offshore pipeline

The Dammam-Dhahran- Al-Khobar area is a major hub for shipping, oil, commerce and industry. Tankers take on oil at the terminal in Ras Tanura (above).

No area of the Middle East, nor perhaps the world, has undergone such dramatic transformation in such a short period of time as has the Dammam-Dhahran-Al-Khobar triangle in eastern Saudi Arabia. Located on the Arabian Gulf across from the island of Bahrain, the region has ancient roots in history. Tombs, remnants of dwellings and historical references indicate that it was inhabited more than two thousand years ago. However, most vestiges of human habitation were buried by the encroaching desert sands and the area had been largely deserted for centuries.

When the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, the area was the site of several hamlets that depended on fishing and pearls for their survival. Over a span of a little more than half a century, the area has developed into a thriving hub of industry, commerce and science, and home to more than half a million people.

The area's transformation was launched with the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Saudi Arabia. The Eastern Province sits atop one of the largest fields in the world, and it was here in Dhahran in 1936 that Aramco, the predecessor of the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aramco, dug the famous Dammam No. 7 well that proved beyond doubt that the Kingdom possessed a large supply of hydrocarbons.

The discovery of new oil fields to the south, west and north of Dammam in the 1940s and 1950s, which now account for a quarter of the world's proven oil reserves, triggered a building boom. Experts and technicians from throughout the Kingdom and the world gathered to help search for new oil fields and bring them onstream. New pipelines had to be installed, storage facilities built and jetties constructed to handle tankers. The growing number of experts working in Dhahran required the building of housing, hospitals, schools for their children and other amenities. Before long, Dhahran, the corporate headquarters of Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, was spilling out into the desert in all directions.

The growth of the oil industry in the region had a similar impact on the small fishing village of Dammam and the hamlet of Al-Khobar. Within two decades of the discovery of oil, the mudbrick huts of the fisherman that crowded the shore and which constituted the only permanent dwellings in the area had given way to concrete buildings, modern housing, highways and landscaped streets. Located to the east of Dhahran on the Gulf coast, Al-Khobar briefly became the shipping point for Saudi Arabian crude oil to the refinery in Bahrain. In the years leading up to World War II, Saudi Arabian oil production was very limited, and since the company had no refinery of its own, most of the oil was sent by small tankers to Bahrain.

With the construction of a pipeline to Bahrain and the subsequent expansion of the oil industry in the post-war years, the focus of the shipping and oil industries shifted away from Al-Khobar northward to Dammam and Ras Tanura, one of the largest oil storage and shipping centers in the world, located 15 miles to the north of Dammam. As a result, Al-Khobar gradually found a new role as the commercial center for the entire region.

Al-Khobar 1940

Al-Khobar, seen in a photo from the 1940s is now a modern commercial and residential complex.

The discovery of oil in Dhahran and nearby fields and the growing importance of the entire region affected Dammam more than any other city in Saudi Arabia. Within three decades, the sleepy little fishing village had become the capital of the Eastern Province.

The simultaneous growth of Dammam, Dhahran and Al-Khobar brought the three jurisdictions into physical contact, with the result that the triangle which connects the cities is now one large urban and industrial mass. This entire region, covering some 300 square miles of land, is now known as the Dammam Area and is run by a single municipal entity.

Dhahran in the 1940's

Dhahran is the location of the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

The growth of the Saudi Arabian oil industry into the largest in the world brought about the rapid development of the region. As oil production increased, so did the number of people required to run the industry.

The growing population needed more housing and services. First-rate hospitals and schools provided further incentives for people considering a move to the area. Service industries sprouted up to support the oil industry and meet the needs of people living in the Dammam Area. As a result, a region which had several hundred inhabitants some sixty years ago now boasts a population of well over 500,000, growing at a pace of over five percent a year.

Dhahran in the 1940's

Dhahran in the 1940s.




The Dammam Area has undergone a dramatic transformation and provides extensive recreational facilities for its residents.

The key to the success of the Dammam Area is that unlike oil towns in other parts of the world, it has developed in all spheres. It is now a modern urban and industrial center which happens to be the headquarters of the Saudi Arabian oil industry.

As this sector was growing in the early years, the Saudi Arabian government took steps to facilitate the evolution of the Dammam Area. New roads and highways connected the area to other urban and industrial centers in the Kingdom. A railway line connected Dammam to the agricultural center of Al-Kharj and on to Riyadh. An international airport was established between Dhahran and Al-Khobar to connect the region to other parts of the Kingdom and the world.

