Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), opened a major heritage show at the Museum of Fine arts in Houston on Wednesday (Dec 18) and highlighted the significant role played by Islam in bolstering security and stability in Arabia.“ Islam also enriched the Arab culture and civilization,” the SCTA chief said in his speech at a dinner banquet after the opening, which included several US officials, academics and former Secretary of State James Baker.
Houston is the third US city to host the popular exhibition entitled “Saudi Archeological Masterpieces Exhibition through the Ages.” It showcases 250 artifacts, covering a period from the Paleolithic era (one million years BC) up to the emergence of the modern Saudi state. It will continue in Houston until March 9.
The exhibition focuses on the impact of the ancient trade routes across the Arabian Peninsula that fostered economic and cultural exchanges between peoples. The SCTA chief also underscored the remarkable progress achieved by Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. “Saudi Arabia is a stable country and is making steady progress.”
Prince Sultan added: “Excavations have proved the progress achieved by the Kingdom’s historical cities such as Makkah, Madinah, Taima, Al-Ula and Najran. The historic Souk Okaz in Taif not only promoted trade but also cultural activities, he said.
Prince Sultan said Saudi Arabia wants to maintain strong relations with the United States. “King Abdul Aziz, the founder, had told then US President Franklin Roosevelt that he wanted to strengthen US relations because it upholds its unchangeable values.” He underscored the growing Saudi-US ties. Thousands of Saudi students are pursuing their higher studies at American universities and institutes, he said.
Prince Sultan said the artifacts on display at Houston, which were excavated from more than 10 archaeological sites, forms part of an effort to learn more about the cultures that thrived in the Arabian Peninsula. The show was previously staged at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. and the Carnegie Museum in Pennsylvania, drawing thousands of visitors, including many students, academics and archaeologists.
The Houston show is sponsored by Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil, Boeing, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, Olayan Financing Group and Khalid Ali Al-Turki & Sons. He said the exhibition achieved great success at its six previous stations, beginning with the Louvre Museum, the Spanish Acacia institution, the Hermitage Russian Museum and Pergamum Museum in Germany, attracting more than 2 million visitors.
Visitors at the Smithsonian described the exhibition as one of the best ever held in the Washington D.C. area, because it had important relics outlining Arabian history and culture across different ages. Japanese visitor Kueno Francis Tanami said the exhibition was stunning because he did not realize such ancient civilizations existed in the Arabian Peninsula. “In fact, for a long time we’ve been busy with Greek, Roman and Pharaonic history, but I didn’t know about this part of the world. I’ve seen very beautiful pieces, and they are totally new to me,” he said.
Peter Dingham and Lily Angle, who arrived specially from Virginia to see the show, said: “What we’ve seen at the exhibition has astonished us. We’re surprised at seeing such a great Arab civilization dating back thousands of years. It is wonderful to be closely acquainted with the antiquities of this great civilization in the United States.”