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Exhibition recalls historic royal visit to Saudi

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: July 03, 2010

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Historic photographs taken by Princess Alice – Queen Victoria's youngest granddaughter – during her trip to Saudi Arabia in 1938 have gone on display.

The photos will be on display at Exeter University's Institute of Arab and Islamic studies until August 14, which coincides with the annual Gulf Studies conference, held at the university.

Princess Alice, the Countess of Athlone, was the first royal from any European country to visit Saudi Arabia, and the first woman King Abdulaziz ever invited. It was while she was travelling in the country with her husband, the Earl of Athlone, that the Arabs made their incredible nation-changing discovery of oil.

Much of the collection of photos, entitled 'Journey of a Lifetime', was taken by Princess Alice herself, who was a very eager photographer. It documents the discovery of oil, meetings with King Abdulaziz and his two sons Prince Saud and Faisal, who both went on to be kings.

It also includes pictures of the princess with a camel in the city of Jeddah, Jeddah itself and Riyadh before modern Western life had an influence on its landscape, alongside images of formidable mud-brick Saudi palaces and cars being hauled out of sand in the desert.

As a young teenager, the current Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, also appears in the collection.

HRH Prince Mohammed, Saudi's Ambassador to the UK, opening the exhibition this week, said: "Princess Alice was the first member of the British royal family to visit the kingdom and her visit happily coincided with a key moment in our history: the discovery of oil. I am very pleased that this exhibition is now on show here at Exeter, one of Britain's most prestigious universities, and at the renowned Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies."

Professor Gerd Nonneman, Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, said: "The university is absolutely delighted to be hosting this unique exhibition that provides a private view into Saudi Arabia, when the kingdom was just emerging and as oil was being discovered.

"It is fascinating to see these pictures. They illustrate an extraordinary journey, pivotal in influencing the positive development of relations in the UK and Saudi Arabia."

The Gulf Studies Conference at Exeter University will be discussing the impact on cultural identity that the possession of oil has had on Saudi Arabia. Key topics will include migrant workers and the majority population, and the effect these have on the language, lifestyle and culture of Arabs.

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