The first thing people will tell you about Jeddah is [Jeddah Ghair], which translates into [Jeddah is different]; indeed it is, and not just because of it’s liberal outlook when comparing it to the other cities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but because of the high emphasis on the arts.
Upon first glance, you’ll notice that Jeddah’s roads are full of unusual and unique monuments and sculptures. The whole idea behind those sculptures that are located on crucial roundabouts across the city (which are called Meedans locally or squares) was to encourage art in public spaces. A focused community effort during the oil boom in the 1970’s and 1980’s, those Meedans are head-turners.
One of the most famous sculpture/roundabouts is the Cosmos [Meedan Al-Falak] which is located in one of the city’s main streets. Created by the German artist Ottmar Hollmann, the Cosmos Sculpture is 44 meters high making it one of the world’s largest pieces of art. The Cosmos Sculpture took about 7 years to complete, with some of the pieces being constructed in Germany being so large that it was troublesome moving them to the location in Jeddah. The idea behind the sculpture is a representation of the galaxy; with the metal circles in the middle of it representing the planets. The sculpture also has a Quranic script arranged in small mosaics that were brought in all the way from Italy.
Another interesting sculpture is the Qibla sculpture. Made from marble, this amazing piece of art was created by Spanish Architect Julio Lafuente. Representing the Qibla (direction of Makah), the Qibla sculpture points towards it. It took about 5 years to complete, and used more than 260 pieces of marble all imported from Italy.
One of the most colorful and visually interesting monuments is The Fruit Ship. Driving through the busy street of Heraa you will find a large ship containing huge scaled overflowing fruits made out of marble. This sculpture has watermelons the size of apples; which make you wonder who thought of the ship being utilized as a fruit bowl? There must be a hidden message there.
In addition along side Al-Hamra a popular street in Jeddah- you can find dozens of sculptures; making the street seem like a museum, rightly dubbed “street museum” by locals. Some of the sculptures are the work of international artist such as, César Baldaccini, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Joan Miró and Victor Vasarely.
In context, people that grew up in Jeddah are very fond of these roundabouts and relate to them visually; they not only beautify the city but make Jeddah an art-space open for the public to appreciate.
– Alaa Balkhy
Images: Susie Khalil