31 interesting facts about Saudi Arabia

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Interesting facts about Saudi Arabia, from the birthplace of Islam and a dangerous driving stunt known as “sidewalk skiing”.

Interesting facts about Saudi Arabia include the birthplace of Islam
Interesting facts about Saudi Arabia include the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Capital city: Riyadh
Population: 34 million
Area: 2,149,690 sq km
Major languages: Arabic
Major religions: Islam
Time zone: UTC+3 (Arabia Standard Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Saudi Arabia

1. Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East and the 12th largest in the world.
– Source: World Bank

2. Saudi Arabia was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to the early 20th century when the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
– Source: Butler et al. (2013) Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula Travel Guide. Lonely Planet: London

3. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formally declared in September 1932 when Ibn Saud proclaimed himself as King Abdulaziz.
– Source: Butler et al. (2013) Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula Travel Guide. Lonely Planet: London

Saudi Arabia map
Saudi Arabia is located in the Middle East (Sutterstock)

4. The Al Saud dynasty has ruled ever since and holds a monopoly of political power. King Abdulaziz and he has been succeeded by his descendants.
– Source: BBC News

5. Saudi Arabia has long prevented women from taking on a larger role in its society. Under the Saudi guardianship system, women’s rights are severely restricted. They cannot marry, divorce, travel, get a job or have elective surgery without permission from their male guardians.
– Source: Amnesty International, CNN

6. Until 2018, Saudi Arabia was the world’s only country where women could not drive legally. The law was changed in 2018 following years of campaigning.
– Source: BBC News

A woman driving in Saudi Arabia
Women’s rights are severely restricted in Saudi Arabia (Shutterstock)

7. Saudi women were not allowed to take part in the Olympics until 2012. In 2012, two women took part in the London Games and in 2016 four women took part in the Rio de Janeiro Games.
– Source: New York Times

8. Saudi motorists have developed an exciting but dangerous craze known as “sidewalk skiing”, which involves balancing a car on its side while driving.
– Source: BBC News

9. Evidence suggests that modern-day Saudia Arabia has been inhabited for around 125,000 years. Ancient tools discovered in the Arabian Peninsula suggest humans migrated through the region from Africa.
– Source: Nature (journal)

10. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of the world’s second-largest religion, Islam.
– Source: Britannica, Pew Research Center

Medina in Saudi Arabia
Medina in Saudi Arabia (Shutterstock)

11. Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. Mecca is the holiest of Muslim cities where Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in around 570 AD.
– Source: Britannica

12. Medina, the second holiest city in Islam, is where Muhammad’s body is entombed. Medina is celebrated as the place where Muhammad established the Muslim community (ummah) after he fled Mecca in 622 AD.
– Source: Britannica

13. As such, the Saudi king’s official title is the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

14. Mecca is home to one of the world’s largest annual gatherings. Every year, over 2 million Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca to perform the Hajj, which is considered the fifth and final Pillar of Islam. Every capable adult Muslim is expected to complete at least one hajj in their lifetime.
– Source: National Geographic

15. The Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca holds the records for the world’s tallest clock tower, the world’s tallest hotel and the world’s largest clock face at 43m in diameter.
– Source: The Telegraph

The Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca
The Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca (Shutterstock)

16. Saudi Arabia is also building the world’s tallest skyscraper. When complete, Jeddah Tower will be 1,000m (3,280ft) high. Construction was paused in 2018 but is expected to recommence in 2020.
– Source: CNN, CNN Business

17. In 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by his nephew and succeeded by his brother Khalid.
– Source: BBC News

18. Saudi Arabia is home to the King’s Cup camel race. The epic camel race sees up to 1,200 participants and races across a 20km track during the Janadriyah National Festival.
– Source: The Guardian

Camels racing
Camels racing for the King’s Cup (Shutterstock)

19. Saudia Arabia is an oil-rich nation, possessing around 16% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves. As of 2019, the petroleum sector accounts for around 87% of budget revenues, 42% of GDP and 90% of export earnings.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

20. Around 95% of Saudi Arabia is desert.
– Source: NASA

21. The Arabian Desert – at 2,300,000 sq km (900,000 sq mi) – is the largest desert in Asia and the second largest on Earth. Only the Sahara in Africa is bigger.
– Source: Britannica

Rubʿ al-Khali sand dunes
Rub al-Khali or “Empty Quarter” (Shutterstock)

22. The Arabian Desert incorporates the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world, the Rubʿ al-Khali, which lies mainly within Saudi Arabia. It covers an area of around 650,000 sq km (250,000 sq mi) and translates as “Empty Quarter”.
– Source: Britannica

23. 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the 2001 9/11 attacks on the US were from Saudi Arabia.
– Source: New York Times

24. Saudi Arabia has the fifth-highest net migration in the world. Measured over a five-year period, 1,722,804 more people moved to Saudi Arabia than left it.
– Source: World Bank

25. Saudi Arabia’s flag consists of a green background with a white Arabic inscription and a sabre. The inscription reads, “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the prophet of God.” The sabre is symbolic of the militancy of their faith and green is synonymous with Islam.
– Source: Britannica

Saudi Arabia's flag
Saudi Arabia’s flag (Shutterstock)

26. Saudi Arabia is the world’s 13th most obese country with 69.7% of its population classified as overweight.
– Source: World Health Organisation

27. In 2017, archaeologists used Google Earth to uncover nearly 400 previously undocumented stone structures called “gates” in the Arabian Desert. They believe the gates were built by nomadic tribes between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago.
– Source: New York Times

28. The tallest flagpole in the world is located in Saudi Arabia. At 171m (561ft), the Jeddah Flagpole was erected in 2014.
– Source: Guinness World Records

The Jeddah Flagpole seen from afar
The Jeddah Flagpole (CC2.0: Gregor Rom)

29. Saudi Arabia has the death penalty and is the world’s third-highest executor. In 2019, Saudi Arabia put 184 people to death including a mass execution of 37 people for terror offences.
– Source: Amnesty International

30. Saudi Arabia has the eighth highest CO2 emissions in the world.
– Source: World Bank

31. Saudi Arabia does not have any rivers making it the world’s largest country without a river.
– Source: National Geographic, CIA World Fact Book

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