The forerunner of the modern city of Ras al-Khaimah, Julfar is mentioned by Arabic geographers and historians in connection with the initial Islamic conquest of the northern Emirates, and subsequently in descriptions of political events during the Umayyad, 'Abbasid and Buwayhid periods. Sources say that it was inhabited by the Azd during the eighth and ninth centuries AD, and that the houses of the Azd were built of wood.
The sources are uniform in considering Julfar a port and harbour, but there is no conclusive archaeological evidence as yet of where the ruins of early Julfar lie. Some scholars believe they may be represented by the site of Kush, where there is occupation dating to this period, or at Jazirat al-Hulaya. Certainly there are no remains of such an early date at al-Mataf, closer to the coast, where British, French and Japanese archaeologists excavated throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Al Idrisi's remark, dating to the twelfth century, that sand bar formation inhibited navigation around Julfar might indeed suggest that the location of the harbour of this name indeed shifted over time. Al-Mataf, located close to modern Ras al-Khaimah, seems to have been founded in the fourteenth century and is probably the site mentioned in numerous Portuguese, Dutch, and English sources of the subsequent three centuries. It was certainly a thriving port and emporium in 1517 when the Portuguese arrived in the Gulf, although by this time under the power of the kingdom of Hormuz. Julfar's most famous son was without doubt the renowned mariner Ibn Majid.
The Portuguese subsequently built a fort at Julfar, which is depicted in several Portuguese manuscripts. By the second half of the eighteenth century, however, the centre of activity had shifted to the site of modern Ras al-Khaimah city.