Friday, October 31, 2008

The City of Art

O ne of the reasons that I was excited at the prospect of moving to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in the first place was because it is a city filled with art, mostly in the form of sculptures, everywhere.

There is no exact count on how many works of art grace the cityscape, but there are hundreds, with more added every year. They range in style from the religious to the whimsical, from historical to ultramodern, from nautical to heavenly, and from cast bronze to stone to gleaming marble to steel to colorful intricate stained glass.

A number of the sculptures are made of recycled aircraft, boats, and machinery. Many invite interaction with humans, others are stunning to behold, and some are just plain wierd. Reknowned artists from all over the world have contributed works to Jeddah's amazing display of art - like Miro, Moore, Lafuente, Cesar, Hollman, and Vasarely, as well as many talented Saudi artists.

During the second half of the 20th Century, Jeddah's growth exploded in an unprecedented spectacular fashion. Transformed from a totally walled-in seaport with its gates closed and boarded up every evening to keep its citizens safe, Jeddah's population burst from a paltry 25,000 to present day estimates of about 4 million residents. The oil boom brought Jeddah's walls crashing down and frenzied development ensued. In fifty years, Jeddah grew in both population and in land area more than 100 times.

Turning Jeddah into the world's largest open air free art museum was the vision of architect Mohamed Said Farsi. In 1972, Farsi was named its Mayor, which allowed him to develop the city's ambitious master plan while preserving its history and heritage, with art and culture playing a major role in the beautification of Jeddah. Mayor Farsi and his team tackled the project in an unconventional manner, forgoing the usual public art forums of museums and galleries and instead opting to take art out into the streets and merging it into the daily lives and business of all its residents.

Setting up the permanent placement for many of the larger sculptures turned many projects into engineering feats, with some taking as many as seven or more years from start to finish. Some of the works of art were created in other countries, shipped to Jeddah, and due to the sheer size, weight, and bulk of some of the pieces, took several days of logistical juggling just to get the components from the port to their designated sites. Another remarkable and noteworthy tidbit of information is the fact that the initial $150 million (US) spent on the art and landscaping was paid for by corporations and private donors, not out of the city's or the kingdom's budget, thanks to Farsi's impressive fundraising skills. I also thought it was interesting when I learned that the heart-themed sculptures around the city were in fact a result of Farsi's own open heart surgery, due in part to his grueling work schedule as Jeddah's Mayor.

As we have driven around the city, I have tried to take photos of as many of these sculptures as I can. It's not easy when one is whizzing by in a car, with other vehicles and signs in the way. Many of the sculptures are in the center of busy intersections. Many more decorate the Corniche, the boardwalk which stretches for miles along the Red Sea. There have been a few occasions when my hubby has taken me out to specifically photograph more of the sculptures of Jeddah. To date, I have photographed over one hundred fifty of them ... I still have a ways to go.

To see more of my photos of the city's famous open air art museum, visit my photo gallery of Jeddah's Sculptures.


  1. What a interesting change of life for you. I will be back to read more! Oh, chalk up my Obama vote! We'll do what we can to get out the vote here in the U.S.

  2. I never knew there was so much contemporary art. Funny how narrow minded we become when we don't see the whole world.
    If you feel like entering a contest, with a prize from, where you write about "The most embarrassing moment in your life," please view my blog. Hope to see you.

  3. Susie,

    I wanted to give you a heads up. On,this site I nominated you for the best blog in the "Travel" category. I hope you don't mind. Please let all your readers know so they have the opportunity to vote too.


    under the header of " Love this site"

  4. One more reason to save my pennies.I'd love to see some of those up close especially the bicycle,thats beautiful!

  5. Wow, Susie.. those sculptures are awe-inspiring. And the photos look amazing -even with all of the traffic you describe. I particularly like the bicycle, it just evokes a sense of innocent adventure.

    Anyway, I'll be sure to check out the rest of your photo gallery.

    "3 Troopin' Travelers"

  6. Hi Lisa! Welcome to my blog - and thanks for voting!!!

    Hi Gutsy! I know that we all have our own ideas of what other places are like and quite often we are pleasantly surprised to find that there is usually so much more to it than that. I was hoping with this post, that might be the case!
    Thanks for letting me know about the contest - I'll check it out.

  7. Hi Southern Gal/Amira! Gee, what a nice surprise - Thanks so much. You made my day!

    Hi Always! I'm sure you would enjoy seeing all the art here - hopefully one day!!!

    Hi Lil Boozie! Thanks so much. I'm always my own worst critic when it comes to my photos or my art. I appreciate your comment!

  8. The sculptures are amazing!

  9. I love your photo's of all the art-works dotted around in Jeddah!

  10. REally interesting.

    I think my favorite of the couple you posted is the second to last one with what looks like an eye in the bronze rectangle

  11. Very interesting article. Great pictures.

  12. I really like the wave one at the top! At least I think it's a wave. :-)

  13. I love the roundabouts in Jeddah.

  14. What a great set of art photos! Glad you have shown or I would never knew they exist...

    Also glad you enjoyed Africa wildlife pics on my travel blog. There are more there now and you can also check under Kenya or Tanzania on labels if you like.

    Wish I was an american next twesday to be able to vote!!!

  15. This looks like an entry I'm gonna love when I'm awake enough to enjoy it... and I saw someone wrote Tanzania in the comments so I'm now intrigued by that too. But exhausted... SO for now.. I'm tagging you!

  16. Salams
    I never thought there's so much to see in Jeddah. I heard that it's different from other saudi cities, more liberal and artistic but this is more than I ever expected. I must visit it one day.
    Thanks for posting this

    regards from DC

  17. Thank you for sharing this, I never knew! How beautiful and delightful!

  18. I love art, especially in public places. It is something that I never tire of. Even if I am not a fan of a particular piece at least it creates discussion and feeling. Here's to more outside art!

  19. Hi Susie

    I am sorry to bother you again with this question, but I was wondering where you found sour cream in Saudi? I have looked everywhere for it. my email is

    Thanks so much!

  20. Hi Alia -
    I have heard that Danube and Tamimi carry sour cream, although I have not gone there. I have actually been using Labaneh and find that it is a pretty good substitute - not exactly like sour cream, but if you add a little lemon juice and salt, it's pretty close!

    Thanks to Everyone for your comments!

  21. You get sour cream everywhere in Jeddah! Well at least at all the big supermarkets.

  22. I have seen those giant bicycle during my shot transit at Jeddah in 2003 Hajj.

  23. Your blog is very nice and all pictures are beautiful thanks sharing with us.