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LAST CHANCE Roads of Arabia – Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
This exhibition highlighting the cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia has already visited several European countries and the USA in the last eight years; some 300 works reveal the archaeology and the history of the kingdom from prehistoric times to the dawn of the modern world, a journey through the heart of Arabia that is complemented by photographs of the region’s sumptuous landscapes.
It takes the form of a series of stopovers in some of the peninsula’s extensive oases, which in ancient times were home to powerful states or which, beginning in the 7th century, became Islamic holy places. The items selected, most of which have never left their country of origin before, provide an original panorama of the different cultures that succeeded each other.
They reveal in particular the little-known past of a dazzling, prosperous Arabic world now being gradually discovered by archaeologists. Moving Neolithic funerary stelae, colossal statues of the kings of Lihyan (6th – 4th century BC), and silver tableware and precious jewellery placed in tombs testify to the dynamism of this civilization. Despite a hostile natural environment, the inhabitants succeeded in taking advantage of their country’s geographical situation as a crossing point for the roads linking the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa to Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean world. Early in the first millennium BCE, this trans-Arabian trade brought prosperity to the caravan cities and permeated the local culture with new fashions and ideas from the great neighbouring empires.
The second section of the exhibition highlights the role of Arabia as the cradle of Islam. The roads became crowded with pilgrims as well as traders; a first group of exhibits evokes the pilgrim paths and Al-Rabadha, one of the principal stopping-places. Following this road as far as Mecca, a second group comprises a selection of funerary stelae illustrating the evolution of writing and ornamentation between the 10th and 16th century and providing precious information on Meccan society at the time. Muslim sovereigns vied with each other in their generosity towards holy places, with buildings and such ventures into embellishment as this monumental door from the Ka’ba, the gift of an Ottoman sultan.
This exhibition is curated by Béatrice André-Salvini and Françoise Demange, Department of Near Eastern Antiquities at the Musée du Louvre; Carine Juvin, Department of Islamic Art, Musée du Louvre; and Dr Ali Al Ghabban, Vice President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.