Exploring the rich cultural tapestries of Arab cities


Exploring the rich cultural tapestries of Arab cities

When exploring a city, cultural history books provide wonderful escapes for those who appreciate the intersection of narratives
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The historical, cultural and social richness found within Arab cities is a treasure that must be documented and shared with a broader audience.

To illustrate this notion, luxury book publisher Assouline this year published a set of coffee table books that survey the cultural heritage of the Arab region. For example, “Saudi Coffee: The Culture of Hospitality” is a captivating exploration of the region’s cultural fabric woven through the narrative of coffee. This book takes readers on a visual odyssey, immersing them in the time-honored customs of hospitality that span millennia, while highlighting the meticulous care and regional roasting methods that produce the diverse flavors of coffee beans.

Another equally captivating book, “Saudi Dates: A Portrait of the Sacred Fruit,” delves into the cultural significance and beauty of dates, using original photography and illustrations to offer readers a glimpse of the many varieties of dates harvested by skilled artisans. In fact, Al-Ahsa Oasis in Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest date palm oasis, comprising about 3 million palm trees, and it has garnered the prestigious status of being a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other publications highlighting the cultural beauty of the region include “Al’Madinah: The City of the Prophet,” which discusses the profound historical and religious significance of Madinah and its greatest landmarks, and “AlUla Ever,” which celebrates the Saudi Arabian oasis that blends ancient sites with modern luxury. AlUla features the UNESCO-listed Hegra among its diverse attractions, alongside desert landscapes, polo tournaments, cultural performances and stargazing tours.

That said, embarking on a project to capture the social and cultural histories of Arab cities is important for several reasons. It helps preserve the rich heritage of the region, ensuring that important historical events and traditions are not lost. It also allows current and future generations to connect with their roots and understand the factors that have shaped their communities, while fostering a sense of belonging, pride and collective identity.

A number of themes could be considered as part of a comprehensive survey of the cultural legacies of Arab cities

Sara Al-Mulla

Arab cities have long been characterized by a rich melting pot of diverse cultures. Shedding light on this helps showcase the variety of traditions, languages and practices that have coexisted and enriched the cultural fabric of the region. This becomes a valuable tool for cultural diplomacy, as it provides a shared platform where positive interactions between Arab cities and the international community are nurtured. At the same time, sharing the fascinating cultural identity of Arab cities can attract tourists.

A number of themes could be considered as part of a comprehensive survey of the cultural legacies of Arab cities. The origins and establishment of these cities should be the starting point of the narratives, piquing interest regarding their presence, which has spanned millennia, and their interconnectedness with other civilizations. The intersection of trade and commerce is another theme that explains these cities’ pivotal role as hubs on strategic trade routes within regional and global economies. Moreover, the role of religious and ethnic diversity collectively narrates the story of tolerance and progress.

Cultural flourishes, manifested through contributions to the vast spectrum of the arts — from gastronomy, fashion and fine arts to music, literature and performance — demonstrate Arab cities’ impact on the global cultural landscape. Highlighting architectural marvels allows the acknowledgement of the ingenuity of regional engineers and creatives who have left behind impressive, long-standing monuments. The preservation of cultural heritage sites and the celebration of local festivals contribute to the vibrancy of cities. Finally, it is important to understand the environmental history of the region in order to devise robust sustainability efforts that secure its resilience in the face of climate change.

The preservation of cultural heritage sites and the celebration of local festivals contribute to the vibrancy of cities

Sara Al-Mulla

Publishing the cultural history of Arab cities can use various formats, each offering an explorative journey that caters to different audiences. For instance, a coffee table book offers a blend of gorgeous visuals and engaging narratives, featuring many beautiful settings. For a more dynamic and immersive experience, a documentary film or series can bring cultural history to life. In the context of an exhibition, a catalog serves as a valuable companion, offering additional context, insights and visuals to enhance visitors’ understanding of priceless artifacts. Collaborating with artists to create artistic installations that represent the region’s culture can also captivate audiences.

Publishing guidebooks for heritage trails in Arab cities encourages physical exploration and learning about cultural history. Meanwhile, podcast series and online articles provide diverse avenues for audiences to delve into the rich cultural tapestry of the region. Furthermore, crafting a series of historical fiction novels set in Arab cities can weave historical facts into a compelling storyline, making cultural history accessible and enjoyable for literary enthusiasts.

On the scholarly end, an academic monograph provides a comprehensive and detailed analysis, supporting those seeking in-depth research and a thorough exploration of the intricate layers of cultural history. Complementing this with a digital archive that houses documents, photographs and multimedia elements is a fantastic way to facilitate the access that is sought by global academic communities.

Whether exploring the history of a city, delving into the world of fashion or celebrating the beauty of art and design, cultural history books provide wonderful escapes for those who appreciate the intersection of cultures, histories and social narratives.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.
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