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History-laden Jebel Hafit set on road to World Heritage Site

posted on 22/07/2007: 2519 views



The Jebel Hafit area is set to become the UAE's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering the finest selection of archaeological sites and natural beauty in the country, Emirates Today can reveal. The 1,240m mountain on the outskirts of Al Ain famously boasts the Green Mubazzarah tourist destination, hot water springs and the 11.7km Jebel Hafit Mountain Road – dubbed one of the greatest motoring routes on the planet.

But less well known is the fact that the rocky outcrop and surrounding area is also home to bats, foxes and the endangered tahr mountain goat – and could even be on the range of the elusive Arabian leopard, according to Dr Mark Beech, head of the Cultural Landscapes division of

Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach).

The area also boasts a restored fort and archaeological ruins at nearby Mezyad as well as ancient stone tombs and caves that date back thousands of years, added Dr Beech, speaking on the sidelines of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, an annual world academic meet in the British Museum, London.

"Becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site is important for all kinds of reasons,” Dr Beech said. "Firstly, it is a matter of conservation, and secondly it is a matter of pride. "Across the Gulf, there is a real lack of countries with World Heritage Sites. And look at Jordan. There officials are pleased Petra made it on to the list for the New Seven Wonders of the World. As a result, they are likely to experience more tourism and development. It is easy to see how something like UNESCO status would benefit Al Ain, which has developed a new zoo and is building shopping malls and is expecting to receive more tourists.

"This is why it is important to protect and preserve what is there.” Dr Beech said the UNESCO scheme had the backing of Adach and the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi (EAD) as well as top government officials. However, there were still legal hurdles to be overcome before a Jebel Hafit application could be issued.

Adach officials have recently held a series of workshops as they prepare a law to protect, regulate and manage cultural heritage, set to replace Abu Dhabi's Archaeological Law No 8 of 1970. Although the UAE is working with UNESCO on some projects, it does not yet have a federal law for preservation and conservation that is required to apply to create World Heritage Sites, according to Awadh Saleh, secretary general of the National Commission for UNESCO. "This law is on its way and we will apply for UNESCO status as soon as it is passed by the Cabinet,” he said. (Emirates Today exclusive)

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