Leonardo sets up his stall in a mall

A travelling exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci's inventions and artwork has come to the Burjuman Mall in Dubai after stopping at sites around the world for 12 years.

Dubai,  United Arab Emirates- November 14,  2011:  Life Bouy being displayed at the Da Vinci Exhibition at the Burjuman Shopping Mall  in Dubai Mall  . (  Satish Kumar / The National )
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DUBAI // When he was only 12, Leonardo da Vinci designed the world's first robot.

The self-operating machine could open and close its jaw, sit up, wave its arms and move its head.

Ahead of its time by almost 500 years, the robot remains one of Leonardo's least-known designs and inventions.

But from now until December 5, this mechanical man can be seen at the Burjuman Mall in Dubai in the form of a miniature warrior clad in medieval, Germanic-Italian armour.

A glimpse inside the mind of the 15th-century genius comes in the intricate workings of the robot's pulleys and cables. The machinery inside almost looks like the inside of a human body. The robot is just one of 85 exhibits at the mall, part of the touring international "Da Vinci Exhibition" that is stopping for the first time in the Middle East.

In collaboration with the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence, Italy, the exhibition allows visitors to interact with 60 machines that were created from the original Leonardo drawings.

The inventions are broken down into four main themes: war machines, flying machines, nautical and hydraulic inventions, and principles of mechanics. Reproductions of 16 pieces of his artwork, including the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, are also on display.

"It is a mystery how one man could be so versatile and a genius in so many fields," said Dania El Solh, a Lebanese American who recently went to see the exhibition.

Renowned as the great master of the High Renaissance, Leonardo was a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, composer, scientist and inventor.

"It is like he had a glimpse of the future," Mrs El Solh said.

The mother of two who took her 11-year-old son, Nassim, and eight-year-old daughter, Sarah, to the exhibition, said she wanted to show them "what happens when you don't have television".

"You start to invent things," she said with a smile.

Leonardo's inventions can still be found in almost every aspect of our lives, including our own garages: the bicycle, the jack, and a car with a leaf spring, which is part of the wheel suspension in many of today's cars.

He also invented machines that conquered the skies, including the "air screw" - the ancestor of the helicopter - as well as the parachute and the glider.

Leonardo also took on the natural force of water. He invented the "lifebuoy" made of leather and filled with air, the diver's mask and the breathing tube.

He also invented the double hull boat - still in use today - which allows a vessel to keep floating even after the outer layer has been attacked or rammed, and a wooden ski-like contraption that allowed you to "walk on water".

"Wow, is it really Leonardo da Vinci's work?" That's the most common reaction by visitors to the exhibition, says Lukas Cabalka, the creative and account director at CMart Worldwide, a global entertainment company that is producing and presenting the exhibition.

The exhibition had been touring the world for more than 12 years before it came to the mall.

"It is our culture, the culture of 21st century. People come to shopping malls, to eat, meet, greet, shop, and get entertained," Mr Cabalka said.

Besides his revolutionary inventions and thoughts, there is another reason why Leonardo may be of particular interest to this region: theories of his Arab roots have been making the rounds since a group of Italian scientists in 2007 analysed one of his fingerprints.

There is also a popular academic theory that Leonardo's mother, Caterina, was a Turkish slave who came to Tuscany.

"There is actually a bridge to oriental knowledge, and many of DaVinci's machines and designs were inspired or directly based on principles of oriental technology," said Mr Cabalka, naming works of Al Khwarizmi, the father of algebra, and Ibn Al Haytham, the father of optics.

* The Da Vinci Exhibition is free and open from 10am to 10pm daily until December 5. For more information, visit http://touringexhibitions.ca/