A magnificent cultural event took place recently which not only advanced our knowledge as Arabs and Muslims, but also revealed the cultural changes that have taken place in the Arab and Islamic world at large.
At the Louvre museum in Paris, an exhibition was opened in July entitled “Arabian Routes – Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” The manner in which the antiquities were exhibited – not to mention the value of these antiquities themselves – confirmed to the world the authenticity of the civilizations of the Arab Peninsula, Syria and Palestine. The exhibition served as a window through which the Europeans could view Arab civilization and its roots, changing their preconceptions about the Arabs, who much of the world view as being nothing more than terrorists who export violence and hatred. The best approach is for us to bring out ancient and modern cultural civilization and heritage to Europe in order to eliminate these misinformed impressions. This exhibition can be traced back to the great effort exerted by Prince Sultan Bin Salman, who is the Secretary-General of the Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities [SCTA] in Saudi Arabia, and who has succeeded in generating interest in the cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia, initiating steps to raise awareness of Saudi Arabia’s civilization and cultural heritage across the entire world. This initiative has been extremely successful, and there is nothing better than visiting Paris, the City of Light, in order visit an exhibition that aims to change the preconceptions of the western world whose image of the region does not extend beyond the image of an empty desert or a caravan of camels. Therefore it was important to let the West know that this desert has given rise to a number of important civilizations dating back to 4,000 BC, and that important nations, civilizations and religions sprung forth from this desert, bringing the light of knowledge and faith to the world at large. As for the camel, the knowledge and culture of the region were conveyed to the rest of the world, thanks to these ships of the desert.
This exhibition was even more successful than its curators expected, and evidence of this was the large number of people who spoke to me about their desire to visit Saudi Arabia in order to tour its antiquities and learn more about its cultural heritage. This is not to mention the political gains Saudi Arabia has achieved thanks to this exhibition, and it was opened by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, in the attendance of his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner. This exhibition, which ran between July and September at the Louvre museum, was visited by more than 160,000 people during its two and half month run. This exhibition was covered by international news media, and it was truly news worthy as this represents the first time that as many as 300 archeological pieces were exhibited outside of Saudi Arabia, revealing the history of this region from the Stone Age until the modern period.
The archeological pieces chosen to be displayed as part of this exhibition were chosen in order to narrate the story of how civilization moved and grew via trade routes and ancient paths, as well as how art, carving, engravings, and calligraphy evolved in this part of the region. In addition to this, large black and white photographs and images of the desert were also exhibited revealing the charm of this region and how the ancient people of this region managed to produce great civilizations despite the inhospitable climate.
The exhibition also included a portrait of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and a statue of a man made of pink stone that was discovered recently, as well as a number of huge statues carved from stone whose height reach almost four meters. However, in my opinion, the greatest and most important archeological piece exhibited at the Louvre was a gold-plated door of the Kaaba which showcases Muslim creativity and workmanship.
I would like to express my gratitude to the curators of the “Arabian Routes – Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” exhibition. I hope that this exhibition will tour the US, Australia, Japan, and China, following its tour of a number of European capital cities. Antiquities and culture will always remain the best ambassador for us and others, in order for peace and respect to prevail between all nations of the world.