King Salman is overhauling the birthplace of Saudi Arabia's ideology

DIRIYAH, Saudi ArabiaREUTERS/Fahad ShadeedA view of the ruins of the city of Diriyah, which are being restored, 20km (12 miles) west of Riyadh, September 20, 2012.

Saudi Arabia’s recently crowned King Salman is making the birthplace of his government’s ruling ideology into a tourist attraction, according to The New York Times.

A massive complex with parks, restaurants, museums, coffee shops, and a foundation near the capital of Riyadh will be finished in two years and take $US500 million to build.

The Times notes that the development, which will be in the town of Diriyah, is a “pet project” of Salman’s that’s meant to “reinforce the royal family’s national narrative.” The complex will showcase the Saudi kingdom’s conservative religious ideology, referred to as Wahhabism, that has been criticised for being intolerant and fundamentalist.

Saudi officials are trying to promote a positive image of Wahhabism with the vast new complex.

“It is important for Saudis who are living now, in this century, to know that the state came from a specific place that has been preserved and that it was built on an idea, a true, correct and tolerant ideology that respected others,” Abdullah Arrakban, an official who is working the project, told the Times.

Screenshot 2015 06 01 12.53.54Google mapsDiriya is right outside the capital of Ridayh.

Diriya is where the founder of Wahabist ideology first convinced the tribe that became Saudi Arabia’s ruling family to promote his ideas.

“The Saudi-Wahhabi pact goes back to the eighteenth century when Sheikh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), the founder of the Wahhabi-Salafischool of Islam travelled to Diriya, the stronghold of the Saudi tribe, and struck a deal with its chief,” according to Robert G. Rabil in the National Interest.

Rabil writes that “the pact served the interest of both parties by expanding their respective political and religious influence throughout the regions of Najd and Hijaz.”

Hijaz is the eastern region of Saudi Arabia that’s home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medinah.

This complex in Diriya could be just as much about projecting the royal family’s authority as it is about honouring the country’s religious roots, the Times notes. The Saudi government has destroyed or ignored other historical sites.

“Diriyah is extremely important in this because for the Saud, it all started there and they want to say that the Arabian Peninsula had no history before them,” Madawi al-Rasheed, who has written books on Saudi history, told the Times.”

This isn’t only instance of the Saudi royal family putting its distinct stamp on a place of historical or religious significance.

Mecca, the Saudi Arabian city Muslims from all over the world travel to for the annual hajj pilgrimage, is also undergoing a wide-scale redevelopment, the Associated Press reported last year.

Skyscrapers, “monumental luxury hotel towers,” and malls have replaced centuries-old neighbourhoods, according to the AP. Historic sites have been destroyed to allow for this building boom.

One architect called it “Mecca-hattan.”

The development has been criticised for going against that which it seemingly seeks to promote — religion. The AP noted that critics say the new buildings rob Mecca of its “more than 1,400-year-old message that all Muslims, rich or poor, are equal before God as they perform the rites meant to cleanse them of sin.”

The newly constructed malls five-star hotels in Mecca, however, cater to the wealthy.

As in Diriyah, the Saudi monarchy is behind the changes. The AP reported that Mecca is a “key source of prestige” for the kingdom.

NOW WATCH: Here’s what ‘Game of Thrones’ stars look like in real life

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.