Capital and commercial center of the country, Riyadh is located almost in the center of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an oasis about 680 km west of Medina. Its ancient walls were demolished in the mid-fifties to give rise to new buildings, now identified as a city of contrasts. The poor live in the center of Riyadh and the rich in the modern suburbs. In the middle are the traditional ‘souks’ (markets or bazaars) among them, Riyadh's most touristy souq, the Souq al-Thumairi, which trades gold, silver, carpets and ornate pottery. Overlooks the city, the modern and high Riyadh Water Tower has become a symbol of the city. Until recently, Riyadh was one of the most isolated cities and little known in the world. Extremely puritan, it is the center of Wahhabism, the fundamentalist Muslim sect founded in the eighteenth century by Abd-al Wahhab and famous for the strict observance of the original words of the Koran. Due to its high position in the central Nejd (or Néyed), Riyadh's climate is pleasant and healthy. It has an international airport and rail links with Dammam in the Persian Gulf. In the city are the Royal Palace, several mosques and the first museum in Saudi Arabia, the Archeology and Ethnology. Its population is 300,000.
Most forms of entertainment are banned in Riyadh. With few a brutal climate and sights of interest, Riyadh is only a business destination. Some museums and historical sites include the Masmak Fortress, the Murabba Palace and the Kingdom Centre.
Riyadh occupies a surface of 1,554 km ². The city is divided into 17 municipalities. It's in a very arid area with little rainfall. Therefore, in the vicinity there are 5 swamps, 96 reservoirs and 467 miles of aqueducts that bring water from desalination plants on the Persian Gulf.
In first Islamic era, the place was called Hajar. It was on the confluence of several rivers (wadis today). Riyadh was famous for its gardens. Its name derives from the Arabic plural rowdhah (place of gardens), restricted to the name of the city in which prevailed though the name was later extended the entire city.
In the late eighteenth century, Riyadh was part of the First Saudi State, with its capital in Diriyah. Following the destruction of this by the Ottomans in 1818, the capital moved to Riyadh.
Riyadh remained the capital after the establishment of present state in 1932. However, the diplomatic capital remained Jeddah until 1982.