King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture
King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)[1] (Arabic: مركز الملك عبد العزيز الثقافي العالمي) also known as Ithra, is situated in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.[2] It was built by Saudi Aramco and inaugurated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz on December 1, 2016.[3] It is operated by Saudi Aramco[4] and is currently the company’s main corporate social responsibility initiative[5] with a focus on culture, learning and cross-cultural activities.[6] The Center is located where the first commercial Saudi oilfield was found in March 1938.[7] The Center incorporates a museum, children museum, library, cinema, theater, and exhibition halls.[7] It was designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta.[8] The Center has been listed in Time magazine as one of the world’s top 100 places to visit[1][9] and attracted one million visitors in 2019.[10] The director of Ithra is Hussain N. Hanbazazah.[11]

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)
TypeCultural Center
FocusCulture, knowledge, public engagement, cross-cultural activities.
Key people
Hussain N. Hanbazazah


Ithra was established as a corporate social responsibility project by Saudi Aramco, the national oil corporation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[2] The Center’s own stated aims is to “make a tangible and positive impact on human development by inspiring a passion for knowledge, creativity, and cross-cultural engagement for the future of the Kingdom.[12][2]

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture aims to build up the cultural sector in Saudi Arabia.[13] This is in line with the Saudi Arabian government’s declared aim of boosting the cultural industries as part of its economic diversification policy.[13][14]

The Arabic word “Ithra” is used as a shorthand for the Center and its programs. The term means “enrichment” in Arabic and is intended to signify that its programs are intended to enrich citizens culturally.[4] The Center also uses the tagline: "Accelerating potential, inspiring minds."[15]

The Building

The building covers 80,000 square meters with its shape being inspired by the internal structural shape of oil-bearing rock formations.[6] The Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta designed the building and the UK professional services firm Buro Happold led the engineering design.[16]

The levels of the building are arranged thematically and intended to suggest a progression through the ages. Areas dealing with history and the past are at the lowest levels, beneath ground level and the ground floor dealing with the present. The higher levels are mainly situated in the structure known as the Knowledge Tower, with the intention being that the knowledge communicated in the tower’s teaching rooms will equip citizens for the future.[7][13]

Regarding the environmental point of view, the building was designed in accordance with prevailing LEED standards to minimize adverse ecological impact.[16][4] For example, the plants in the surrounding gardens were selected from desert species and intended to minimize use of water and survive dry desert conditions.[6][4]

In April 2018, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture hosted the 29th Arab League summit,[17] this was the first time the summit had been held in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.[18]

Exhibitions and Events


Ithra Theater’s 900-seat auditorium has hosted international and regional performers.[19] The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture has a stated intention to showcase the best of international culture as well as the best of regional, Arab and Saudi talent.[20] As of May 2020 Ithra Theater has staged performances by the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra of Saint Petersburg, Russia,[21] the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, of Vienna, Austria,[22] La Scala of Milan, Italy,[23] and the Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma.[24] In addition, Ithra has staged the Manganiyar Connection – featuring performers from Rajasthan, India,[25] the live stage version of the Wizard of Oz[26] and Slava's Snowshow by the Russian clown and director Slava Polunin.[19]

Short-term Exhibitions

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture has a dedicated area for short-term exhibitions, known as the Great Hall, and featuring copper paneling.[17] It has hosted an exhibition of original paintings by the Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch.[27] This exhibition included an original print of The Scream, made by the artist himself.[27] The hall has also hosted an exhibition of manuscripts by Leonardo Da Vinci.[28] The grand opening of Ajyaal Gallery hosts the inaugural and imaginative Being Saudi exhibition by Kvorning Design, Copenhagen and built by Modelcraft Group, Riyadh. The exhibition allows visitors to engage with Saudi Arabian culture, across five different regions, and covers poetry, music, fashion and patterns in a non-traditional format. Conceived as an immersive visitor experience, Being Saudi communicates the Kingdom’s rich culture heritage in an innovative way.

Global Knowledge Society Forum

In 2013, The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture hosted the inaugural Global Knowledge Society Forum in partnership with UNESCO in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Over 500 delegates attended the Forum to listen to global, regional and national experts from government, academia, civil society and the private sector and actively discuss and share current developments in the creation, acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in order to achieve sustainable human development[29]



The museum is situated on four levels and is arranged thematically into four galleries: contemporary art, Saudi heritage, Islamic civilization, and natural history and human ecology.[13] The contemporary art, heritage and Islamic civilization galleries operate non-permanent displays and change their exhibitions on a regular basis. From 2018-2020, the Islamic civilization gallery hosted an exhibition of Islamic art in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[30]  [31]

Film Screenings

Ithra Cinema is one of the first to be operational in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It displays a mix of movies, including popular international features, documentaries and independent arthouse-style features. Ithra also seeks to develop the Saudi film industry, through workshops, funding and training. In 2020, some films funded by Ithra were shown on Netflix as part of a content-sharing deal. These films were: Wasati directed by Ali Kalthami, Is Sumyati Going to Hell? directed by Mishaal Aljaser, and Predicament in Sight directed by Faris Godos.[32]

