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All Aboard the World’s First ‘Museum in the Sky’

Nabatean tomb in Madain Saleh archeological site, Saudi Arabia / Hugo Brizard – Shutterstock

The world’s first and – as yet – the only flying museum has been launched in Saudi Arabia. The service was begun from Riyadh to Al-Ul, a city of the Medina Region in the north-western part of the country, on 4th November. The museum experience – which incorporates a plane journey – highlights the many archaeological attractions that lie between the Saudi capital and the ancient city which once lay on the so-called incense route.

A joint enterprise run by the Royal Commission for Al-Ula and Saudi Arabian Airlines, the so-called Sky Museum’ aims to showcase the historic culture of this part of the Medina Region. After all, Al-Ula is already widely known throughout the Arab world and beyond as one of the most historic cities in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. The idea is to bring more knowledge about the region to the attention of museum-goers who, it is hoped, will endorse the ancient city as an international tourist destination in its own right.

A World First

Believed by the organisers to be a first of its kind, the flying museum includes a new in-flight entertainment system. During their trip, visitors will be able to access the system, known as ‘Experience Saudi Arabia’. In addition, the museum will feature some selected replica pieces that represent the various artefacts that have been discovered by archaeological teams working at various sites in the region in recent years. To help contextualise these items, visitors are offered a Discovery Channel documentary entitled ‘The Architects of Ancient Arabia’ which is designed to help bring some of the archaeological findings to life.

Dr Rebecca Foote, Director of Antiquities and Heritage Research for the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, is featured in the introduction of the documentary. Travellers are able to view her as she explains the reasons why certain artefact replicas have been displayed. Her comments are also designed to help answer most of the common queries and questions visitors have about the airborne museum. Dr Foote underlined the importance of the venture from her perspective. “There is a major [amount of archaeological]… work ongoing in the area by both local and international teams,” she said. “And yet, we are just beginning to understand the archaeology [as it reveals]… the complicated nature of Al-Ula’s past.” The respected academic went on to add that she considered Al-Ula to constitute a ‘hidden gem’ of the Arabian Peninsula. “We are slowly discovering its secrets,” she said.

Kerrie McEvoy, who works as a Channel Director for the Discovery Channel’s European, Middle Eastern and African service echoed Dr Foote’s sentiments. “We are delighted that our documentary will be shown on board,” she said. According to McEvoy, the Discovery Channel aims to serve its passionate audience of fans around the world with inspirational, informative and entertaining content but that working on the museum in the sky had been a ‘special project’ for all concerned. “Al-Ula is a special place,” she said. “It has some of the most stunningly well-preserved evidence of ancient civilizations.”

Phillip Jones, the Royal Commission for Al-Ula’s Chief Destination Management and Marketing Officer, said that he thought the Museum in the Sky is already providing visitors with a true sense of connection back to Al-Ula’s past. “[It serves]… as a living museum,” he said before pointing out that the airborne museum was the best way to show off the significance of the archaeological work that is being undertaken today in the region. “We believe that this is the biggest archaeological programme anywhere in the world right now,” he added.

More Offerings

The Museum in the Sky does not just focus on the work going on at Al-Ula, however. Visitors are also afforded some aerial views of the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia, a place called Hegra, or Al-Hijr to give it its Islamic name. Passengers are now able to book some of the first tickets that have become available for this experience which is being marketed as Hegra After Dark.

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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