The exhibition "Roads of Arabia" is based on 310 loans from Saudi Arabia, which are supplemented by 40 additional works as loan from Berlin and German institutions as well as in-house objects of the Museum of Islamic Art. At the same time the opportunity is used to present three Saudi Arabian - German research projects to a broad audience. The exhibition is arranged chronologically.
Numerous evidence of prehistory and early history constitute the prelude of the exhibition. Palaeolithic and Neolithic stone tools, arrowheads and bifaces as well as anthropomorphic tomb steles from the 4th millennium BC point to the oldest periods of prehistory and tell about settling and construction of permanent settlements up to early urban cultures.
In the first section chlorite vessels dating from the 3rd millennium BC from Tarut can be admired. Furthermore results of a Saudi-German excavation in Tayma (2nd and 1st millennium BC) lie at the focus. Beside the presentation of relations between Arabia and Mesopotamia the exhibition moves from the old Orient to the ancient world.
This room is dominated by colossal statues from Dedan / al-Ula (ca. 4th - 2th century BC), the city of the kingdom of Lihyan in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, which is mentioned in the Bible. Although there are Hellenistic influences, the artists of these statues were significantly influenced by traditions of ancient Egypt and Syria.
The ancient heritage of Arabia Felix and its burial culture is presented here by reference to the "Cities of Salt" (Mada'in Salih) in the west and Thaj with its fascinating golden funerary goods in the East. Furthermore the Nabateans left their imprint in the famous ancient city of Hegra. This site is also home to monumental tombs which have been carved from rock and belong to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage since 2008. The exhibited items comprise not only a golden funerary mask but also numerous precious items.
This area is completely dedicated to one of the most important trading cities in pre-Islamic times – Qaryat al-Faw, located on the southern incense road. The remains found in the town, like reliefs of Gods and emperors made of white marble or bronze as well as impressive artefacts of minor arts from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD bear witness of the excellent cultural achievements of ancient Arabia.
The focus here is on the revival of trading- and pilgrimage roads towards Baghdad, Damascus and Egypt in early Islamic times. Superregional trade relations in the first centuries of Islamic history, when the arabic world was in a network of pilgrimage roads and trade routes, are presented here. Arabia as a centre of cultural exchange between China and the Mediterranean Sea is shown in the exhibition with finest ceramic, glass and metal.
The absolute highlight of the exhibition is this room, which has the largest exhibition space with ca. 250m². The holy places of Mecca and Medina are presented here. Finely calligraphed tomb stones and objects of the Ka'bah, that were donated by Ottoman and Mamluk sovereign bear witness of the importance of the religious centre of the Muslim world. Many of these special treasures from Saudi Arabia are shown in Germany for the first time.
Original versions of important European travelogues, maps of Arabia as well as stitches of Mecca, Medina, Jiddah, Yanbu and other cities are shown here. Items on loan that have been obtained for the Berlin exhibition document these topics.
The focus here lies on the Hejaz Railway - also know as Hedjaz - which linked Damascus in today's Syria with Medina. Heinrich August Meißner Pascha (1862–1940), a German engineer who had been employed for railways in the Osmanic empire since 1887, was the leader of the project.
The establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the year 1932 presents the chronological ending of the exhibition. The coronation mantle of Abdul Aziz (Ibn Suad), two swords of the king as well as a wooden frontdoor, are shown in this room.
The final point in the exhibition is an overview of the development of writing in the cultural area of Saudi Arabia. Inscriptions and calligraphy are shown here and writings of different epochs with their varied influences are compared to each other.
Recent research projects, in which Saudi and German scientists are working together are presented in this room. "Archaeological methods through the ages" (Deutsche Archäologische Institut - DAI), the project „Corpus Coranicum“ of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) and the urban research project of the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) on the subject of the port city Jiddah.
In this room, visitors can view a film about the exhibition.