Qasr al Hosn – The Symbolic Heart of Abu Dhabi

“To those who would know
We are the Bani Yas.
This is our island,
Where we are born and raised.
We are a people of noble origins,
We inherited it from the ancestors.
Our forefathers guarded it with their lives,
Protecting it with sword and spear.
O valiant brothers, you are a proud and strong people,
The nation loves those who serve it faithfully.”

– Emirati poet, Saeed Mohammed bin Salem Al Muhairbi

When I had to decide where and how I wanted to spend my last morning in the UAE, I thought a final visit to its symbolic heart, Qasr al Hosn, would be the most appropriate. It was here, as one story in the rich local oral tradition tells, where a group of hunters, following a gazelle, discovered fresh water. A small, round watchtower was built to guard over the precious water source. Carbon dating of the coral stone used in the tower points to a date of extraction somewhere between 1795 and 1805.

When Sheikh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab moved his permanent residence here from Liwa, he built a small fortified house around the original watchtower. As a result, a budding settlement sprung up, and so the story of, not only Qasr al Hosn, but the city of Abu Dhabi began.

In the 1850s, Sheikh Saeed bin Tahnoon carried out improvements and turned the fort into a two-storied structure, but it was Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan, ruling from 1928-1966, who enclosed the initial fort completely, giving Qasr al Hosn its present-day form.

From its earliest existence Qasr al Hosn not only dominated the flat, sandy landscape of Abu Dhabi island, but became one of the most recognisable landmarks on the then Trucial Coast. Built from coral stones and cladded in a local plaster, called juss, made from a mixture of ground coral, seashells, and sand that was burnt, crushed and mixed into a paste, it sparkled in the desert sun, greeting everyone who approached the city from both land and sea.

Until 1966 it, not only served as a royal residence, but was also the political and military headquarters for the ruling sheikhs who have left an indelible mark on the economic, social and cultural life of the country and its people. Now, overshadowed by taller glass, steel and concrete structures, it may no longer dominate the physical landscape, but it is still intricately linked to the emotional landscape of the Emirati soul.

Meticulous excavation and restoration of the fort by archaeologists from the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority was carried out for around 10 years to remove the concrete and paint in which it was covered during its 1976-1983 renovations. The restored building officially opened its doors again for visitors in December 2018.

Visit Qasr al Hosn’s official website by clicking here.

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