefore the country has to buy sand.
Camels are a huge part of the diet here and due to the shortage of camels Saudi Arabia relies on importing them mostly from Australia.
9. Camels are so popular that the country has the largest camel market in Riyadh where about 100 camels are sold every day.
10. The youth here does offroading with a twist. Sidewalk Skiing is a craze in the country in which the driver tilts the car and balances on its side while the car is in motion. And one or more people stand on top of the moving vehicle. It is crazier than you think. Look at the picture below.
11. Capital punishment is not very rare in Saudi Arabia. Last year (2019) the country executed 184 people breaking its own record. Homosexuality is punishable by death. Other crimes that attract death penalty are murder, rape, armed robbery, drug use, adultery, insulting Islam, insulting the Royal family, and witchcraft.
12. Witchcraft is such a serious crime that the country has banned the Harry Potter books. Are you telling me there are no potterheads in Saudi Arabia? I feel for you guys.
13. Saudi Arabia is the world’s most gender segregated nation. In 2015, it became the last nation to allow women to vote. There are many changes made by the current king allowing women to drive and travel without a male guardian. Still it will be a long time before the women here gets their rights. The women in the country have to seek permission from their male guardians before making most of the decisions like opening a bank account, lodging a police complaint or sometimes even going to school. They have to abide by a strict dress code and things like interacting with men or playing sports seems like such a distant dream.
14. Oil was first discovered here in 1938 and it changed everything for Saudi Arabia. The country has second largest reserves of oil (after Venezuela) and almost half of the country’s GDP comes from oil. The Ghawar oil field in the Eastern part of the country is the largest conventional oil field in the world with estimated reserves that could fill up 4,770,897 Olympic swimming pools. I don’t think anyone would like to swim in oil though.
15. Immigrants make up more than 30% of the total Saudi population. The country depends highly on the labor force from Southeast Asia and Africa. About eighty percent of the Saudi Arabian labor force is non-national.
16. Bedouins or desert dwellers are a group of nomadic Arab people who are found in the desert of Saudi Arabia. The community typically herds animals including goats and camels. They are fiercely loyal to their family and tribe and refuse to surrender to outside authority.
17. The country has a religious force called the Mutaween. Its full name is the “Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and for the Prevention of Vice.” The volunteers patrol public places and enforce strict rules of clothing, segregation between the sexes, and daily prayer attendance.
18. In 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Saudi, first Arab, and first Muslim to travel in space when he rode aboard the U.S. space shuttle Discovery. So many records in one day!
Trip leader Sakshi’s Recommendations if you are visiting Saudi Arabia:
Edge of the World: Jebel Fihrayn, better known as the Edge of the World, is a desert trek and a popular tourist destination near Riyadh. There are a number of trails to choose from; each with a different difficulty level. And once on the top, you will be welcomed by a breathtaking view. The massive cliffs drop off to reveal a valley which stretches out towards a seemingly infinite horizon. Below, the valley floor is in fact an old sea bed riddled with coral fossils, having dried up 150 million years ago.
Mada’in Saleh: The lost city of Mada’in Saleh is very similar to Petra, but sadly not many people know about it. Mada’in Saleh was the Nabatean’s second city which was later captured by the Romans. What survives today is a remarkably well preserved city, largely made up of 131 rock-carved tombs. And you get the chance to explore it.
Al Ahsa Oasis: When in the desert, you must visit an oasis. It’s one of the oldest settlements on the Arabian Peninsula. And While 95% of Saudi Arabia is desert, Al-Ahsa bubbles with 150 natural springs. You will experience culture and diversity of the country here.