A Visit to the Past

Jazirat al-Hamra or Red Island, now part of the mainland, was once a peninsula that, with high tide, became a small island just off the coast of Ras-al-Khaimah. The inhabitants made their living off the sea: trading, pearling, fishing. Once a thriving town, it fell on bad times in the early twentieth century, when the Japanese perfected the process of cultivating pearls, effectively bringing an end to a way of life that prevailed for centuries. Most of the Al Za’ab tribe, who lived here, left around the formation of the United Arab Emirates as a country in 1971, when they fell out with the ruler of the area, and accepted land from Sheikh Zayed in Abu Dhabi. By leaving their properties behind to succumb to neglect and the ravages of time, the previous inhabitants left a unique glimpse into the past. One that offers an abundance of photo opportunities.

It is a ghostly reminder of what life looked like in the pre-oil days of the country, and provides a fascinating look, at the history of the town, through the use of different building materials over time. The walls of the old, typical coastal buildings, which made use of coral and coral rag (a rubbly limestone that is made up of ancient coral reef material), as well as the exposed mangrove poles and palm tree trunks that were used for internal support and ceilings, create especially interesting patterns and textures in their exposed state.

My first visit to Jazirat al-Hamra was shortly after I arrived in the UAE in October 2011, when my husband and I lived in Ras-al-Khaimah. I was captivated by this place, and its stories of jinn, as in Arab folklore, jinn frequent abandoned places. Those beings created from smokeless fire, predate Islam, and have a whole Sura in the Qur’an (Sura 72) dedicated to them.

Since our first visit, almost seven years ago, the Department of Antiquities and Museums in Ras-Al-Khaimah, has started a process, in which selected buildings are being renovated to preserve the heritage in a way that can be shared with visitors to the area. Despite the wire fence surrounding part of the village, and specific restoration sites that would be off-limits, one can still access it, and walk through the area.

Although I had no intention to take “then and now” photographs, when I later went through all the photographs taken in 2018 and 2011, I stumbled upon an unexpected gift. Below shows a little house, which looks pretty much the same now, as it used to. (First photograph taken in 2018, and second in 2011.)

Here are other examples of the places, currently undergoing restoration work.

Wind tower house in 2018:

Wind tower house in 2011:

The Pearl Merchant’s House (Ahmed al-Omran) in 2018:

The Pearl Merchant’s House in 2011:

The Mosque with a Unique Free Standing Minaret in 2018 is all covered up, while the second photograph was taken in 2011:

As before, it was a joy to walk around aimlessly, allowing the village itself to speak to me, as most of its current charm, lies in its crumbling walls, and glimpses of colour that hints at a past not entirely forgotten.

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The best place to finish off a visit to Jazirat al-Hamra, especially on a scorching summer’s day, is Puro Café at the entrance to nearby Marjan Island. It is a welcoming place with friendly staff, good food, and a fantastic view over the Arabian Gulf.

 

Notes:

# Please note that, although the area is perfectly safe, many of the houses on the edge of Jazirat al-Hamra have been converted into workers’ accommodation, and visiting this abandoned area on your own, especially if you are a female, may not be the most sensible thing to do. Take someone with, and explore to your heart’s content.

# GPS co-ordinates for Jazirat al-Hamra:  N 25° 42′ 40.8″    E 55° 47′ 39.8″

# GPS co-ordinates for Puro Café:   N 25° 39′ 38.8″    E 55° 45′ 02.4″

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