Few months ago, I asked what SBG described as a mind-provoking question. Well, my point of that post was not just to provoke minds. The idea of the post came after a visit to the Saudi National Museum. I have been living in Riyadh for 3 years, and I never heard and/or seen any ads to promote the museum and its content. However, I always wanted to visit it. None of my friends wanted to come with me, because they think “museums are boring.” I could have went by myself, but I just hate to do stuff like that alone.
So finally, Mohammed, my good friend and roommate, agreed to go with me. Before going, I had to check their website to see the visiting hours and days. I did not want to go all the way downtown just to come back because “it’s families only” day. Tuesday is the only day when “bachelor men” are allowed in the evening, and it was the only choice I had because most of my daytime was already occupied with lectures.
According to the timetable on their website, the museum is open from 1600-2100, but I decided to go at 1900 because I did not want to be forced to leave when Esha prayer time comes, and also because I thought two hours would be more than enough time to finish our tour. But, boy I was so wrong. We entered around 1900 and did not leave until it was past midnight. Yes, we spent about five good hours, and we could even spend more time in there.
The museum was nearly empty, and we hardly have seen any people. Probably that’s why we saw two Saudi families inside on a “bachelors’ day.” I have no problem with this, except for one thing: if I were to come on families’ day, would they let me in? Back to our tour. The objects, documents, sound recordings, films, and other media, cover a long history: starting from the creation of the universe to the unification of the third Saudi state by King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud.
I really liked the Ancient Arab Kingdoms section, which shades the light on the people, tribes, and states that lived in the Arab Peninsula before Islam. There is also this touchscreen where you can choose one of the great seven poems (المعلقات) of the pre-Islamic era, and then hear the voice of the narrator citing that poem. I also liked the bridge on the second floor, which resembles the prophet’s migration from Mecca to Medina. While you walk on this bridge, you would hear the voices of children chanting “6ala3 al-badru 3laina.”
The wing of the Islamic centuries is not the most interesting part of the museum. This is due to the fact that the capital of the Islamic state was located in the Arab Peninsula for only the few first years of Islam, before moving to Damascus and then to Baghdad, when Islam witnessed its golden years, and later to Cairo and Istanbul. Moreover, most of the original pieces from Mecca and Medina were taken to Europe (Turkey and France), and what’s left was recently destroyed by Wahhabis.
Next is the wing of the Al-Sauds history, which is not a very large one. In this area, you can watch the “Unifying the Kingdom” show. After this, you go down again to the ground floor, where you can find the last part of the museum, documenting the Hajj journey and the two Holy Mosques.
I was surprised that it took us about 5 hours in the museum, but I went there again last week with my brothers, and enjoyed it very much. The National Museum is a must visit for everyone. Another good reason to go to the museum now is the special display of Islamic artifacts from the Louvre’s collection.