Tuesday, 5 November 2019

It's the Fort That Counts: the Human History of the United Arab Emirates in 20 Forts

Fujairah Fort

The human history of the Emirates is all around you, often hidden away in the most surprising places. The Emirates is dotted with forts, for instance - many are museums, some are just forts for forts' sake. You find them lurking around pretty much every corner - and they're there precisely because people around here used to be, well, fighty.

They weren't just recently fighty, either. Our archaeological analysis of Umm Al Nar era remains (we're talking 2,600-2,000 BCE, here) shows a number of fortified towers were constructed by that people, often guarding precious water resources. There are Iron Age forts to be found as well - and even the Portuguese left a smattering of fortification behind.

Today's more obvious forts are mostly a product of C19th and C20th construction, although sometimes built on much older foundations. Quite a few of these forts are now museums - note they aren't open on Fridays, when you'd expect 'em to be - but they all open on Saturdays. All feature ethnographic displays of varying degrees of impressiveness - often, the more eclectic assemblages are the most fun.

So why not take a trip out to take a look at a few - especially now the weather's nice and cool? It's worth getting out and about and taking a few in when you can - we're talking weekend excursions with cooler bags full of sandwiches and chilled home made lemonade in thermos flasks. Don't forget the Cheese and Onion Walkers for that authentic 'day trip car smell'.

You can usually mix it up with something outdoorsy, kayaking or hiking, a swim on a remote beach or a lazy overnight in a hotel - some of which are surprisingly affordable even during the 'high' winter season. Camping, of course, is even more affordable and there are a million places you can happily pitch a tent, taking some time out to explore the desert and more remote inland towns of the Emirates.

So here you go - the UAE in 20 Forts. All the links below open to Google Maps pins...

Dubai Museum, for instance, is located in the Al Fahidi Fort (which dates back to the late 1700s), while Sharjah's Al Hisn Sharjah is a faithful reconstruction of the building almost completely demolished by Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammad Al Qasimi in the late 1960s. Ajman and Umm Al Quwain museums are both located in the town forts, formerly the Ruler's house - Ajman Fort was occupied by the Ruler, the big, white-bearded figure of Sheikh Rashid Al Nuaimi, until 1967. I'd argue it's the most charming museum in the Emirates today.

Umm Al Quwain's Al Ali Fort, home to the UAQ National Museum

Umm Al Quwain National Museum is not only an impressive building (don't miss the UAQ Wall while you're down there, which used to completely protect the town on its isthmus) but houses some very impressive artefacts from the enormously important site of Ed-Dur, a major Iron Age and Pre-Islamic metropolis, itself linked to the inland town of Mleiha. Going inland from UAQ, you can also visit the Falaj Al Mualla Fort, or tootle out a wee bit into the sands and find the three Murabbaa - watchtowers - that guard the Wadi which feeds Falaj Al Mualla's rich agricultural resources. Look out here also for the Sharea, or baths, just opposite the fort.

Ras Al Khaimah National Museum tells the story of the town, but also of the lost city of Julphar (contrary to popular belief, not actually 'old' RAK, but to the north of the town. RAK started life as a southern suburb of Julphar) and the maritime mercantile culture which the town sprang from - including displays of early C8th Thai and Chinese porcelain brought here by the Arab traders who sailed the seven seas of the east, between Julphar and Beijing. Of course, as I mentioned the other day, there is also Sheba's Palace and Al Dhayah Fort...

The C15th mosque and tower at Bidya.

Heading over to the east coast, you can visit the 'oldest mosque in the Emirates' and the tower at Bidya (or the Portuguese Fort here) - don't forget the old fort at Masafi - or the newly restored Governor's House there. Further down the east coast from Bidya, you'll find Fujairah Fort but the National Museum of Fujairah is not actually in the fort, it's across from it - and jolly good fun it is, too - one of the most wacky and varied collections you'll find in a museum. Fujairah is a great destination for Fort Fans and also offers Al Bithnah Fort, Al Hayl Fort, Sakamkam Fort and Awhala Fort.

Take a trip out to Al Ain and you'll find the impressive Al Muaiji Fort, birthplace of Sheikh Khalifa and former home of Sheikh Zayed when he was Wali of Al Ain. It's been lovingly restored and has a pretty slick visitor centre. Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain is also worth a visit, sitting in a pleasant public park. If you want to explore further back, pop up to the Hili Archaeological Park and take a wander around the glorious Umm Al Nar era tomb there.

Last but not least, Abu Dhabi's Qasr Al Hosn was closed for renovations last time we went, so no guarantees here, but I'd reckon they've likely done a stellar job on it.

This is, by the way, not a list of every fort in the Emirates by any means. But it's as good a starting point as any if you want to start fort spotting!!!

1 comment:

Stanley Ford said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing. Will need to add a few new stops to our winter camping trips.

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