The National Museum of Riyadh, designed by the Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama, was inaugurated in 1999. It is located on the grounds of the Murabba Palace (1936/37), that was restored in the late 1990s and turned into the ‘King Abdulaziz Historical Centre’. The grounds comprise, besides the large museum, several big parks, an archive cum research library, a small exhibition space with some of the cars that the King owned, a mosque, other buildings, a big plaza for public activities and a leisure area.
The whole museum is sometimes open only to families, so make sure you call the museum before your visit to avoid being denied access. When I visited, the opening times were in the morning from 10 to 13.00 and from 16.00 to 20.00 in the afternoon, but this may vary. Plan 1.30 to 2 hours to visit the museum and another hour to stroll through the parks and other buildings of the center. I didn’t find a place to eat there.
The collection has several highlights. The first part, ‘Man and the Universe’, brings together the origin of the Earth and life on it with the Quran. Next to the impressive multi-media displays one will find the relevant surahs. One finds references to the Quran in many other parts of the museum, sometimes even to justify the museum’s interest in non-Islamic subjects. There is thus a large section on the jahiliyya period (the ‘era of ignorance’ before the advent of Islam) with the reconstruction of temples and daily life in that period.
The second part of the museum is dedicated to the history of Islam in the Arabian peninsula, the first and second Saudi kingdoms, and the unification of Saudi Arabia in the first decades of the 20th century. A final section is about Mecca and the Hajj. This part of the museum is very informative, although one may object that it is ideologically slanted towards the current ruling family.
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