A glimpse into the past

Step back in time 3,000 years at Al Ain’s UNESCO World Her­itage site

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Is­mail Se­bug­waawo @is­mailsebu is­mail@7days.ae

Amid thou­sands of date palm trees in an area of stun­ning nat­u­ral beauty, the UAE’s first UNESCO World Her­itage site prom­ises to pro­vide a glimpse into how Emi­rati fam­i­lies lived in the past.

Al Ain Oa­sis has opened to the public and 7DAYS took a tour of the sprawl­ing at­trac­tion with its her­itage of­fi­cers and arche­ol­o­gists.

Lo­cated in the heart of Al Ain City, the oa­sis dates back 3,000 years, cov­ers more than 1,200 hectares and con­tains more than 140,000 date palm trees, pro­duc­ing a hun­dred dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of date.

“This place gives a real glimpse into the past lives of the UAE peo­ple, how they have sur­vived for hun­dreds of years de­spite the hot sun,” said Abdul Rah­man Al Nuami, a her­itage site of­fi­cer.

“They found ways to cul­ti­vate the land and pro­duce their own food, in­clud­ing dates, ba­nanas and pa­payas.

“The oa­sis re­ally is an amaz­ing place – ev­ery­thing here has re­mained the same for more than 2,000 years. It is a good that peo­ple have the chance to come here and ex­pe­ri­ence how the UAE has sur­vived through the early Bronze Age to the Iron Age.”


With Al Ain Na­tional Mu­seum to the east and Al Ain Palace Mu­seum to the west, the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cul­ture Author­ity-run her­itage site of­fers vis­i­tors a chance to ex­plore the his­tory and un­der­stand the oa­sis through a net­work of walk­ing trails.

The aflaj – an an­cient ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem of nar­row wa­ter­ways that carry fresh spring water from the Ha­jar Moun­tains (pic­tured far left) – is a last­ing land­mark of so­cial and tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment.

“The flow­ing water from the aflaj has helped pro­mote cul­ti­va­tion of dates and man­goes in this place, which boosted peo­ple eco­nom­i­cally,” said Ham­dan Al Rashidi, an arche­ol­o­gist at Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cul­ture Author­ity. “The aflaj were shared by Al Ain’s an­cient in­hab­i­tants and then by Be­douin tribes for hun­dreds of years and this strength­ened friend­ship and co­op­er­a­tion among them.” The minia­ture oa­sis, an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence built near the en­trance of the her­itage site, mim­ics the real oa­sis in the palm grove and will teach vis­i­tors about the work­ings of the aflaj net­work.

Al Rashidi added: “Peo­ple were vi­sion­ary here, cre­at­ing an ecosys­tem that fully utilised na­ture’s bless­ings, from its fresh­wa­ter springs and fer­tile soils, a pros­per­ous civil­i­sa­tion as­cended and sur­vived the pas­sage of time.”


Vis­i­tors are given an in­sight into the his­toric no­madic stop­ping point to set­tled com­mu­ni­ties by us­ing the eco-cen­tre to bet­ter un­der­stand the oa­sis’s ecosys­tem, its evo­lu­tion and its sig­nif­i­cance for Abu Dhabi’s her­itage and civil­i­sa­tion.

Apart from of­fer­ing lessons about the past, Al Ain Oa­sis is also a mes­sage for the fu­ture about cre­at­ing true sus­tain­abil­ity. “The oa­sis is a tes­ta­ment to the en­gi­neer­ing and sur­vival ca­pac­i­ties of mankind,” said Al Nuami.

In 2011, Al Ain was the first site in the UAE to be in­scribed on UNESCO’s world her­itage site list, com­pris­ing of four lo­ca­tions: the Bronze Age Hafit Tombs, the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal set­tle­ments at Hili, the pre­his­toric ves­tiges at Bi­daa bint Saud, and the six lush oases of Al Ain, in­clud­ing Al Ain Oa­sis.

HER­ITAGE: Al Ain Oa­sis was the first UAE site on UNESCO’s world her­itage site list

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