The capital of Saudi Arabia is Riyadh. The Red Sea port of Jeddah, Taif, which is the summer capital and the industrial cities of Jubail and Yanbu are also important cities. Saudi Arabia’s most important cities are Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed and Medina, to which the Prophet moved in 622 AD. These are the two holiest cities of Islam.
Most of Saudi Arabia is desert. The central region consists of an eroded plateau, mostly arid and hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The western region is mountainous, except for the coastal plain bordering the Red Sea. The southern region is also mountainous and receives enough rainfall to support agriculture. Finally, the eastern part of Saudi Arabia is flat and sandy, bordering on the Arabian Gulf and possessing most of the country’s vast oil resources.
Although Saudi Arabia is largely desert, the land is not barren. Plants adapted to the climate, such as cacti, acacias and tamarind trees grow while the oases support plants needing more water such as date palms and fruit trees.
The birdlife of the region is supplemented by many migrant birds, including falcons and other birds of prey which winter in Saudi Arabia.
Desert animals survive on the moisture from the sparse plant life and from the morning dew. They reduce their need for water by staying hidden during the heat of the day. Wildlife found in the desert include antelopes, gazelles, hyenas, lizards and snakes. The oryx, a type of antelope, almost exterminated in the wild by 1972 has been brought back from extinction by a captive breeding programme.
The advance of the desert, the scarcity of natural water resources, coastal pollution from oil spills and the effects of industrial development are all important environmental issues for the Kingdom today.
The old cities of Saudi Arabia were built in styles and out of materials dictated by the climate and local resources. By the Red Sea coral taken from the reefs was used while the central and eastern regions mainly used adobe.
The modern cities of Riyadh and Jeddah include dramatic buildings by the world’s leading architects. Saudi Arabia’s own architects are now using elements of traditional design in new structures as part of the country’s commitment to the revitalizing and preservation of its national heritage.
The population of Saudi Arabia was estimated at 28,161,417 in 2008. The population also includes many expatriate workers from all over the world, attracted by the needs of the oil industry.
Arabic is the official language although English is used for business.
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country. The country has a unique responsibility to the world of Islam since one of the Five Pillars of Islam or religious duties of every Muslim is the Pilgrimage, or Hajj, to the Holy City of Mecca once in his or her lifetime. This duty brings millions of visitors and the responsibility for providing for the pilgrims is a key task of Saudi Arabia and her government.
Muslims are not allowed to eat pork but other meats such as chicken are allowed; Stews are often eaten with salad, bread, rice, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables.
Bedouin coffee is unsweetened and flavoured with cardamom. Serving coffee to visitors is an age old custom derived from Bedouin hospitality traditions and an important part of Saudi etiquette.