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Qasr al Hosn – Abu Dhabi’s iconic landmark

Al Hosn Fort – the core of a city to rise

Qasr al Hosn is no longer the first thing you spot when approaching Abu Dhabi. It’s well hidden among skyscrapers with challenging shapes that rise like mushrooms, day after day. But it’s still the heart of a city, of that city that almost miraculously changed its look from desolate to attractive.

Wide boulevards shaded by green palm trees. World’s most famous hotel chains displaying luxury down to the smallest detail. Expensive cars & yachts. A Formula 1 track. Michelin star awarded restaurants. Huge malls parading the most famous brands in the world. Marinas, golf camps designed by world’s best architects, wide blue flagged beaches, water parks, suspended pools and much, much more. This is Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. But this is Abu Dhabi today!

Can you find any similarity between these two pictures? I bet none.

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You might think these are two completely different places. Yet it is the same place. “Oh, wow…then, maybe, there’s a few centuries gap between the two”, you might very well say! Yet all this huge change has been happening in less than 5 decades. The first picture has been taken in 1965 (source: www.one8one.com), while the second one has been captured in 2007 (source:Panoramio). It is impressive, isn’t it?

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The museum at Qasr al Hosn – a unique way to travel back in time

Two days ago I took a Bolivian friend visiting the city to Qasr al Hosn Museum, as I truly believe this is the place that no visitor in Abu Dhabi should skip. This is the place where Abu Dhabi’s history starts and the historical significance of this ancient fortress goes beyond measure. The good news is the exhibition is free of charge and open daily from 9am to 8pm. Furthermore, every month the museum organizes different public talks and workshops related to the evolution of Abu Dhabi and its cultural heritage.

The fort was built between 1761 – 1793 at the order of Sheikh Dhiyab Bin Isaa and was originally meant to protect a water source discovered in Abu Dhabi Island. The conical tower and the fort built later on to encompass it evolved into a powerful structure that protected and served the whole community along the years. The Arabian Gulf has always been a hub of commerce and Qasr al Hosn displayed an image of power, igniting the region’s development. Moreover, Qasr al Hosn was home of the royal family for generations and it is the place where Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan , the first president of UAE, was born in 1918.

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Doubtless, the white image of the fort in the middle of the desert landscape represents a memorable picture. Reem Tariq el Muttiwalli who, in 1990, wrote a book about the architectural history of Al Hosn Palace, as it is known today, tells us that it used to be called the “white fort”, because of its cladding in a locally made material known as juss. This was a mixture of corral stone, lime, local sand and seashells that was burnt, crushed and mixed into a paste that served as mortar and render both. Due to the shell’s reflective effect, the fort’s walls would sparkle in the sun, making it visible from very far. The corral stone, on the other hand, was a very intelligent choice for the severe climate of Abu Dhabi. Due to its porous constitution, it can absorb the sun’s heat and keep it in the wall during the day and release it back during the night, when the temperatures drop.

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The sight of the fort is proudly flying the flag of Abu Dhabi (plain-red with a small white rectangle in the upper hoist of the flag). The significance of it is a very beautiful one, deeply rooted in the Emirati past: white to symbolize the pearls and read to represent the color of the cloth used by the traders to emphasize the whiteness and the beauty of the pearl. The lulu or pearl oyster has been a considerable source of local wealth in the emirates, long before the discovery of oil.

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In order to raise awareness of how important the fort is for the Emirati identity, in 2013 Qasr al Hosn has been opening its doors for the first edition of the festival that bears its name. Al Hosn Festival takes place once a year, between 20th of February to 1st of March, and is a unique opportunity for visitors to experience the local culture and history through talks, sessions of art and exhibitions. They can also participate in workshops and demonstration of Emirati skills and traditions.

Whether you’re just a passing by tourist or a new in town resident, I recommend you to start exploring the city here, at Qasr al Hosn. The video bellow might make you even a bit more curious about the place you live in.

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