“It’s a bit like the Universal Exhibition, but in Saudi Arabia.” French photographer Marc Nouss, a one-day guest at the Janadriyah Festival, sums up the scope of the event in Saudi Arabia.
At a time when the Kingdom is gearing up to open up to tourism, the festival—which has just wrapped up its 33rd edition—undeniably represents a beautiful showcase of the country, its regions and their heritage.
Janadriyah, the festival of regions
Organized each year since 1985 by the Ministry of the National Guard, Janadriyah brings together several million visitors from all over the country to discover or rediscover a festival that has become truly iconic. While Saudi institutions—ministries and armies—have their pavilions there, as in every edition, it is mainly the regions of the country and their respective mini-villages that attract the most people.
From Jizan to Assir to Mecca, Medina and the North Borders, each Saudi administrative region is exhibited, on a miniature yet still human scale, in Janadriyah. In each village, a range of the most unique features of the local culture: architecture, traditional houses, paintings, crafts, dances and culinary specialities to be enjoyed on the go…
Street food is thing in Janadriyah
And for the latter, there are always crowds. “We come mainly to eat,” giggles Nur, a young woman from Riyadh who is visiting Janadriyah with a friend. It is true that when it comes to food, the festival offers an anthology of the kingdom’s most gourmet specialties, particularly in terms of street food: samboussas, Arabic cousins of Indian samoussas, yaghmuchs, small meat fritters, mutabaqs, cakes stuffed with vegetables or meat, or even manto, “a sort of dim-sum seasoned with cumin”, as explained by Suheil, a festival guide… That is for the savoury.
As for the sweet treat, the masoub, a banana and honey pudding, wins the vote. And for the afternoon brake, ghraybehs, small almond shortbreads, maamouls, biscuits filled with dates and, for the bravest, kleeja, bread flavoured with date syrup.
A history of dances
The other attraction of the Janadriyah festival is dancing. And not just any dancing: the ardah. Historically specific to the Nejd tribes in the central part of the country, this war choreography spread to the rest of the peninsula after the unification of the Saudi kingdom. Today, each region offers its own variant, with or without swords, but always set to the beat of percussions and poetry.
In short, Janadriyah is a snapshot of Saudi Arabia at its most… Saudi. “For a first discovery of the country, this was ideal,” concludes Marc Nouss, who enjoyed his first steps in the kingdom.