• 11 May 2018

Following up the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman French visit on April 9th 2018, a historic agreement was signed between the two countries. Focused on the development of Al-Ula’s archaeological site, it includes a wide range of common cultural initiatives. Several billion dollars are at stake.

Al Ula in Saudi Arabia

Al Ula, Saudi Arabia © Sammy Six

An agreement of several billion Euros

The agreement is a 20 pages document that The Art Newspaper got access to and revealed its details. Covering 10 years, the signed deal between the two nations gives France an exclusive role in the archaeological zone which is almost as big as Belgium. It is also a way for the Saudi Prince to promote his 2030 vision of the country and its opening. The area covered by the agreement is Al-Ula in which the archaeological site of Al-Hifr is located. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, the region is only visited by a privileged few for now. Located in the North East part of Saudi Arabia, this zone conceals gorgeous canyons and tombs carved in the rocks. Ruins from the Roman occupation are also part of the landscape. The idea of the collaboration emerged after the opening of the Louvre Abu-Dhabi as the Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud evoked his Neom project. This mega technological city of 500 billion dollars should be built on the border of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordany.

Al Ula in Saudi Arabia

Al Ula, Saudi Arabia © Pteropus conspicillatus

The main measures included in the agreement

In order to develop the tourism capacities of the Saudi archaeological site faster, a series of measures are planned by the agreement. The Louvre will be the main cultural partner. The Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet as well as the French archaeological services will also be mobilized. A French Institute will also be installed in Al-Ula and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris will dedicate an exhibition about the region in 2019. On site, France will be in charge of the tombs’ safety as well as the supervision of new excavations. Indeed, the idea is to also build a museum dedicated to archaeology. Nevertheless all measures must respect the UNESCO’s norms. As a result the respect of landscapes is essential to the fulfillment of the agreement. The general idea of the text is to be a provider of a variety of tools to build tourism, cultural, educational and environmental policies in the region. Everything is perfectly aligned with the Saudi Prince’s Neom project.

Al Ula in Saudi Arabia

Al Ula, Saudi Arabia © Pixabay

The French soft power is booming

In July 2017, SoftPower30 published a report which ranked France as the most influential country in terms of “soft power.” This ability to influence is wanted as Paris remains the first tourists’ destination in the world. The 2007 agreement which acted the creation of the Louvre Abu-Dhabi also symbolizes the attractiveness of the French expertise in terms of cultural policy. Also, France is one of the rare countries that has a ministry dedicated to culture which is a legacy of André Malraux in 1959. However, the main French cultural institutions became true international brands. Indeed, the Centre Pompidou keeps opening up new locations as explained by Art-Trope in its article. The Château de Versailles keeps on attracting millions of visitors and so does the Musée d’Orsay. There are a lot of French assets but their valorization has still to be developed. Disparities exist in the ways of financing and approaching cultural institutions. As the power is slowly shifting in new hands in the main American museums, France has still a long way to go.

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Sources: The Artnewspaper and Les Echos