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Discovering AlUla at the Arab World Institute in Paris

Tomorrow marks the official opening of the exhibition AlUla, Wonder of Arabia, at the Arab World Institute in Paris. Shortly before this opening, we had the chance to walk the aisles with Leïla Nehmé, co-curator of the exhibition, and even to meet Yann Arthus Bertrand, who provided the aerial images that welcome visitors, in this experience to discover a cradle of the Arab world...

Archaeological excavations have been taking place in the AlUla region for almost 20 years now, under the aegis of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With the recent opening of the country to tourists, the richness of the area, whether cultural, historical, natural or culinary, will now become more and more accessible to the whole world. What better way to reveal AlUla’s beauty to the world than to organize this exhibition in its honor?

“The exhibition is dedicated to the city and region of AlUla, a small town in Saudi Hijaz, whose archaeological sites are presented to the public for the first time, with a scenario-based approach that consists in first offering visitors an immersion experience thanks to the extraordinary aerial videos of the very talented Yann Arthus Bertrand,” explains Leïla Nehmé, CNRS research director and co-director of the Franco-Saudi archaeological mission in Mada’ în Saleh. Then, it enters the more archaeological part with the presentation of the different sites, educational tools, video animations, experimental archaeology, etc. ”

And the formula is effective. After the “wow” effect caused by the breathtaking images reported by Yann Arthus Bertrand, one feels caught up in the various vestiges presented, inscriptions in nabateo-arabic, a transition language constituting the first fruits of the Arabic language here, sculptures dating from prehistoric times to the Bronze Age there, or the book of tales by Ibn Battûta, the explorer who traveled tens of thousands of kilometers throughout the Arab world in the 14th century.

“I said yes right away”

As for this other traveler who has explored the region much more recently, he admits he was impressed by the beauty of the place. Indeed, it is a Yann Arthus Bertrand who is still a dreamer who explains: “I dreamed of going to Saudi Arabia. I knew this place, I had seen the pictures of AlUla, I knew the pictures of Mada’în Saleh. So as soon as Jack Lang asked me to go, I said yes right away. It is a place that is extremely mineral where lava has flowed everywhere, there are many colors, and it was even more beautiful than I imagined. We were very well received and were able to do what we wanted… Great! ”

Mutual discovery

Undoubtedly, the exhibition should delight visitors wishing, such as the famous French photographer, reporter, director and ecologist mentioned above, to better discover this little-known region, and perhaps, in the long term, encourage tourists to visit it. In any case, it is the wish of Amr Al Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla: “There is no point in having a beautiful garden until you can invite your friends to come and enjoy it. That’s exactly how we see things for AlUla. We want the whole world to come and visit us, tell us their story and discover ours.

A virtuous development

Having been stationed in the region for many years, Leïla Nehmé has a very positive view of the region’s development, as well as the growing interest it enjoys, but she would like to point out that: “If more tourist visits are to be organized in the region, the most important thing is that they are carried out according to three principles: respect for the environment, archaeological remains, and the population, because those who live there, who have always lived there, must not suffer from this tourist development, which is never insignificant”.