The birthplace and spiritual home of Islam, Saudi Arabia is as rich in attractions as it is in stirring symbolism. It is also one of the most difficult places on earth to visit.
For those who do get in, rock-hewn Madain Saleh is Arabia’s greatest treasure. Other wonders abound, from the echoes of TE Lawrence along the Hejaz Railway to the mudbrick ruins of Dir’aiyah. Jeddah, gateway to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, has an enchanting old city made of coral, while the Red Sea coast has world-class diving. Elsewhere, this is a land of astonishing natural beauty, particularly the plunging landscapes of the Asir Mountains in the Kingdom’s southwest.
Best of all, there are few places left that can be said to represent the last frontier of tourism. Whether you’re an expat or a pilgrim, Saudi Arabia is one of them.
Saudi Arabia officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the largest Arab state in Western Asia by land area (approximately 2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi)), constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest geographically in the Arab world. It is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to the east, Oman to the southeast, and Yemen in the south. It is the only nation with both a Red Sea coast and a Persian Gulf coast, and most of its terrain consists of arid inhospitable desert or barren landforms.
The area of modern-day Saudi Arabia formerly consisted of four distinct regions: Hejaz, Najd, and parts of Eastern Arabia (Al-Ahsa) and Southern Arabia (‘Asir). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud. He united the four regions into a single state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture of Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud. The country has since been an absolute monarchy governed along Islamic lines. Wahhabi Islam has been called “the predominant feature of Saudi culture”. Saudi Arabia is sometimes called “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca), and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam. The Kingdom has a total population of 28.7 million, of which 20 million are Saudi nationals and 8 million are foreigners.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil producer and largest exporter, and controls the world’s second largest hydrocarbon reserves. Backed by its fossil fuels, the kingdom is categorized as a high income economy with a high Human Development Index and is the only Arab country to be part of the G-20 major economies