In Search of National Treasures

On Sunday morning we woke up to an unusual quiet. Nothing stirred, except for the birds who filled the air with joyous songs. When we moved to this neighbourhood at the end of June, we envisioned distilled silence. What we found was the continuous clanging of building activity. During the summer months the heat brought tightly closed windows, a humming air-con and slow progress, but now that it is winter, renewed activity has replaced the summer slumber. I have mentally relegated this to the background hum that knits my days together, so the moment all building noises were lulled, it felt like something was missing.

On the 2nd of December the Emiratis celebrate their National Day. This year marked the 41st year of existence and stood in stark contrast with the rowdy celebrations of the previous year. Dubai even went so far as to outlaw car rallies and exaggerated decorations of cars this year in an attempt to curb noise, traffic gridlock and litter.

In Al Ain the streets were quiet at midday when we ventured out in search of some national treasures in the form of forts and watchtowers. Our plan was to pay Marajib Fort, the oldest fort in Al Ain, a visit. Sadly it was closed for the day and it only ever seems to open at 3 pm when it does, so we pulled out our map to see where else we could go.

Our first stop was at the Hili Fort which was securely locked, but we were not deterred and went for a lovely stroll through the adjoining Oasis, which is the second largest in Al Ain. As I was a bit more energetic than Michael I left him with his thoughts in a shady spot, and went for a brisk walk through the lush palm gardens that are always bustling with bird life. At one of the gardens I lingered longer than usual, soaking up the sight of the falaj irrigation system at work, as water flooded the ground in which tall palms stood like proud sentinels of time.

Hili Fort

Hili Fort adjacent to Hili Oasis

Our next stop took us to the Hili Watchtowers, also huddling close to the Oasis, and also locked. The square tower was commissioned in the mid 1940s by HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and not only served to protect the oasis and its valuable water, but was also used as a venue for arbitration by his representative and a schoolroom for children to study Islam and basic literacy. This tower is known as Sheikh Zayed Murabbaa, while the round tower 50 metres away is called Seebat Khalifa Bin Nahyan.

Hili Towers

Hili Watchtowers

The Al Rumeilah Fort nearby, we knew would be closed to the public, but we stopped anyway to have a closer look.

Rumeilah Fort

Al Rumeilah Fort

Not far from Al Rumeilah Fort, we read, is an archaeological site that contains a cluster of well-preserved buildings, some even with intact roofs, dating back to the Iron Age. Of course Michael had to take me there, and even though we found the site and was far from surprised that it is not open to the public, I still felt a tad disappointed. As a consolation we did stumble upon a very pretty little mosque.


Our consolation prize: a pretty, little mosque!

Although we couldn’t explore the inside of any of the forts or towers, I felt satisfied that I have seen a little bit more of the UAE’s history, while Michael was much relieved when we, a couple of hours later, headed back home to chill in our garden.

* Note:  The Abu Dhabi Emirate is quite good at maintaining and preserving their history, and although some places are not open to the public, it seems possible that one can contact them to arrange a visit to these.

**  GPS Co-0rdinates:

Hili Oasis & Fort:  N 24° 16′ 54.9″   E 55° 46′ 01.6″

Hili Watchtowers:  N 24° 17′ 14.5″   E 55° 46′ 22.4″

Al Rumeilah Fort:  N 24° 17′ 02.3″   E 55° 45′ 49.2″