A glimpse into the past
Step back in time 3,000 years at Al Ain’s UNESCO World Heritage site
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