Wadi Sur, the largest man-made feature known in Ras-al-Khaimah, starts at the foot of the hill on which Sheba’s Palace was built, and runs for 7 kilometres in a straight line to Ras-al-Khaimah’s creek. It is a structure that has long baffled archaeologists. Initially it was thought that it was a wall built to divert the flow of flood waters from Wadi Haqil and Wadi Bih towards the date plantations in the east.
In 2003 though, during a survey in the Shimal area by members of the Department of Antiquities and Museums of Ras-al-Khaimah, a half-round wall, attached to the southern side of the mound was discovered. A similar construction was found 150 metres away, and upon closer investigation it became clear that these were the foundations of towers, originally constructed attached to the wall mound.
The picture that started to emerge showed that a ditch was dug first, after which the excavated material was used to build a rampart at its base. The northern part of the rampart was left with an oblique angle, but the southern part was lined with a wall of large stones. Semi-circular towers were integrated into the retaining wall of the rampart at a regular distance of 150 metres. Another wall was built on top of the flat rampart. Built of mudbrick and strengthened with a double-faced stone wall to the south as a continuation of the retaining wall, it had a width of 2 metres.
Erosion and development, both ancient and modern have all but obliterated this defensive structure. Many questions still remain, as no one knows exactly when or why it was built, and only speculation can provide tentative answers.
As a rich trading town, ancient Julfar, to the north of modern-day Ras-al-Khaimah town, flourished during the 14th and 15th centuries, and it is possible that the fortification was built during this time to protect its rich agricultural hinterland which, although protected by the Hajar Mountains and the sea, was vulnerable towards the south. As much as 85% of the date palm gardens of Julfar would have been protected by this structure, including the permanent population that worked and dwelled there. Raids in which food was seized, and women and children captured happened regularly, even as late as the second half of the 20th century.
This structure, of which there is hardly a trace left, in its heyday, must have been visible from afar and truly spectacular.
* * *
Wadi Sur in Ras-al-Khaimah, one of the largest fortifications in south-eastern Arabia by Christian Velde, Ahmed Hilal and Imke Moellering