There’s more to the United Arab Emirates than soaring skyscrapers, ultra-modern architecture and desert safaris. While it is not as vast as its neighbors, this Middle Eastern country has its fair share of history that adds more interest to the destinations that tourists visit.
Founded in 1971, the Arab nation has an impressive cultural history rich with stories and experiences that transcend time.
From the era of the nomadic Bedouin tribes to the establishment of the union of seven states now known as the UAE, the country’s rich history is displayed in some of its most prestigious heritage sites. These historical places not only remind the locals of where they came from but also show guests what the country was like before luxury cars and tall buildings became a common sight.
This article tackles the colorful history of the UAE and the top six historical sites every history buff must visit to learn more about the nation’s past.
The United Arab Emirates: A History Lesson
The UAE federation of the seven emirates is situated along the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
The country’s history can be traced back to the Paleolithic Age when Bedouin communities settled in the desert region. These nomadic tribes lived a simple life and thrived on plant gathering and fishing. Evidence of their old way of life can be found in historical sites located in Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi.
However, the development of the country to what it is today became possible, all thanks to a meeting that occurred in 1968. In February of that year, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and Sheikh Zayed – the leaders of the two biggest emirates in the UAE – convened along the southwest boundary of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Then, nine rulers of the territories now known as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah, Bahrain, and Qatar, solidified a general peace agreement that became the basis of the “Federation of the Arab Emirates.” The Federation met four times in total before negotiations began following the expiration of the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty.
Three years later, the negotiations ended, and the withdrawal of British forces became official. At the time, Qatar and Bahrain became independent, with each establishing themselves as a country of their own. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Trucial States (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Umm al-Qaiwain, Sharjah, Ajman, and Fujairah) created the founding treaty that established their union – the United Arab Emirates – with Ras al-Khaimah joining later in 1972.
6 Must-See Heritage Sites in the UAE
There’s more to the UAE than meets the eye. Beyond the modern buildings that reach the skies, the country offers a lot more to history buffs and tourists who wish to understand Emirati culture on a deeper level.
If you’re planning to go on a heritage tour in Dubai and the other emirates, here are six destinations you should definitely include in your itinerary:
1.The Hatta Heritage Village
Located on the outskirts of Dubai, the Hatta Heritage Village is the ideal place to experience what the place was like millennia ago. This tiny village built about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago was renovated and opened to the public in 2001.
One of the main attractions in Hatta is the original buildings that appear in stark contrast with the city of Dubai’s ultramodern skyscrapers: two castles and a fort. These edifices are even stocked with the original weapons its past inhabitants used, and some prototypes and models that reflect what it was like to live in ancient Hatta.
2.Jazirat Al Hamra
If you’re someone who enjoys history and adrenaline rush at the same time, then the Jazirat Al Hamra is a destination you must try when visiting the UAE.
Better known as “The Ghost Town,” the place was believed to be haunted by jinns, the ghosts of Islamic mythology. These spirits or demons have been part of both Arab and Western culture as versions of these appeared in Roman tales as “djinns” or English stories as “genies.”
Ras Al Khaimah’s Jazirat Al Hamra is believed to have been built way back in the 14th century. It is open to the public as a historical site. While the place remains in ruins and there is no guarantee of sightings of Arab ghosts and genies, visitors will surely have an adventure of a lifetime in the old mosques, houses, and buildings that still stand there.
3.Al Badiyah Mosque
Considered as the oldest standing mosque in the UAE, the Fujairah Al Badiyah Mosque has a rustic vibe that can offer visitors a sense of how life was before modernization reached the country. This small building dates back to the 15th century and is quite a different sight from the modern, bejewelled mosques of modern UAE like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
4.Al Jazeera Al Hamra
With its proximity to the Gulf, past occupants of the UAE – particularly those who called the old Ras Al Khaimah home – spent most of their lives depending on resources provided by the ocean. One particular heritage site still stands today as proof of that.
More popularly known as the “Red Island,” Al Jazeera Al Hamra is a coastal area in the UAE that is still filled with ancient forts. It also houses historic mosques, traditional schools, and souqs (open-air commercial quarters or marketplaces in an Arab community) – all of which indicate what it was like to live the traditional Emirati lifestyle.
5.Al Bithnah Fort
Although the UAE generally had a peaceful past, it still had historic places like the Albithnah Fort that reflected Middle Eastern battles that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This fort constructed from mud-brick, adobe, stone, and palm-wood planking serves as the link between the Arabian Gulf and the eastern coastal city and Emirate of Fujairah. It was believed to have been built in the 18th century because of the Wahhabi incursions that followed the battle of Bithnah.
Now home to a number of galleries and museums, the Al Bastakiya is considered an important site for Emirati heritage. Considered as the oldest standing residential area in Dubai, the Al Bastakiya is believed to have been built back in the 19th century.
It has buildings made from materials of olden times such as coral, gypsum, mud, and palm wood. It is also adorned with wind towers that helped in easing the desert heat back in the day.
Although you can visit this heritage site by land, you should consider making the experience more memorable by booking a seaplane tour. An aerial view of the place can give it more depth and dimension.
A Historic Visit
There’s more to the UAE than huge shopping malls and an ultramodern cityscape. Consider changing up your next visit by focusing on the heritage sites all around the country to get a whole new perspective of the United Arab Emirates.