France and Saudi Arabia sign estimated $20bn cultural development deal

France and Saudi Arabia have made series of agreements to boost cultural cooperation between the two nations, including a 10-year deal that will see France help to develop the Al-Ula region into a cultural tourism destination.

The contract states that France will help assist in the creation of a blueprint for museums, archeological digs and conservation in the region. Al-Ula is historically rich and features the Nabataean tombs, the first Unesco World Heritage site in Saudi Arabia.

The plan also includes the development of transport, hotels, education, training and infrastructure in the region. The full cost of the agreement has not yet been determined but sources tell the Art Newspaper that whole budget will be more than $20bn.

Highlights of the Al-Ula deal include a “world class museum” on Arab civilisation and culture. It will feature a range of artefacts from antiquity to contemporary art and will be combined with a research centre and university.

France has also agreed to help build an archaeological museum on the Nabataeans and other pre-Islamic cultures.

Other projects agreed as part of the raft of deals will see France help Saudi Arabia set up a national orchestra and opera.

“Today an agreement was signed with the Paris Opera to help Saudi Arabia set up a national orchestra and an opera,” said Francoise Nyssen, the culture minister of France, during a joint press conference with his Saudi counterpart Awwad Al-Awwad.

As part of the deal, the Paris Opera company will help Saudi Arabia produce its own classical music and shows.

The agreements have been announced during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to France — following a stop in the US where even more leisure and cultural deals were announced.

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