Nasiriyah Gate

Mention the Nasiriyah Gate to many Saudis and the chances are you will receive a shrug of the shoulders, an embarrassed look and an apology that they have absolutely no idea what it is or why it is there.

Likewise, details on the internet are few and far between. Yet in its day this was one of the most prominent archways in Riyadh.

It was actually the entrance to a palace complex built for King Saud when he was still Crown Prince (he also had another ‘town’ palace called Al Hamra).

The first palace was built here in 1951 on a garden plot about three kilometres outside the existing city. Two storeys high, it was built of concrete and set in 100 acres of landscaped gardens, which were lit at night time by coloured light bulbs. It was at this palace that Prince Saud – who became King Saud in 1953 – entertained his guests on the lavish scale with which he became renowned.

The building of the palace prompted the start of an elaborate road building programme – the first to be witnessed in Riyadh – and even now the road linking this palace with the Murabba Palace bears King Saud’s name.

By 1956, the first palace at Nasiriyah had already been knocked down and a newer palace built in its stead into which King Saud moved from his Al Hamra residence.

The outside walls of the palace complex were bright pink in colour and reports of the time indicate that there was a vast network of fountains and lush greenery, linked by attractive polished stone walkways – in very great contrast to much of the rest of Riyadh.

The Nasiriyah Palace complex was demolished at some time in the 1960s and only the gate remains to this day, fenced off and all but ignored by the traffic that rushes past it round the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the other side of the road.

In a cutting below the gate itself is an interchange of roads whose retaining walls are well decorated with tree and shrub planting.

Behind the gate itself there is an area which has been laid out with fountains, though I have only ever once seen them working. Perhaps they are also a last remnant of King Saud’s palace – the palace that Riyadh’s citizens have all but forgotten.

Getting to the Nasiriyah Gate is relatively simple. Drive southbound down Takassusi Street (the street running parallel with King Fahd Highway on its west side), and cross over the Makkah-Khureis Road.

On your right hand side you will pass the King Faisal Specialist Hospital (built in 1974). Go through the underpass and shortly on your right hand side are two roads that go down into the cutting below the Nasiriyah Gate.

The next turn takes you past the Gate itself.

Look across the road and you will see one of the more attractive ministry buildings – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, built in 1984 by Henning Larsen.

Nasiriyah Gate: 24 38.84’ N, 46 41.44’ E

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