Capital | Riyadh
Population | 26,131,703 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 1,960,582 SQ KM
Official Language | Arabic
Holidays | Unification of the Kingdom, 23 September (1932)
Currency | Riyal (SAR)
Time Zone | UTC +3
Best Time to Visit | November to February
Connecting with the Culture | Exploring the spectacular rock tombs of Medain Salah. Witnessing the sword dance ardha. Sculpture-spotting along Jeddah’s cornice. Judging the camel beauty contest near Hafar al Batin. Sighting dugongs in the Red Sea around the Farasan islands. Admiring rock art around Najran. Visiting the ancient Masmak Fortress in Riyadh.
Read | Sandstorms, Days and Nights in Arabia, peter Theroux’s memoir of the Middle East, or the delightful coffee- table book The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Listen | to Arabian Masters, featuring Umm Kolthum, Fairouz, Adel Halim Hafez, and other Arabic singers and musicians.
Watch | Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean’s 1962 epic, not quite Saudi Arabia (shot in Jordan) but many similarities.
Eat | with your fingers (but never with the left hand). Try a boiled young camel on steaming rice.
Drink | cardamon-flavoured coffee.
In a Word | Is-salaam ‘alaykum (Peace be upon you)
Characteristics | Old souks and camel markets; Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company); dates and carpets; millions of expatriate workers in thousands of construction sites and camps; bearded men in robes greeting one another with hugs and kisses; Mecca and Medina.
Surprises | Stumbling onto a back lot in Jeddah, where, according to the locals, one will find the tomb of Eve; for women, wearing an all-encompassing abaya is essential for visiting Saudi Arabia.
NEWS ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA
NASA Sees Fields of Green Spring up in Saudi Arabia
(HN, 3/24/12) - Saudi Arabia is drilling for a resource more precious than oil. Over the last 24 years, it's tapped hidden reserves of water to grow wheat & other crops in the Syrian Desert. The images above show images acquired by 3 different Landsat satellites operated by NASA & the US Geological Survey. The green fields that dot the desert draw on water that was partly trapped during the last Ice Age. In addition to rainwater that fell over several hundred thousand years, this fossil water filled aquifers now buried deep under the desert's shifting sands. Saudi Arabia reaches these underground rivers & lakes by drilling through the desert floor, directly irrigating the fields with a circular sprinkler system via a technique called center-pivot irrigation. Because rainfall in this area is now only a few centimeters (about 1 inch) a year, water here is a non-renewable resource. Although no one knows how much water is beneath the desert, hydrologists estimate it will only be economical to pump water for about 50 years. The next Landsat satellite, Landsat 8, is scheduled for launch in January 2013. (Read more at NASA)