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Royal Photos of Saudi Arabia’s Past - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Princess Alice's photos of her trip to Saudi Arabia on display in Manchester Central Library, December 2014. (James Hanna)

Princess Alice’s photos of her trip to Saudi Arabia on display in Manchester Central Library, December 2014. (James Hanna)

Manchester, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Manchester Public Library is holding an exhibition of rare photos taken by Princess Alice, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, during her famed journey through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1938.

The exhibition is held under the auspices of the King Abdulaziz Public Library in Riyadh in cooperation with Saudi Arabia’s embassy in the UK. Inaugurated last week and set to run for three months, the exhibition incorporates a collection of photos taken by Princess Alice during her visit to Saudi Arabia in 1938, corresponding to 1365 AH, marking the first visit ever to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by a member of the British Royal Family.

In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Dr. Abdul Karim Al-Zaied, Deputy Chairman of King Abdulaziz Public Library in Riyadh, said the princess’s visit to the Kingdom came at an interesting time in its history, making the photos a valuable historical resource.

“By holding such an exhibition, we are trying to shed light on the history of Saudi-British bilateral relations. Princess Alice’s visit is considered a historical one that illuminates the period just before the discovery of oil in the Kingdom,” Dr. Zaied said.

“Princess Alice spent three weeks in Saudi Arabia during which she traveled from Jeddah to Al-Khobar and took over 320 black and white photos that reflected the life of the Saudi people. Therefore, the King Abdulaziz Public Library considers the photos a documentation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s history, specifically in 1938,” he added.

The exhibition illustrates the various stages of Princess Alice’s journey to the Kingdom by setting the photos in chronological order, starting from her arrival in Jeddah, then moving on to her visit to Ta’if, and then to the capital Riyadh, passing through Al-Ahsa, Al-Khobar and the Eastern Province. The exhibition also displays the various different aspects of the princess’s visit, including her tours of souks, and shows the traditional Saudi female garb she wore during the visit, as well as her official and unofficial meetings with various Saudi citizens.

Princess Alice, accompanied by her husband, the Earl of Athlone, had arrived in Jeddah harbor on Friday, February 25, 1938, where they were received by Prince Faisal Bin Abdulaziz and a delegation of Saudi princes and state officials. The Saudi delegation included Hafiz Wahba, the Saudi Ambassador to London, and Ibrahim Bin Mo’amar, the Governor of Jeddah. At the end of the visit, the Royal British delegation returned to Jeddah, where they departed the Kingdom.

Dr. Zaied emphasized that the princess had a good impression of the Kingdom from the beginning of her visit, during which she became the only member of the British Royal Family to meet with King Abdulaziz in person, as well as future monarchs Prince Saud and Prince Faisal, Princess Noura, and a number of other Saudi women. Dr. Zaied also said that Princess Alice opted to focus on the social and cultural aspects of life in the urban and rural areas of the Kingdom. In her memoirs, Princess Alice highlighted the Saudi people’s hospitality, as well as what she considered to be their wonderful customs and traditions.

“Prince’s Alice’s visit was not an official one, but was an unofficial one in which she attended a number of activities such as accompanying King Saud on his hunting trips in the desert,” said Dr. Zaied.

He also lauded the quality and historical significance of Princess Alice’s photos in and of themselves. “She was a truly professional photographer, for she served the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by documenting the period just before oil discoveries . . . through a collection of rare photos,” said Dr. Zaied. “The photos are still considered among the most wonderful to have been taken of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

At the inauguration of the exhibition the delegation from King Abdulaziz Public Library—including Dr. Zaied and Fahd Abdul Kareem, the library’s Assistant Chairman—was received by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councilor Susan Cooley. Councilor Cooley cited the exhibition as a symbol of bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and the UK, and emphasized the need to further cement the cultural ties between the two kingdoms.

The inauguration was also attended by Baroness Symons, chair of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, who delivered an inaugural address in which she heralded Princess Alice’s photographs as proof of the development and the economic growth achieved by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 1938.