PARIS.- This exhibition invites visitors on a journey into the heart of Arabia, accompanied by a photographic exploration of the regions sumptuous landscapes. It is conceived as a series of waypoints along the roads or trails criss-crossing the peninsula, including several of its major oases that were home in ancient times to powerful kingdoms. The exhibition then follows the pilgrims who traveled these same routes beginning in the seventh century, converging upon Islams holiest sites. Through a selection of 300 works, most of which have never been seen before outside their country of origin, visitors are offered an unprecedented glimpse into the various cultures that inhabited the territory of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from prehistoric times to the dawn of the modern era.
The works shown reveal little-known aspects of a prosperous and flourishing pre-Islamic Arab world, which has been unveiled gradually over the years thanks to archaeological excavations. Awe-inspiring Neolithic funerary steles, colossal statues representing Lihyanite kings (6th4th century B.C.), silver tableware or precious jewels found in tombs, among other artifacts, bear witness to the scale and reach of this civilization without equal. Despite difficult environmental conditions, the peoples of this region made the most of its unique geographical position along trade routes linking the ports of the Indian Ocean or the lands of the Horn of Africa to Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean world. Early in the first millennium B.C., as exchanges intensified, the regions caravan cities prospered, imbuing the local culture with new trends and ideas arriving from the many prominent empires traversed by these routes.
The second section of the exhibition highlights the role of Arabia as the cradle of Islam, as these routes began to be traveled by pilgrims as well as merchants. A first set of archaeological finds reflects these pilgrimages and al-Rabadha, one of the main resting places for caravans. Next, a selection of funerary steles illustrates the development of calligraphy and other decorative arts between the tenth and sixteenth centuries, providing insights into the characteristics of Meccan society during this period. Muslim rulers sought to outdo each other as benefactors of their religions holy sites, commissioning various edifices and embellishments, as evidenced by the monumental portal from the Kaba, crafted in the name of the Ottoman sultan Murad IV (162340). The exhibition closes with a section devoted to the foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.