RIYADH: “Age-Old Cities,” an exhibition that opened in Riyadh last month, uses virtual reality to allow visitors to access four significant heritage sites in the Arab world that were once vibrant and beautiful, but are now destroyed — or seriously threatened: Mosul in Iraq; Aleppo and Palmyra in Syria; and Leptis Magna in Libya.
The immersive exhibition — organized by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Institut de Monde Arabe in Paris, where the exhibition was first displayed — uses VR technology, giant-screen projections, archival documents and images, and video testimonials to take visitors on a journey from the cities’ origins through to their modern-day state, in order to raise awareness about the need to preserve cultural treasures.
"The importance of the exhibition comes from the fact that it reveals the horrors of terrorism and illustrates its devastating effects on man, civilization and history, through a virtual trip to Arab cultural sites destroyed by terrorists such as: Aleppo, Palmyra, Mosul, Ninewa and Leptis Magna,” said Abdul-Kareem Al-Humaid, spokesman for the Ministry of Culture.
“This message, which rejects terrorism in all its forms, fully reflects the position of Saudi Arabia, which rejects extremism and fights terrorism and terrorists everywhere,” he said.
The spokesman said the Ministry of Culture organized the exhibition under the guidance of the minister of Culture, Prince Badr is on the basis of faith in the humanitarian message presented by the exhibition which meets with the Ministry's interest in cultural and archeological sites and its keenness to take care and protect them from any threat. “The ministry’s organization of an international exhibition such as this comes in the context of its keenness to promote international cultural dialogue and open communication with the world.”
The spokesman added: “The importance of the exhibition was portrayed through the vast number of audiences that came from different backgrounds, from diplomats to visitors from different countries which will result in the Saudi Arabia’s stand against terrorism correctly and effectively.”
One of the volunteers at the exhibition told Arab News that some visitors had been visibly shaken when they left. The volunteer described it as an “emotional roller-coaster” for two visitors from Mosul and Aleppo in particular, who had left with tears in their eyes after seeing the “before and after” of their respective cities, both of which are currently reduced, for the most part, to rubble.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal saluted the Ministry of Culture, which is led by Prince Badr Al-Saud, for organizing such an exhibition.
He pointed out that documenting the devastation caused by terrorism makes a great contribution to raising awareness of the value of cultural heritage.
“Without this awareness and sensing the importance of this intangible heritage, we cannot preserve it and protect it from the hands of saboteurs and extremists,” he said.
“As much as I am pleased with this visit, I am saddened by the images I have seen in this exhibition — especially as it highlights the ancient archaeological cities listed in the UNESCO list of human heritage such as Aleppo and Palmyra in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq,” he continued.
He said the exhibition “managed to take us on a virtual journey and a unique realistic simulation to see, live, these cities that were subjected to destruction, desecration and theft. The exhibition succeeded in defining the magnitude of the great and terrible loss suffered by humanity for this neglect and destruction.”
“Age-Old Cities” runs at the National Museum in Riyadh until May 18. During Ramadan, the exhibition will be open daily from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.