Newly-appointed Secretary-General of the Supreme Commission for Tourism Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdul Aziz gave a lecture entitled 'Riyadh: Arab Cultural Capital for 2000 and its Urban Heritage' at the Information Center of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London yesterday. Attending the event were Arab and British personalities and members of the diplomatic corps as well as the general public. Introducing Prince Sultan, Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi praised his achievements, in the study of ancient architecture as well as in his experiences as an astronaut.
In his speech, Prince Sultan said that the City of Riyadh came into prominence following its retaking in 1902 by then-Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud. Pointing to the old historical photographs on display, he referred to the characteristic adobe buildings of the time, and described how the city has developed over the past century from a small, thinly-populated walled enclave to a sprawling modern city of some four million inhabitants. Riyadh, he said, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.
Stressing that the cultural heritage has been preserved, while not impeding the path of progress, Prince Sultan declared himself "a contemporary man who is accustomed to dealing with the most sophisticated technology". Saudi Arabia, he said, "believes in change for the sake of progress, and not for the sake of change". He recalled observing from the space shuttle how small the world is, and reflected on how important is the preservation of architectural treasures "which are a link between the past and the present".
Prince Sultan described Riyadh's architectural heritage as deriving from the environment as well as Islam and social traditions, citing a hadith that the Prophet Muhammad forbade the cutting down of trees for use in war. He went on to praise the Kingdom's ongoing program preserving ancient mosques, and the authentic restoration of Dirayya [the original capital of the Saudi State].