Arab News, Sunday, Apr 15, 2018 | Rajab 28, 1439
Dhahran: Saudi energy capital with a prosperous past
Dhahran is hosting the 29th
Arab League Summit at King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, commonly known as
“Ithra”. The Aramco initiative is an iconic monument, a hub for knowledge and
culture, and an incubator for arts, science and innovation. The center is
located near the Well of Prosperity, where oil was first discovered.
King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture
King Salman first inaugurated King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in
November 2016, marking Aramco’s 75th Anniversary.
The Ithra Center is 90 meters high, and covers 45,000 square meters. Ithra has a
modern library, an archive gallery, the IDEAlab for innovation, an energy
exhibition, a children’s museum and an extensive museum on the Kingdom’s natural
history, contemporary arts and theater.
The Knowledge Tower looks over the surrounding facilities with its immaculate
design; its main purpose, however, is to offer educational programs for pioneers
in all fields, in hopes of inspiring, enriching and exchanging cultures, while
directing society toward a knowledge-based economy.
The Great Hall that will host the Arab leaders on Sunday is surrounded by an
oasis an outer courtyard; decorated by a vegetal wall, a Roman stadium to host
outdoors events, it covers 1,600 square meters with floors made of recycled
bamboo wood. It has housed countless cultural exhibits and global summits,
targeting 500,000 visitors annually.
The international architecture, interior design, brand design and landscape
architecture company designed Ithra. Founded in 1989, the Oslo-based company is
famous for the reconstruction of New York’s Times Square in 2017, the Norwegian
National Opera and Ballet house in Olso and Bibliotheca Alexandria (Library of
Alexandria) in Egypt.
Snohetta participated in an architectural design competition in 2007 and was
selected to design and overlook King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.
Dhahran has witnessed and incubated numerous political and economic milestones
in the history of the Kingdom. It is known for its importance in the field of
energy, and it will forever be associated with the summit in the future, adding
it to the list of historic imprints with the outcomes of the Arab League Summit.
The city is located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and forms part of
the Dammam Metropolitan Area with Dammam and Alkhobar. It is commonly known as
the home and headquarters of Saudi Aramco for the past 80 years.
It is rich in history
and heritage, as well as having its own industrial imprint on the Kingdom today.
It is known for its relevance in power generation and significance in the oil
King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, met with representatives of US oil
companies in 1931, building the foundation for Saudi-American relations.
It also housed the first American consulate in the Kingdom in 1944, acting as
the first diplomatic representation of the US in the Gulf region.
Due to its location and the importance it holds as a commercial city with Saudi
Arabia’s busiest ports, it has received the utmost care and attention from the
government and is considered substantial to the kingdom’s economy and the oil
As an oil manufacturer with Saudi Aramco on its heel, the city is considered to
be one of the most beautiful cities in the Kingdom.
With Saudi Aramco’s base and compounds adding to its elegance and allure, it is
relatively the cleanest and most organized of cities, resembling US cities with
its modernity and fine neighborhoods.
Baleegh Abdullah, an Aramco employee based in Jeddah who has traveled to Dhahran
frequently, told Arab News: “It’s a beautiful, modern city; I enjoy having some
peace and quiet when I head there. It’s the exact opposite of Jeddah with its
Meanwhile, Ahmad Abdulrahman from Yanbu, who studied at King Fahd University of
Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran and lived there, said that the city seemed to
have “coincidentally merged with Dammam and Alkhobar’s urban extension.”
History and war
On Oct. 19, 1940, during World War II, an Italian air force plane struck Dhahran
while aiming for Bahrain, but there were no casualties.
In 1944, the US built an air base in the city with the construction taking two
years before it was completed in 1946. The base remained in Saudi Arabia until
During the Gulf War, the city witnessed a large loss when an Iraqi missile hit
US Army barracks in 1991, taking the lives of 28 Americans.
Well No. 7 and Max Steineke
When Standard Oil of California first discovered oil in Bahrain in 1932, it led
to speculations on oil prospects in the Arab peninsula. By 1933, the Saudi
government had allowed SoCal to explore for oil.
On arrival in Saudi Arabia to assist in the agreement signed with SoCal,
Steineke climbed up the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC, later
became known as Aramco) ladder, becoming chief geologist by 1936. He asked
diggers to start digging the seventh deep-test well. 10 months later, liters of
oil were found.
In 1938, when SoCal decided to back out due to lack of results, Steineke managed
to urge his superiors to wait until the results of the last drilling test well
in Dammam, No. 7, leading to many more successful commercial oil ventures in
Saudi Arabia. Steineke received the American Association of Petroleum
Geologists’ Powers Award for his drilling methods, leading to further oil
exploration in Saudi, and specifically Ghawar, the number one productive oil
field in the world.
King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals
The prestigious university in Dhahran was founded in 1963 as College of
Petroleum and Minerals by a royal decree in order to advance the high demand for
petroleum and minerals. It was later elevated to university status in 1975 and
renamed after King Fahd in 1986.
The university has an acceptance rate of 10 percent and is known to be the most
selective in the Kingdom.
In 2015, it was named the top university in the Arab world via QS University
Rankings as well as in 2016.