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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Riyadh: The “AlUla, Wonder of Arabia” exhibition recently opened at the Palace Museum in Beijing’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Forbidden City.
Promising a journey through AlUla’s 7,000 years of successive civilizations and 200,000 years of shared human history, the exhibition is a collaboration between the Royal Commission for AlUla, the Palace Museum and the French Agency for AlUla Development. It features hundreds of artifacts on display, some for the first time.
“AlUla, Wonder of Arabia” was previously held at the Arab World Institute in Paris from October 2019 to March 2020, and the new edition was curated by archaeologists Laila Nehme, senior research fellow at CNRS, and Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani, executive director of archaeology, conservation and collections at RCU.
Alsuhaibani said that in its second edition, the exhibition will showcase not only AlUla’s natural landscapes, rare archaeological artifacts, and rich cultural heritage, but also around 50 items among the 236 exhibits that have never been displayed before.
He said that this extensive display will guide the Palace Museum’s visitors through an immersive journey of AlUla’s history and legacy, revealing recently excavated cultural relics and ancient animal bones dating to the prehistoric era, contributing to a deeper understanding of that time.
Apart from the newly exhibited artifacts, the exhibition showcases rare sculptures, pottery, rock paintings, inscriptions, bronze relics, immersive multimedia, and works by renowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, presenting the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of AlUla.
Through the expertly curated chronological layout of the exhibition, visitors can seamlessly explore the geographical intricacies and environmental settings that facilitated the earliest human settlements in AlUla. Visitors move from one space to another, following a chronological and thematic layout, with stops at the four main heritage sites in the AlUla Valley: Dadan, Hegra, Qurh, and Old Town, exploring in each stop many secrets of the ancient civilizations that inhabited these sites.
The Dadan ruins have revealed a large number of crafted sculptures and artworks, and visitors can witness the prosperity of the Dadan and Lihyanite dynasties through these works. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Hegra is an ancient city renowned for its stone-carved facades of tombs and well-preserved funerary monuments.
The exhibition also serves as a reminder of the legacy of trade that once connected the Arabian Peninsula with China. AlUla lies along the ancient Incense Road and later routes of pilgrimage to Makkah, and its historical significance as a trading hub is evident from the myriad of caravans that traversed the landscape. These routes enabled the transport of Chinese silk and ceramics to the Arabian Peninsula, and Arabian frankincense among other precious goods, to China.
Subsequently, AlUla emerged as a crucial hub where traders, pilgrims and travelers converged, leaving behind a mosaic of cultural and commercial exchange.
Abdulrahman Altrairi, chief of communications and PR at the RCU, said: “AlUla, a brilliant cultural gem in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, has historically been a convergence point for various civilizations. The development of AlUla is now an important part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan. We are delighted to present AlUla’s enduring historical and cultural treasures to a Chinese audience.
“This exhibit will enhance AlUla’s international prominence, solidify its status as a home to a rich history and cultural heritage, and lay the foundations for enhanced exchanges between China and Saudi Arabia in archaeology, culture, tourism, and the arts.”
Lou Wei, executive vice president of the Palace Museum, said: “Hosting the ‘AlUla, Wonder of Arabia’ exhibition will further deepen cultural exchanges and cooperation between China and foreign cultures, making a significant contribution to promoting people-to-people connectivity along the Belt and Road Initiative and building a community with a shared future for humanity.”
Simond de Galbert, first secretary of the French Embassy in China, said: “By choosing for its exhibition the Forbidden City, one of the most visited UNESCO World Heritage sites, AlUla confirms once again its ambition to share with an international audience the vast extent of its dazzling heritage. China’s hosting of ‘AlUla, Wonder of Arabia’ is a new and prestigious launch pad for the exhibition’s journey to the rest of the world.”
The opening ceremony was held in the presence of Abdulrahman Alharbi, the Saudi ambassador to China; Hussain bin Ibrahim Alhammadi, the UAE ambassador to China; with representatives from Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and French embassies.
Visitors to Beijing’s Forbidden City can attend the exhibition until March 22.
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