Energy Exhibit

This exhibition is an introduction to the oil industry, energy – including renewables – ecology and technology.[33][34]

Ithra Library

The library is one of the larger and more modern in the region.[12] It is designed to host about 500,000 texts and includes a variety of digital resources. The library also hosts workshops, lectures and book clubs.[35]


In addition to hosting performances, the theater also organizes events intended to develop theater in Saudi Arabia, such as coaching and workshops. The theater is equipped with 900 seats occupying a total area of 10,000 square meters. The theater displays local and international plays and it offers theatrical training workshops.[36]



Ithra organizes an annual competition called iRead, which is designed to promote a love of reading and books. Young people are invited to compete by submitting essays and presentations about their favorite books. Those with the best submissions receive the opportunity to attend sessions and workshops to discuss books, listen to talks about literature and refine their own presentation skills. IRead culminates in an annual final and awards-ceremony.[37]

Tanween Creativity Season

Ithra organizes an annual season of events known as Tanween Creativity Season. The events are scheduled for the fall and feature international and regional experts and speakers who deliver talks, workshops and creative events.[38] The term “Tanween” comes from a tiny diacritic mark in the Arabic alphabet which changes the meaning and pronunciation of words despite its seemingly minor size.[38]

iDiscover and iSpark

Ithra operates a series of educational initiatives under titles including iDiscover, iSpark and Ithra Incubator, which are aimed at both students and teachers and intended to present new ways of teaching and understanding the STEM subjects of math, science, engineering and technology.[39]

Art Prize

The Ithra Art prize is an initiative that took place in 2017 to support new Saudi artists in the international arena. The winning artist was awarded $100,000 to create a new commission.[40]

Saudi Bridges

Saudi Bridges is a project launched in conjunction with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The aim of the project is to showcase events in other countries featuring Saudi artists and performers.[41]

Collections and Publications

Museum Collections

Ithra has a small but growing collection of rare objects, some of which are on display. These include a folio from the Blue Qur’an as well as a fragment of a manuscript of the Holy Qur’an from about 750 CE.[42]


The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture has conducted and published research. In 2015, the Center published a research report under the title: "Reading and the Knowledge Society" which sought to analyze Saudi reading habits. The research was carried out in conjunction with the Arrowad group.[43]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Innovative Saudi cultural center showcases world-famous 'The Scream' artist's exhibition". Arab News. 2019-06-26. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  2. ^ a b c "King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture to make positive impact on human development". Arab News. 2018-08-08. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  3. ^ "King Abdulaziz Centre To Open In Saudi Arabia This Summer". Harper's BAZAAR Arabia. Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  4. ^ a b c d "The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  5. ^ "Ithra makes TIME Magazine's 2018 list of world's greatest places". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  6. ^ a b c Vivit-Tours (2019-07-24). "King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture – Saudi's mega museum". Kohler Designful. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  7. ^ a b c "A House for the World - AramcoWorld". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
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  11. ^ "Who's Who: Hussain Hanbazazah, director of the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)". Arab News. 2020-02-25. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
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  15. ^ "Ithra - Linkedin".
  16. ^ a b "King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra) - Buro Happold". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  17. ^ a b "IN PICTURES: Inside the Dhahran hall where Arab League Summit was held at". Al Arabiya English. 2018-04-15. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
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  19. ^ a b "Russian Slava brings on his clowning in sell-out show in Saudi Arabia". Arab News. 2018-10-20. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  20. ^ "'A talent showcase': Ithra's cosmopolitan director outlines his strategy for the creative future of Saudi Arabia". Arab News. 2018-06-16. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
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  29. ^ "Global Knowledge Societies Forum 2013 | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  30. ^ "Ithra Museum opens inaugural exhibitions". Arab News. 2018-10-24. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  31. ^ Shapiro, Ariel. "New Saudi Arabian Cultural Institution to Open With Collection From Los Angeles Museum". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  32. ^ "Arabian Sun: March 11, 2020" (PDF).
  33. ^ "Energy Exhibition » NewAngle". NewAngle. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  34. ^ "A House for the World - AramcoWorld". Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  35. ^ "A Look At The Ithra Library At The King Abdul Aziz Center For World Culture". About Her. 2018-03-30. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
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  37. ^ "iRead competition tries to revive reading habit". Saudigazette. 2014-07-19. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  38. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia's Ithra announces 2nd edition of Tanween cultural season". Arab News. 2019-08-01. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  39. ^ "IDiscover Program Launched". Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  40. ^ "Saudi Arabia's Third Ithra Art Prize open for submissions". Arab News. 2019-07-10. Retrieved 2019-07-17.
  41. ^ "Bridges art event narrows gap in understanding between KSA and US". Arab News. 2018-03-28. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  42. ^ "Ithra's Oldest Qur'an Manuscript | أقدم المخطوطات القرآنية في متحف إثراء".
  43. ^ "Arrowad Group - King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture". Retrieved 2020-05-08.