Dammam has ancient roots in history. Tombs, remnants of dwellings and
historical references indicate that it was inhabited more than two thousand
years ago. However, most vestiges of human habitation were buried by the
encroaching desert sands and the area had been largely deserted for centuries.
Ad Dammam was first inhabited by a clan of Al Dossary tribe and a number of The
Howela families in the early 1923. The families led by Sheikh Ahmed Ibn Abdullah
ibn Hassan Al Dossary migrated from Bahrain
and were given the chance to choose a land where to settle by HRM the late King
Abdulaziz. Al Dammam was immediately chosen for its vicinity to the island of
Bahrain as the clan hoped to head back there soon, but the British rule in the
region made it very hard for them to move in every sense (dividi et impera) so
they finally realized they had to settle there for good. Years later, Sheikh
Ahmed's brother moved south where he and his family settled in Al Khobar, which
by that time was already inhabited.
However this tiny episode gave to Khobar a population boost and close ties with
the bigger city of Dammam. The origins of the name "Dammam" is
controversial, some say that it is onomatopoeic and it was given to the area
because of a drum positioned in a nearby keep, when sounded for the alarm it
produced a melody called "damdamah", others say that the name was
given according to the Arabic word "dawwama" (whirlpool) which
indicated a nearby sea site that Dhows usually had to avoid.
When the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, the area was the
site of several hamlets that depended on fishing and pearls for their survival.
Over a span of a little more than half a century, the area has developed into a
thriving hub of industry, commerce and science, and home to more than half a
million people. The area's transformation was launched with the discovery of oil
in commercial quantities. The Eastern Province sits atop one of the largest oil
fields in the world, and it was here in Dhahran in 1936 that Aramco, the
predecessor of the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aramco, dug the
famous Dammam No. 7 well that proved beyond doubt that the Kingdom possessed a
large supply of hydrocarbons.
The discovery of new oil fields to the south, west and north of Dammam in the
1940s and 1950s, which now account for a quarter of the world's proven oil
reserves, triggered a building boom. Experts and technicians from throughout the
Kingdom and the world gathered to help search for new oil fields and bring them
on-stream. New pipelines had to be installed, storage facilities built and
jetties constructed to handle tankers. The growing number of experts working in
Dhahran required the building of housing, hospitals, schools for their children
and other amenities. Before long, Dhahran, the corporate headquarters of Saudi
Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, was spilling out into the desert
in all directions.
The growth of the oil industry in the region had a similar impact on the small
fishing village of Dammam and the hamlet of Al-Khobar. Within two decades of the
discovery of oil, the mudbrick huts of the fisherman that crowded the shore and
which constituted the only permanent dwellings in the area had given way to
concrete buildings, modern housing, highways and landscaped streets. Located to
the east of Dhahran on the Gulf coast, Al-Khobar briefly became the shipping
point for Saudi Arabian crude oil to the refinery in Bahrain. In the years
leading up to World War II, Saudi Arabian oil production was very limited, and
since the company had no refinery of its own, most of the oil was sent by small
tankers to Bahrain. With the construction of a pipeline to Bahrain and the
subsequent expansion of the oil industry in the post-war years, the focus of the
shipping and oil industries shifted away from Al-Khobar northward to Dammam and
Ras Tanura, one of the largest oil storage and shipping centers in the world,
located 25 km to the north of Dammam. As a result, Al-Khobar gradually found a
new role as the commercial center for the entire region.
In the early 1980s Dammam, the capital of the Eastern Region, was a separate
city but so close to Al Khobar and Dhahran that the traveler could pass from one
to the other in a few minutes. The discovery of oil in Dhahran and nearby fields
and the growing importance of the entire region affected Dammam more than any
other city in Saudi Arabia. Within three decades, the sleepy little fishing
village had become the capital of the Eastern Province. The simultaneous growth
of Dammam, Dhahran and Al-Khobar brought the three jurisdictions into physical
contact, the three towns inevitably merged into one, creating a single
municipality known as the Dammam Metropolitan Area, referred to simply as the
Dammam Area. Each of the three towns which compose the Dammam Area retain their
own character and some local administrative functions but, in terms of its place
in the Kingdom, the Dammam Area forms a single administrative entity.
The growth of the Saudi Arabian oil industry into the largest in the world
brought about the rapid development of the region. As oil production increased,
so did the number of people required to run the industry. The growing population
needed more housing and services. First-rate hospitals and schools provided
further incentives for people considering a move to the area. Service industries
sprouted up to support the oil industry and meet the needs of people living in
the Dammam Area. As a result, a region which had several hundred inhabitants
some sixty years ago now boasts a population of well over 1.5 million, growing
at a pace of over five percent a year.
The key to the success of the Dammam Area is that unlike oil towns in other
parts of the world, it has developed in all spheres. It is now a modern urban
and industrial center which happens to be the headquarters of the Saudi Arabian
oil industry. As this sector was growing in the early years, the Saudi Arabian
government took steps to facilitate the evolution of the Dammam Area. New roads
and highways connected the area to other urban and industrial centers in the
Kingdom. A railway line connected Dammam to the agricultural center of Al-Kharj
and on to Riyadh. Dhahran International Airport was established between Dhahran
and Al-Khobar to connect the region to other parts of the Kingdom and the world.
To encourage the growth of non-oil industries, an industrial city was
established in the open space between the three cities. Now home to more than
124 factories, the industrial complex is completely engulfed by an urban mass.
As a result, a second industrial city was established further away from the
Dammam Area along the highway to Riyadh. Located on nearly 6,000 acres of land,
the Second Industrial City is already home to 120 factories, with 160 others
under construction. These plants manufacture a variety of consumer and
industrial products that are marketed throughout the Kingdom and are exported to
other countries around the world. Handling such exports, as well as imports from
abroad, is the domain of shipping agents and commercial companies located in
Dammam and Al-Khobar, making the Dammam Area not only a major oil producing and
exporting area, but also a commercial and shipping center.
The growth of the region has necessitated the construction of a larger and more
modern airport to replace the Dhahran International Airport which is now cramped
for space. The new King Fahd International Airport, located 30 miles to the west
of Dammam, serves not only the Dammam Area but also the Jubail Industrial City,
some 40 miles to the north.
As it has in other parts of the Kingdom, the Ministry of Health has established
several modern hospitals and a network of health care centers in the Dammam
Area. These are supplemented by hospitals and clinics set up by the private
Having been built from the ground up, the Dammam Area was designed from the
outset on the principles of modern urban planning. Residential areas are
separate from commercial sections, roads are broad and straight and buildings
conform to a master plan. One of the main features of the development of the
area is land reclamation. Vast stretches of the shallow Gulf waters have been
filled, with hotels and office buildings occupying what were once marshes. Water
for household, urban and industrial use is provided by desalination plants that
supply approximately seven million cubic feet of treated water to the area each
day. The availability of water underpins the urban and industrial growth of the
Dammam Area, and provisions have been made for expanding existing desalination
facilities to meet future growth.
The Dammam-Dhahran-Al-Khobar area is a major hub for shipping, oil, commerce and
industry. Tankers take on oil at the terminal in Ras Tanura.
The Dammam Area is also famous for the wide variety of recreational facilities
it offers residents and visitors alike.
In many ways, the Dammam Area has evolved as the link between Saudi Arabia and
the outside world, exporting the Kingdom's products and importing its needs and
thriving on the interaction between Saudi Arabia and other countries.