Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has been chosen as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World for the Year 2000. Throughout the year, conferences, seminars and other events will be held in Riyadh, attracting thousands of scholars, literary personalities and cultural figures from around the Kingdom and the Arab world.
Located in the dry, desert heartland of central Saudi Arabia, Riyadh derives its name from the Arabic word for garden. Throughout most of a history stretching back two millenia, Riyadh was no more than a green oasis known for its dates, fruits and vegetables. When King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, his capital covered an area of about one square mile with 30,000 inhabitants. Within three decades, it had grown more than ten fold in size and the population had increased to 200,000. As the Kingdom's socio-economic development picked up pace, Riyadh's growth accelerated. By 1988, it covered 200 square miles and had 1.5 million inhabitants. The latest studies indicate that the city covered more than 600 square miles of land and housed 3.4 million people in September 1999, and the population is projected to reach 4.4 million by the year 2006.
A blend of the old and the new, contemporary Riyadh has maintained its rich heritage while embracing change. Historic sites such as the Masmak Fortress and the Souq (market) exist side-by-side with super highways, modern buildings, shopping malls and industrial facilities. Museums, libraries, universities and other scientific and cultural institutions combine to make Riyadh uniquely suited to preserve and promote the values and traditions that Saudi Arabia treasures as it seeks to further modernize, diversify and expand its economic base in the new millennium.