PARIS (Rahnuma): This month sees the inauguration of an immersive and research-driven exhibition showcasing one of Saudi Arabia’s most significant historical and cultural locations, AlUla.
Running at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris from October 9 to January 19, “AlUla: Wonder of Arabia” is the world’s first major exhibition dedicated to exploring the multilayered history and arresting scenery of the area.
Isolated in the desert of the Kingdom’s northwestern region, AlUla is an archaeological marvel — boasting golden sandstone canyons, colossal arches and rock formations — that has played host to numerous ancient civilizations, from the Neolithic to the Roman to the Ottoman, making it a significant cultural crossroads.
“A landscape composed of mountains, hills and rivers, adorned with colors that change from morning to evening, where calm, silence, tranquility and mystery are intertwined,” was how IMA’s president Jack Lang described this impressive setting — which is actually home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site — in an official statement.
Although the exhibition’s organizers describe AlUla as an “oasis with 7,000 years of history,” it has only been in recent years that it was brought to world attention, thanks to strategic efforts supported by Saudi government officials. The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was founded in 2017 with the aim — in collaboration with overseas partners — of preserving and protecting the area, and promoting AlUla to regional and international audiences.
One of RCU’s ultimate goals is to cultivate AlUla as “a world-class tourist destination.” Plans to boost tourism in the Kingdom have already been set in motion with the arrival of the groundbreaking news that the country will grant tourist visas to nationals of 49 countries.
Last year saw the launch of AlUla’s Winter at Tantora Festival, which hosted musical legends including Andrea Bocelli, Lang Lang, and Majida El-Roumi. Furthermore, the renowned French architect Jean Nouvel — who also designed the IMA back in the 1980s — plans to construct a bespoke resort called Sharaan, nestled in the rocks of AlUla, an architectural project that is scheduled for completion by 2023.
According to Saudi archeologist and professor Dr. Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani, who co-curated “AlUla: Wonder of Arabia,” the initial idea for the exhibition came last year. Seeing it finally come to fruition symbolizes a moment of pride but most importantly, an opportunity to enlighten audiences with a better understanding of the Kingdom’s storied archaeological history.
“For a long time, many foreigners have held a common and stereotypical view of Saudi Arabia as a country depending solely on petrol, which is not true,” the Sorbonne-educated Alsuhaibani told Arab News. “Our country has a historical depth of civilizations (to rival) those found in neighboring areas, whether it be Mesopotamia, Greater Syria or Egypt. What I hope to deliver through this exhibition is the true cultural identity of Saudi Arabia, as it deserves to be viewed.”