Roads of Arabia: untold history of Arabian Peninsula on show at Louvre Abu Dhabi

New exhibition will mark the museum's first anniversary

A picture taken on November 6, 2018 shows visitors inside the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, in the Emirati capital. The museum, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, will celebrate the first anniversary of its official opening to the public on November 11.  / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE

Ancient sculptures, gold funeral masks, haunting colossal statues and a door to the Kaaba.

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s new exhibition opening on Thursday will display the rich and untold history of the Arabian Peninsula, from the dawn of civilisation to modernity.

The critically acclaimed Roads of Arabia takes people on a journey around a region so often mistaken for just an empty desert. Visitors will get the chance to learn about some of the earliest inhabitants of Arabia.

For the first time, the show includes pieces from the UAE. Many of the artefacts were unearthed only in the past few decades and are gradually drawing back the curtain on a glittering past.

It is also the first showing of the exhibition in the Arabian Peninsula outside of Saudi Arabia, and marks Louvre Abu Dhabi’s one-year anniversary.

"This exhibition is a privilege for all visitors," Souraya Noujaim, scientific, curatorial and collection management director at Louvre Abu Dhabi, told The National. "The history of the region has yet to be told expansively and this exhibition contributes to telling the story of the region," said Ms Noujaim, also one of the three curators.

The expanded version of Roads of Arabia includes a priceless pearl found in Umm Al Quwain and a 5,000-year-old stone decorated with a wild camel on loan from the Al Ain Museum.


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“We feel very proud to be bringing a show exhibiting GCC artefacts to the museum, it is a privilege to show such rare, historic objects from the UAE in an Abu Dhabi institution,” said Ms Noujaim.

“The archaeological pieces from the UAE are hugely important … and we anticipate [them] being exciting discoveries for visitors to the museum.”

Roads of Arabia is among Saudi Arabia's most famous shows. Jointly developed by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and the Louvre in Paris in 2010, it has travelled across the globe, showing at some of the world's top museums and drawing more than five million visitors. It was one of the most popular archaeological shows to have been staged at the Smithsonian's highly-regarded Sackler Gallery in Washington DC.

“Although the exhibition focuses on Saudi Arabia’s civilisations, it also highlights civilisations of the Arabian Peninsula including major hubs along the ancient trade routes, which were important links in the cultural and historical narrative of this highly-strategic region,” said Jamal Omar, vice president of the antiquities and museums department at the Saudi commission and another one of the curators.

Mr Omar told The National that is was important to educate Saudis about the depth of the country's cultural heritage and Louvre Abu Dhabi's exhibition would support that aim.

"We are now more aware of the importance of culture in Saudi Arabia. Take the Silk Road and incense trade routes - Arabia contributed to the wellbeing of the world," he said.

Mr Omar said more important discoveries will be announced in the near future.  "We are not in a hurry to announce them this until all the work is completed."

Regarding plans to open the Kingdom to tourism, Mr Omar said a lot of work is being done to promote cultural heritage and Saudi Arabia as a destination for international tourists.

Louvre Abu Dhabi is hosting host a three-day musical celebration beginning on Thursday to mark the opening of the exhibition. A multicultural music, dance and poetry extravaganza featuring 80 artists from across the region is planned. It will be accompanied by a calligraphic performance by Tunisian artist Koom. In addition, the cultural programme supporting the exhibition includes workshops, talks, while artist Hind Mezaina will curate a selection of film screenings.

“The Arabian Peninsula has been a place of exchange, culture and civilisation since earliest antiquity,” says Manuel Rabate, director of Louvre Abu Dhabi. “The exhibition is an important opportunity for us to re-examine and celebrate this rich heritage through a remarkable series of artefacts, expanding on the regional pieces in our permanent collection, to tell an Arabian story from a new perspective,” he said.

Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia shows at Louvre Abu Dhabi from November 8 until February 16. Admission is included in the price of a museum ticket. For more information visit