Saudi Arabia’s newest jail has a 4 1/2 star rating on TripAdvisor

Grecian columns are the new metal bars.
Grecian columns are the new metal bars.
Image: Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool
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The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a five-star accommodation known for its grand indoor pool and gentlemen’s-only spa, is currently being used for a decidedly different purpose: housing elite political prisoners.

According to the New York Times (paywall), the hotel was converted over the weekend into “almost certainly the world’s most luxurious prison.”

On Saturday night, dozens were arrested (paywall) in Saudi Arabia, among them 11 princes and billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Guests at the hotel were roused at 11pm and told to come down to the lobby with their bags, the Guardian reported.

A shaky video posted on the Times’ website showed people lying on mats in the hotel’s ballroom, where military-style weapons rested in the corner.

Prior to housing detainees, The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh was one of the most opulent hotels in the region. International travelers have rated its accommodations at four and a half stars on TripAdvisor, which also recently gave the hotel a certificate of excellence.

On Instagram, patrons have posted hundreds of photos of the Riyadh, which was previously known as:

A lavish location for business meetings

A go-to spot for an indulgent brunch

A stunning wedding locale

A serene place (for men) to take a dip

A great spot for a room with a view

A place to take selfies with stars of the new global economy

In an interview on a travel sales website last year, Riyadh general manager Gerrit Graef said his aim was to increase the hotel’s visibility worldwide. “My vision for The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh is to [be recognized as a] world-class luxury hotel not just in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region, but globally,” he said.

Inadvertently, Graef seems to have gotten his wish for global notoriety.