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30 Ramadan 1438 AH

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Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat

Subject: Lessons from Ramadan

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Preservation of historical and cultural heritage in Saudi Arabia

Interview with Professor-Dr. Saad al-Rashid By Dr. Mozammel Haque

A three member-delegation of archaeologists from the National Museum and Archaeological Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, headed by Professor-Dr. Saad Al-Rashid, former Deputy Minister of Antiquities, Government of Saudi Arabia visited the United Kingdom in the first week of November, 2006. Other members of the delegation are Dr. Abdullah Saud, Director General in the Ministry of Archaeology and some senior archaeologists and staff member in the department of Archaeology, King Saud University, Riyadh.

The delegation visited the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh University, British Museum in London and Albert Hall in London. The Society for Arabian Studies and Saudi-British Society organized a talk on "Museums in Saudi Arabia and their future development: The state of Saudi Archaeology at the Present Time” at the Middle East Association, London, on Thursday, 2nd of November, 2006.

While discussing the purpose of this visit, Dr. Saad al-Rashid, the leader of the delegation told me in an interview, "The purpose of this visit is to meet senior specialists in Archaeology in the National Museum of Scotland, scholars of the Edinburgh University and our counterparts in the British Museum and also to meet various cultural centres in London.”

"Prince Muhammad bin Nawaf, the Saudi Ambassador in the United Kingdom & Ireland is very keen on development of the relationship and cooperation in cultural and archeological fields, because he knows the richness of cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia and likes to expose it internationally. We want to make it known worldwide through meeting with specialists and discussing with them and also through cooperation, exchange of visits, and to bring to them the knowledge through lecturing and exhibitions,” explained Dr. al-Rashid his purpose of visit to the United Kingdom.

Dr. al-Rashid also said Saudi Arabia has a lengthy programme to develop its archaeology and Museum and also the field for tourism in different parts of the world. "We are engaged in thousands of archeological sites and traditional buildings which we owned them from the private owners; to take care of their buildings and to convince them that they should keep it. We help them with the ideas of protecting various traditional buildings,” Dr. al-Rashid explained the activities of the Archaeological department.

Dr. al-Rashid also said, "Through archeological survey, through encouraging specialists to do intensive studies, we carry out excavations and observing, renovating and restoring all that we acquired. We have restored all forts, railway station in Madinah, Tabuk and Maidan-e-Saleh. Buildings and palaces have been restored.”

For the preservation and protection of the historical heritage of Makkah and Madinah, Dr. al-Rashid said, "Makkah has the General Presidency for the Haramain. They are responsible for taking care of the Haramain in Makkah and Madinah. We have museum dedicated to the findings of the Haramain. Also there is a private collection, in the Library of the Mosque of Madinah itself in the ground floor of the King Fahd expansion of the Masjid-e Nabawi. There are beautiful things from the Qur'an inside the mosque.” He also added, "Zarb Zubaida is a long road which has been protected and its water installations, water tanks, wells and also some intensive archeological studies have been made.”

Talking about the preservation of the historical heritage of Makkah, Dr. Al-Rashid said, "There is a Museum for the Haramain in the vicinity of Makkah - the Kiswa factory; it is built by the Haramain. Then we have a new Museum in al-Zaher next to the TV station. We are preserving there the archeological findings. All those things which were preserved in the store of the Haram are now in the Museum of Haramain. The earlier doors, the Mimbers - all these are now in the Haramain Museum. Everything from the Zam Zam well is well preserved.”

About the future programme of the Ministry, Dr. Al-Rashid told me, "Saudi Arabia is embarking upon a lengthy plan for the future development of Archeology and Antiquities in all the provinces of the Kingdom and also to the development of Tourism. The future budget will be very big. The Deputy Ministry of antiquities will be merged with the Tourism. Now we have High Commission for Tourism and the Antiquities. So we have the bigger bodies, bigger like a ministry and two thirds of their budget will be allocated for the development of archaeology and tourism.”

In his talk at the Middle East Association, the head of the delegation said, Saudi Arabia can be considered the second country which has this type of rock-arts. There are thousand of rock-arts in the north and middle of Saudi Arabia. They are waiting some analysis. There are rock arts of she-camel, texts, tribal signs - drawings and writings. Scenarios of dogs, camels, ducks or early Arabic scripts are also found within the vicinity of the rock arts. A female figure and inscriptions located at the Ain-Naqha in 6th or 1st century B.C.”

Dr. al-Rashid also mentioned about the trade routes in Saudi Arabia which carried spices from north to south vice versa as early as second millennium. "Ancient routes still exist.” He also mentioned the capital of the kingdom of Kinda and Najran, original religious location. Department has carried out archaeological excavations and found some earliest mosques. And some 4,000 archaeological sites are found.”

Dr. Al-Rashid also spoke about the monuments at Maidan-e-Saleh. He said, "Each period has different monuments. Archaeologists will say whether it is pre-Islamic or the earliest Islamic period.”