Sunday, 6 October 2013

Tuwaiq Palace

The Tuwaiq Palace sits regally and, to my mind, somewhat lonely, near the edge of the Diplomatic Quarter overlooking Wadi Hanifah.  A walking path crosses the road near it's front gate and I have often wondered what sits beneath the huge white sails adorning the external walls.  Well, this week, I found out.

Haya Tours offers a number of inner city excursions for those wishing to get up close and personal with the city of Riyadh, and a new addition to the season's itinerary was a tour of Tuwaiq Palace.  Twenty six ladies and a couple of blokes gathered at our meeting point, and were quickly whisked down the highway to the DQ.  Finding the entrance to the Palace wasn't quite so straight forward as the DQ, for the uninitiated, can be a confusion of curved, criss-crossed, similar looking streets with no identifiable landmarks to highlight the way.

Once parked at the Palace we were told abaya's need not be worn.  Oh, how quickly we western women shed that all covering garment - except for the ones who weren't wearing anything substantial underneath, that is.

We were met by a couple of thobed gentlemen who would be our guides. Tuwaiq Palace has a reputation of being something of an architectural wonder and, if I was an architect I might have been able to appreciate the finer details of construction.  However, only ever having built a chook house out of corrogated iron, the finer details, though impressive, were lost on me, so, I simply enjoyed soaking in the ambiance.

The palace is, basically, a huge, curved stone wall, hollow in the center for hallways and rooms we humans require for comfort, with a total of five rather large tent like structures clinging to its outer surface - three being the large white ones visible from a distance.

The concept of the Palace derives from the shape of the desert rose, hence its curved form, as well as reflecting two symbols of Saudi's architectural heritage, the fortress and the desert tent.  What makes it an architectural wonder is not only the wall but also that fact that, back in the day when the palace was built, there wasn't the same level of technology as today, so getting the details right took some effort and major calculations.

Protected in the center of the serpent like wall is a beautiful garden, and it's here that we started our tour beneath a pavilion of hand painted glass, with a cooling pool at its center.  After meeting our guides and hearing an explanation of the pavilion and the Palace we headed indoors.

The foyer to the palace is one of the smaller tents, though you wouldn't know it unless you were paying attention to proceedings.  It's a very roomy entrance with the stone wall winding through the rear looking cool, strong, pale and quite beautiful in the natural light coming through the windows above.

We were shown through two of the large white tent structures.  One is a reception hall, the other a three leveled dining hall that can seat up to 300, with a small stream running through its base and a number of smaller, private conference rooms off to the side.  There is a lot of room beneath these tents and also a lot of natural light due to the white ceiling and the huge glass panels spanning the entire outer perimeter.

The other smaller tent is another large hall and, like the foyer, the ceiling is a mass of timber boards shaped so that they curve away from the glass windows up into the ever present wall.

Our tour took us outdoors where we wandered past beautiful flowering bougainvilleas, adding a splash of color to the swimming pool that was undergoing some maintenance and a couple of tennis and basketball courts.

The original purpose for the Palace was to be a sports club for the residents of the Diplomatic Quarter.  There would be swimming pools, a bowing alley, tennis, basketball and squash courts and a gymnasium.  However, it didn't work very well as a sports center, so is now used more as a conference or wedding reception center, with guest rooms available for diplomats and royalty.

One of the other features of Tuwaiq Palace is the walkway that runs the entire length of the wall.  There are some lovely views from the walkway, either over the wadi, out toward the city or down into the Palace gardens.  From here it's easy to see the tail of the wall curve around another set of swimming pools, providing privacy from the rest of the garden.

We ended our morning tour of Tuwaiq Palace where we started, seated under the garden pavilion drinking qahwah, munching on dates, discussing all those things women talk about when on tour together.  All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a Saudi Arabian morning and many thanks to Salwa, from Haya Tour, for arranging it and also to the Palace staff for looking us.

Ka Kite,

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