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Hospitality is the very essence of Arabian culture. And where does this welcome begin, but at the door of one’s home. In traditional Saudi architecture, artisans lavished their talents on the design, construction and decoration of elaborate doors, turning out uniquely Arab and Islamic products.

Traditionally, guests entering a home anywhere in the Kingdom would be welcomed by a variety of door styles. In the Najd, home owners colorfully painted their wooden front doors. In Jeddah, wooden doors were intricately carved. In the south and southwest regions, brightly colored doors complemented vividly hued homes.

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Traditional homes were constructed from coral (along the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf), stone (in the highlands, the northern Najd) and mud (in both desert and in fertile areas). Wood was primarily used in Saudi Arabia for structural and decorative purposes. Its scarcity in many regions of the Kingdom deemed it a very precious commodity to be used sparingly. Teak and sandalwood were imported at great expense from India and therefore only the very wealthy used it in constructing their homes. The average door was constructed from the more common tamarisk (ithal) or palm wood.

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In constructing a wooden door, an artisan would take two or three branches to form the lintel of the doorway, known as sakif. Thicker planks would be used to form the door. Ithal is a light and strong wood. One of the features of ithal that made it popular for building is its resistance to cracking and ability to expand and shrink well with changes in the weather.

Many homes, particularly in Jeddah, had elaborate plaster friezes decorating their entrances. Sitting either above the door or framing it on all sides, these ornamental bands combined beautiful motifs and Arabic calligraphy. The inscriptions welcomed visitors or blessed the inhabitants of the home. Fancier homes had double doors decorated with deeply carved wooden reliefs. Windows were often carved to match. Teak was the preferred material, both for its status as an expensive material, as well as for its resistance to insects. However, teak was more difficult to carve.

As many buildings in Jeddah were constructed from coral, the wooden door frames acted as a reinforcement and support for the main wall of the house in addition to enhancing its appearance. In Jeddah, there was a large and talented workforce of carpenters who created these unique doors.

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In the Najd, the houses were made of mud brick. While it was a practical material for the hot climate of the region, it lacked color. Wooden doors with intricate carvings that were colorfully painted in blue, yellow, red and green enlivened these homes. Residents expressed their personal style in the design and painting of their doors. The designs were infinite in variety, but always possessed a harmonious scheme. These oases of color animated the barren Najdi landscape.

The street doors of houses in Riyadh were large and generally made of a single plank of ithal or palm wood. They were fixed in place with heavy iron hinges. The upper, central and lower panels formed by the cross-beams of the wood were treated as separate panels for decoration. Craftsmen burned artistic black patterns into doors with hot irons. This was the favored method of embellishment in Riyadh, both for its permanence and its ability to resist climate.

The builders of Unaizah in Qasim were especially renowned for their decorative doors and shutters in intricate geometric designs. Artisans from Qasim often traveled to Riyadh to fashion plaster moldings or to carve doors.

In the past, doors were further adorned with handmade brass knockers and large brass studs to hold the planks of wood in place. Locks were also hand-crafted from wood or metal.

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Modern architects and city planners in the Kingdom recognize the cultural and historical value of old doors. They adapt these unique styles into modern design projects for residences and businesses. Preservation projects also exist throughout the Kingdom to maintain these irreplaceable treasures of the past. In Riyadh and Jeddah, where there is such an outstanding selection of traditional doors, there is an on-going effort to preserve and maintain the traditional character and architecture of the city. In other areas of the Kingdom, cities and towns are making efforts to preserve their past for future generations to learn from and enjoy. {short description of image}



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