Souq Al Adl

One of Riyadh’s more traditional and charming souqs can be found in the Hokm Palace area, just along the road from the clock tower near Al Musmak fortress and a stone’s throw from the Dirrah Gold Souq backing on to Ath Thamairy Street.

As you walk from the clock tower toward the Thumairi Gate, you will pass shops selling aghals (the double rings worn to hold a ghutra or shammal in place) and bashet (the coverall jacket worn by men); and to the right are narrow alleyways that contain an incense souq and an antique souq.

The incense souq contains stalls selling oudh and bakhoor, frankincense and myrrh – natural ingredients to bring out that classic, pleasant scent of Arabia in your home or office!

The wood referred to as oudh is Aquilaria agallocha and is also known as Aloes wood, Agarwood and Eaglewood. The scent that most are familiar with is obtained only after this tree has been infected with a fungal infection. Non-infected trees do not produce the highly fragrant oil or wood but the infected tree must be at least 50 years old to produce the oil.

Saudis burn oudh, which is more expensive than gold, in hand-crafted mabakhir (incense burners) as a gesture of hospitality and respect for guests in their home. It is also used as part of the celebrations following the holy month of Ramadan when some Saudi families burn oudh each night after iftar - breaking their fast and washing - and before going to the mosque to perform the evening prayer.

Current prices range from SR10,000 up to SR50,000 per kilo for the more rare varieties, and Saudi Arabia is the biggest importer in the Gulf, with nearly 500 tons sold annually.

Raw oudh – the wood – is used as incense. The oil, called dahn al-oudh, is used as perfume. The best quality oudh wood breaks easily and contains water. This variety will give off the best fragrance when burned and can be recognised by the bubbles that appear. When burned over hot charcoal, solid oudh releases a stronger, but pleasing fragrance.

Frankincense oil is distilled from the gum resin that oozes from incisions made in the bark of the trees. The oil is spicy, balsamic, green-lemon-like and peppery and is used to modify the sweetness of citrus oils such as orange and bergamot. It is also the base for incense-type perfumes used in masculine scents.

Walk through the incense souq and you will find another must-visit souq dedicated to antiques.

Some of these so-called antiques are, of course, nothing of the sort; they are simply goods churned out in Pakistan and Afghanistan for gullible tourists. But amongst them all are some lovely items that make perfect presents to take back home. Look out for henna pots which have multiple compartments and are normally made of brass; or silverware that will fetch keen prices in the west; or even more traditional items such as coffee pots, camel rugs, cooking utensils and traditional jewellery.

There’s plenty of junk around, but look carefully and you might come across something that really catches the eye.

1 comment: