A walk around the DQ

Many visitors to Riyadh, as well as the native Najdis themselves, believe that it really is too hot to walk around in the open for any length of time…. which is a pity, because one of the most pleasant experiences – certainly in the cooler months – is to wander around many of the open spaces of the Diplomatic Quarters.

The DQ, as it is known, was first conceptualised in 1975 when the decision was made to relocate the foreign embassies to the Saudi capital from Jeddah.

Since Riyadh did not have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate this massive influx, 1,600 acres of land were earmarked for the construction of a diplomatic village on the western outskirts of the city.

A German consortium, led by Speerplan Regional GmbH of Frankfurt, was responsible for its planning, with room for up to 120 embassies, 40 public bodies and 30,000 people, though an excess of around 30 per cent of plots was intentionally planned in order to allow for future flexibility.

A main spine of two boulevards contains the commercial area, offices, governmental services and the main Friday mosque.

The majority of the embassies are located along this spine whilst the main residential areas can be found towards the edges of the DQ.

But apart from the buildings themselves – many of which have won architectural awards for their creativity and stunning designs – the DQ’s landscaping by another German firm, Bodeker, Boyer and Wagenfeld, has been internationally acclaimed.

Incorporating elements from the natural environment, including the edge of Wadi Hannifah itself, it boasts a 30 kilometre path around the entire area, with shaded walkways, exercise stations, a jogging track and various rest areas.

From this pathway you can admire not only the embassies themselves, but 14 mosques, a 15-building international school used by over 1,000 pupils, a giant sports club and – on the very edge of Wadi Hannifah – the magnificent Tuwaiq Palace which blends huge tent-like structures with the wall of the escarpment and is used for receptions, exhibitions and cultural gatherings.

An extra bonus within the DQ has to be the assortment of parks that are frequented by the residents of the DQ itself, but which are largely unknown by other Riyadh residents.

None of them are signposted, but two of my favourites are Al Khozama, on the north western edge of the DQ near the Brazilian residential buildings, and Al Ahmeen, a short walk from the Pakistani Embassy nearer the centre.

Among the outstanding features are the shaded walkways and screened seating areas. Pergolas are used frequently to cast patterns of shade and fountains, water channels, and scented flowers—particularly jasmine—create an atmosphere of repose. The choice of indigenous plants, gathered from seed in the desert and grown for planting, and the use of natural building materials are unique to the project.

Bird life attracted to this desert idyll is many and varied, including yellow-vented bulbuls, mynahs, bee-eaters, bitterns and of course the ever present palm doves.

The main entrance to the DQ lies on the Makkah Road, almost where it meets Orouba Road, just to the west of the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital.

Main DQ entrance: 24 41.4’ N; 46 37.9’ E

Security is tight here, and you will almost certainly be asked to produce your passport or iqama to get in.

You can join the path at many different places round the DQ, but be aware that because of security concerns you may be asked not to walk along parts of the exposed pathway that borders the Makkah Road itself. Also, for obvious reasons, the security patrols discourage photography, so you should be quite circumspect if intending to take pictures.

Al Khozama:
24 41.14’ N; 46 37.35’ E

Al Ahmeen:
24 40.68’ N; 46 37.17’ E

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