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Al Ain, the UAE's 'Garden City', home to shade-dappled oases with irrigation systems that stretch back into the far distant past, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is not surprising then that it is well-equipped with museums and forts, a visit to which will excite and inspire.
Al Ain National Museum
This museum on the edge of Al Ain oasis is a repository of the area's unique history and heritage. Housed in the same compound as the Sultan bin Zayed Fort, also known as the Eastern Fort, it has an extensive archaeological and ethnographical collection, including many artefacts from archaeological digs in the area. Reconstructions of a majilis (traditional reception area) and traditional life in general are particularly compelling.
Al Ain Palace Museum
Built in 1910 for the Al Nahyan family, the rooms of this beautifully restored fort take the visitor back to an era shaped by nature and tribe. Sheikh Zayed resided here as the very able Ruler’s Representative for the area before his accession as Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966 and the museum houses a large collection of memorabilia centred around his family, life and times.
Dating from 1891, this very distinctive restored fort, which is situated close to the public gardens, is one of the UAE's most historic buildings. The fort houses a collection of the works of British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (affectionately known as 'Mubarak bin London') and his 1940s crossing of the vast expanses of desert, the Rub' al Khali or Empty Quarter.
Qatarra oasis, which has a large fort in the centre and a working falaj, is the site of an important archaeological find, the Qatarra tomb. This is a long, narrow second millennium BC grave in which many of the rich artefacts displayed in Al Ain Museum were found. Among the most notable finds is a gold ornament in the shape of a double-headed, goat-like animal. Similar finds are known from the sites of Dhayah in northern Ra’s al-Khaimah and Bidiya in northern Fujairah. These were probably worn as large medallions on necklaces.
The redeveloped fort is now home to an arts centre and gallery, cleverly blending traditional architecture and state-of the art facilities.
Hili Archaeological Park
The modern suburb of Al Ain known as Hili (about 10 kilometres from the city on the road to Dubai) is famous among local residents for its beautiful gardens, lush vegetation and childrens' play area. The gardens and immediate hinterland are also the location of a large number of Bronze Age and Iron Age sites, dating between c.2500 and 300 BC. Of these, Hili 8 is perhaps the best investigated. This is a square mudbrick tower with rounded corners and associated outbuildings. Such towers are typical of the late third millennium BC in both Oman and the UAE. The Hili 8 tower is likely either to have been the centre of governance of the settlement, or perhaps a defensive structure to be used as a place of refuge.
The centrepiece of the Hili Gardens is a tomb dating to the end of the third millennium BC that was excavated in the early 1960s and subsequently reconstructed by an Iraqi team for the Al Ain Department of Antiquities and Tourism. Built with massive cut-stone blocks, this is a circular structure with four symmetrical chambers in which human remains, pottery and other items were found. The tomb also features two famous 5000-year-old petroglyphs – one of two people and an oryx, another of two cheetahs catching a gazelle.
A round fort with a round central tower and ornate entrance, the reconstructed Hili Fort is located at the edge of the date palm plantation. Views from the building towards the Hili oasis and surrounding areas are impressive.
Al Rumeilah Fort
Located in a residential area in the northern suburbs, Al Rumeilah Fort iis a small walled structure with interesting architectural features. Nearby an Iron Age settlement (c.1000 to 300 BC) comprises a series of mudbrick buildings, some of which are so well preserved that their roofs are still intact. These had been literally buried by sand and contained large quantities of pottery, grinding stones and metal tools, as well as stamp seals, beads and several pieces of bronze weaponry.
Located in the centre of the town’s business district, Murabba Fort is a small structure surrounded by an ornate wall; it used to be the police headquarters and old prison.
The main fort, a smaller fort and a watchtower are surrounded by a formal park and children's playground. Located on Al Jimi St, several kilometres north-west of the city centre, the main fort is open to visitors.
Al Muwaiji Fort
The three-towered Al Muwaiji Fort and a mosque with a freestanding minaret are located within the date plantation.
The beautifully restored Mazyad Fort lies at the foot of Jebel Hafit and is well worth a visit. Mudbrick walls with battlements and watchtowers surround a courtyard and flourishing date palm grove.
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