Ancient artifacts a top attraction at Saudi exhibition in Athens

Greek Minister of Culture Lydia Koniordou and SCTH Chairman Ahmad Al-Khateeb inaugurate the event in Athens. (SPA)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Ancient artifacts a top attraction at Saudi exhibition in Athens

  • “Roads of Arabia” has visited 14 other countries since it was first shown in Paris in 2010
  • Through the exhibition, the Kingdom has been able to share its history and cultural heritage with more than 5 million visitors around the world

ATHENS: The exhibition “Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia” continues to travel the world, opening in Greece on Wednesday, under the patronage of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

The exhibition was originally developed by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) and the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where it was first exhibited in 2010. Since then, it has visited 14 other countries before arriving in Greece. “Roads of Arabia” highlights the cultural heritage of the Kingdom and features ancient artifacts from Saudi Arabia.

Greek Minister of Culture Lydia Koniordou opened the 16th edition of “Roads of Arabia” — which will run until May 25 at the Benaki Museum in Athens — in front of an audience including SCTH Chairman Ahmad Al-Khateeb, the Kingdom’s Ambassador to Greece, Esam bin Ibrahim Al-Mal, and a number of officials from both countries.

“Greece has contributed to Western civilization since ancient times, while the Kingdom witnessed the emergence of the Islamic civilization,” Al-Khateeb said at the opening. “Both helped shape the past and present of our world. The relation between Greece and Arabia extends over 3,000 years. This is highlighted in some of the antiquities found in the Kingdom, showcasing the historical and cultural links between Arabia, Greece and Byzantium.

“The Kingdom has always been a crossroads for human civilizations due to its strategic location linking global trade roads,” he continued. “The archaeological discoveries have shown that the Kingdom was a witness to many advanced civilizations since the Stone Age.” 

Al-Khateeb said that, through “Roads of Arabia,” the Kingdom has been able to share its history and cultural heritage with more than 5 million visitors around the world.

“More than 10,000 archaeological sites were discovered in the Kingdom, of which only 400 have been excavated. Just imagine the archaeological wealth (to be) found there,” he added.

As well as examining the 466 rare pieces that comprise the traveling exhibition — dating from the Stone Age to the era of King Abdul Aziz, founder of Saudi Arabia — attendees also toured a “virtual museum” set up by SCTH. 

Meanwhile, working to uncover the past of the Arabian Peninsula, foreign experts have been carrying out archaeological excavations on Farasan Island since 2017. 

So far, a team has revealed 30 sites dating back to pre-Islamic periods, including a number of settlements, animal remains including deer, cows, horses and turtles, and various finds including ancient Arabic inscriptions, and sites dating back to the Roman Empire.

They believe that the future of archaeology in the region is exciting. Experts are aiming to map the entirety of the island’s sites, creating a guide to its historical timeline and development. More local archaeologists, from academics to diggers, are also set for specialized training, to help uncover and preserve some of the Kingdom’s most precious new sites.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Arabian Peninsula was a mystery to Orientalists, but they didn’t want to venture into the desert sands. However, in the late 19th century they came and got to know the lands and the people.

Many sites were registered at that time, especially in the 1970’s, when a comprehensive archaeological survey was done. The results of that time provided a vast list of archaeological sites.


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019
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Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


EVENTS WATCH

1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.


The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.