Digital museum brings historic Saudi images back to life

A colored version of a picture of King Abdul Aziz taken during his historic trip to Egypt in 1946. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 January 2021

Digital museum brings historic Saudi images back to life

  • Using artificial intelligence to preserve old photographs and rare film footage for posterity

RIYADH: A digital museum curator has turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to help bring the history of Saudi Arabia back to the future.

Omar Murshid, who set up Al-Masmak Digital Museum a decade ago, has been painstakingly transforming old black-and-white photographs and rare film footage into color images.

And his preservation project has seen faded images of historic events and landmarks brought back to life.


 Murshid established his digital museum in 2011 to be a cultural and recreational platform documenting royal occasions and major events in the Kingdom and has worked on a number of initiatives to revive Saudi heritage with the use of the latest technology.

“I chose a pocket watch that was made in the 1940s, one of the gifts of King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the Saudi foreign minister back then, and used a 3-D scanner to scan it,” he told Arab News.


It aims to be a platform documenting royal occasions and major events in the Kingdom.

“Given that this technology is new and still being developed, the results were not perfect, and some gaps appeared on the watch’s structure. Therefore, I had to adjust it manually, which required a lot of time and effort.”


 And his latest initiative has involved restoring and enhancing black-and-white pictures and videos.

“I used Adobe Photoshop to colorize the photographs and had to add the colors and adjust the layers manually. It is a long process that requires hours of work.”

Special apps can also automatically identify the color shades seen on black-and-white or sepia photos. But coloring old film footage is a far more complicated process.


 “That is why I had to use the latest AI software. This technology conducts several experiences before showing the result. The software works on decompressing the video into images and frames and coloring each one separately,” he said.

Film featuring the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah during the Hajj season in 1954, and King Abdul Aziz’s historic visit to Egypt in 1946 have been among the images picked for color restoration.

Murshid’s work can be viewed on Al-Masmak account on Instagram.



Saudi Arabia ‘sending right message to region,’ says Cyprus FM

Updated 7 min 25 sec ago

Saudi Arabia ‘sending right message to region,’ says Cyprus FM

  • Ties between Saudi Arabia and Cyprus have strengthened since the two countries reopened embassies in their respective capitals four years ago

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s growing role in resolving regional issues has been praised by Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides during a visit to Riyadh.

“More and more countries are coming to understand that no solution can be found in the region without Saudi Arabia playing a leading role in the efforts,” Christodoulides told Arab News on Tuesday.

“It was something we believed in from the very beginning, and we are glad that more countries are understanding this reality,” he said.

Ties between Saudi Arabia and Cyprus have strengthened since the two countries reopened embassies in their respective capitals four years ago.

Christodoulides said that working together on the bilateral, regional and EU level, a “vast number of achievements” have taken place during that time.

An updating of agreements on air traffic was a major development, he said.

The foreign minister also called for greater discussion and mediation to promote the interests of the region.

“Cyprus is a member of the EU, but at the same time we are a country of the region and what we want to do is to raise awareness in Brussels about the region and especially about Saudi Arabia. A lot of times I feel that the Europeans don’t know the region — they talk about the region, but they don’t really know it,” he said.

Discussions on regional security were among the highlights of his visit, which included meetings with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan.

“We looked at how we can enhance our cooperation because security is an issue of concern for all of us,” Christodoulides said.

“We discussed ways to enhance regional cooperation, not just with the UAE and Saudi Arabia but also with Egypt and Greece,” he said, adding that like-minded countries in the region are coming together in order to face the challenges “and to discuss the economic and investment opportunities that we have.”

“What I want out of this visit (to the UAE and Saudi Arabia) is to present the right narrative and the right picture to my colleagues in Brussels. Sometimes during our discussions in the EU and in Brussels, I get the impression that they don’t know the region.”

Christodoulides said that it was also important to “send a common message” to the new Biden administration in the US.

“We have common challenges, common threats, but at the same time our region is not the same as it used to be during the Obama administration. We see a lot of people from the Obama administration coming back to key positions. So we need to send them the same message in order to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

Speaking of the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, Christodoulides said: “I can see it on the faces of the people and, for me, this is most important. I am amazed by the changes in the country.”

The foreign minister also accused Turkey of “promoting its interests through gunboat diplomacy” with its energy exploration off the coast of Cyprus.

“When President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan was first elected, Turkey’s relations with other countries were very different. Turkey had no problems with its neighbors,” he said.

“How quickly things have changed in the past eight years. We end up today with (Turkey) having problems with all its neighbors. At the same time, we can’t change geography. We can’t change our neighbors. But we are in a position and we are ready to discuss all issues at the negotiation table.”

He said that Cyprus had signed a maritime borders agreement with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel based on international law and 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, but when the country asked Turkey to talk and agree on maritime zones, Ankara refused.

“I’m wondering if Turkey feels so comfortable with its position. Why do they refuse to discuss with Cyprus, a member of the EU and the UN?” he asked.