A modern port complex, known as the King Abdul Aziz Seaport, was built at Dammam to handle non-oil shipping. The Dammam-Riyadh railway and highways connect the port to points throughout the Kingdom. The complex is equipped with four jetties, the longest being two miles, hundreds of cranes and lifts, storage facilities, a ship repair dock and a modern ship traffic control center. The complex is now the Kingdom's largest outlet to the sea in eastern Saudi Arabia.

To encourage the growth of non-oil industries, an industrial city was established in the open space between the three cities. Now home to more than 124 factories, the industrial complex is completely engulfed by an urban mass. As a result, a second industrial city was established further away from the Dammam Area along the highway to Riyadh. Located on nearly 6,000 acres of land, the Second Industrial City is already home to 120 factories, with 160 others under construction.

These plants manufacture a variety of consumer and industrial products that are marketed throughout the Kingdom and are exported to other countries around the world. Handling such exports, as well as imports from abroad, is the domain of shipping agents and commercial companies located in Dammam and Al-Khobar, making the Dammam Area not only a major oil producing and exporting area, but also a commercial and shipping center.

date farm

Farms near Dammam provide produce for the city.

The growth of the region has necessitated the construction of a larger and more modern airport to replace the Dhahran International Airport which is now cramped for space. The new King Fahd International Airport, located 30 miles to the west of Dammam, will service not only the Dammam Area but also the Jubail Industrial City, some 40 miles to the north.

As it has in other parts of the Kingdom, the Ministry of Health has established several modern hospitals and a network of health care centers in the Dammam Area. These are supplemented by hospitals and clinics set up by the private sector.


Trains carry passengers and cargo between Dammam and Riyadh.

Several hundred modern primary and secondary schools provide all residents of the Dammam Area with access to free education. The region boasts boasts several colleges and is also the site of one of the most modern universities in the Middle East. The King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, located in Dhahran, offers graduate and post-graduate degrees in engineering, applied engineering, science, industrial management, environmental design and other fields. It also runs a state-of-the-art center where scientists conduct research on a variety of topics, from geology to computer design. Additionally, two of King Faisal University's Colleges, medicine and architecture and urban planning, are located in Dammam.


A street scene in Al-Khobar.

mosque in Dhahran

A mosque in Dhahran.

oil tanks at Ras Tanura

Oil storage tanks in Ras Tanura.

Having been built from the ground up, the Dammam Area was designed from the outset on the principles of modern urban planning. Residential areas are separate from commercial sections, roads are broad and straight and buildings conform to a master plan. One of the main features of the development of the area is land reclamation. Vast stretches of the shallow Gulf waters have been filled, with hotels and office buildings occupying what were once marshes.

One of the central components of the city plan is the establishment of extensive green spaces. The King Fahd Park in Dammam is the largest in the Kingdom. Spread over 67 acres in the heart of the Dammam Area, its millions of trees and bushes and many ornamental pools provide a refuge for families in the heart of the city. A large number of smaller parks are scattered throughout the area. The water for much of the parks comes from recycling urban and industrial runoff.

Water for household, urban and industrial use is provided by desalination plants that supply approximately seven million cubic feet of treated water to the area each day. The availability of water underpins the urban and industrial growth of the Dammam Area, and provisions have been made for expanding existing desalination facilities to meet future growth.

The Dammam Area is also famous for the wide variety of recreational facilities it offers residents and visitors alike.

The famous Dammam Corniche, which extends from Dammam through Al-Khobar on south to Half Moon Bay is studded with parks, playgrounds and amusement parks where families gather after work to enjoy themselves. Water sports are available to all at the Coastal City set up by the General Presidency for Youth Welfare, which is now a commercial concern open to families, in Half Moon Bay to the south of the city, and through private clubs in the area.

Another distinguishing feature of the area, which has become a landmark, is the King Fahd Causeway. Stretching from Al-Khobar eastward across the azure waters of the Gulf to Bahrain, the 16-mile causeway is one of the largest such projects in the world and provides an important link between the two countries.

In many ways, the Dammam Area has evolved as the link between Saudi Arabia and the outside world, exporting the Kingdom's products and importing its needs and thriving on the interaction between Saudi Arabia and other countries.

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