Where History Lingers
In the bustling heart of Al Ain nestles the erstwhile residence of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan. Revered as “father of the nation”, and a much loved native son of Al Ain, this space celebrates and reflects the simplicity of life of a bygone era. Born on 3 November 1918, the youngest of four sons, when Al Ain was a mere scattering of nine separate villages, it is here Sheikh Zayed spent more than half of his long life. From 1937 until 1966 when he was appointed as ruler of Abu Dhabi, he and his family lived in what is now the Sheikh Zayed or Al Ain Palace Museum.
It is a space with tranquil courtyards where bird life thrives and the footfall of tourists echoes those of servants and visitors through the veil of time. Opened in 2001, the furnishings and atmosphere, at the request of Sheihk Zayed himself, was kept as close as possible to what it was when he resided here. A man sensitive to and passionate about preserving the heritage of his people, he did not want to pretend to have lived a life that was not his.
His admiration of desert life saw him shadowing the Bedouin tribesmen to absorb a love and understanding of this harsh environment he was born into. With them he learned to hunt, shoot, ride camels and find water under the shifting sands. Falconry became a life-long passion and he was often photographed with a falcon perched on his arm.
His quest for knowledge taught him that resources are precious, and need to be taken care of to ensure prosperity and life. In 1946 when he was appointed as the representative of the ruler of Abu Dhabi in Al Ain, he managed to integrate the nine scattered villages into a township that would later grow into the lush oases city it is today. The trust he gained from spending so much time in the company of the Bedouin tribesmen helped him to diffuse conflicts. His vision of a more prosperous future for all predated the discovery of oil when he restructured the local ownership of water. An astute leader, he knew that it is best to lead by example, and he gave up his own family’s rights to kick-start the change that allowed agriculture to adapt and flourish here.
It was during this time that he ordered the planting of ornamental trees, a harbinger of his much later forestation efforts. The trees gracing the courtyards today within the palace grounds also date from this time. Their gnarly stems the keepers of precious life. Long gone are the busy gatherings of tribesmen and foreign dignitaries that graced the various majlis scattered throughout the grounds. Their voices have been replaced by those of the tourists that come here to imagine a life now filed away in the annals of history – a fleeting glimpse of what was.
*The Sheikh Zayed or Al Ain Palace Museum can be found in Al Ain Street.
** GPS co-ordinates: N 24° 12′ 53.4″ E 55° 45′ 36.1″
*** For more photographs follow this link.