Al Balad, otherwise known today as Old Jeddah, was built in 646AD, as a waterway entrance for Mecca. Being a port city and a neighbor to Mecca, Jeddah is home to a diverse population from Arabs to non-Arabs. Jeddah’s urban sprawl started expanding during the oil boom, around the 1930’s, to accommodate the growing population92. This led to the creation of Northern and Southern Jeddah, where the North of Al Balad being the most recent addition to Jeddah’s urban landscape. There is a distinct difference between the cultural landscape of the South and North of Jeddah; the South being less culturally vibrant and the North being more93. Jeddah’s geographic location and diverse population has had a significant impact on the cultural liveliness of the city.
Jeddah is home to a total of 80 cultural infrastructure points. The city’s location and history are two factors that had and still have a vital impact on Jeddah’s cultural vibrancy. Situated on the Red Sea, “Jeddah was an important trading port, and thus a cross-cultural agent between the Middle-Eastern, Asian, and Europeans traders, it contributed to forming a special version of the Hejazi style and urban form of old Jeddah.”94 All nine “museums” in Jeddah are found in Al Balad, some of which date back to the 19th century95. While Jeddah’s rich history translates in its “museums”, the city’s “sites and landmarks” have a more complex relationship with the past. Out of the 37 “sites and landmarks” only five of them are historical monuments, while the other 32 are sculptures. The five historical “sites and landmarks” are one of the few last old heritage sites because “since the mid-1970’s people have not been allowed to demolish traditional buildings within the boundaries of [Al Balad]. Unfortunately, a number of traditional structures had already been replaced by modern ones.”96 With a total of 32 sculptures scattered around the urban landscape, Jeddah is home to one of the largest collections of open-air sculptures in the world97. This dates back to the 1970’s when some of the big names in art, Old Masters as they are called, were commissioned by the late Mayor Mohamed Farsi to create sculptures that would be displayed around Jeddah.
In terms of the difference in the cultural landscape between Southern and Northern Jeddah, it is evident. The one “cinema” in Jeddah, as well as the six “universities” are all located in the North or on the periphery of Al Balad. As for “libraries” out of the six, two are situated in the South. The disparity in the cultural make-up of the South and the North “reflect[s] social and ethnic divisions: the poor live in the South and the affluent live in the North.”
For the innovation clusters, Jeddah has a total of nine, and although Jeddah is 1,686 square km100, it does not have any “urban districts”. The city has seven “co-working spaces” and two “incubators and accelerators” all of which are located in the North of Jeddah. While Jeddah’s rich history has had a positive impact on some of the cultural infrastructure of the city, the lack of cultural infrastructure and innovation clusters in the South hinders the overall cultural vibrancy of Jeddah.