Quick guide to Abu Dhabi's iconic Qasr Al Hosn

Everything you need to know about the historic site

Quick guide to Abu Dhabi's iconic Qasr Al Hosn

Qasr Al Hosn Fort, the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, is reopening next month as a museum explaining the history of the emirate.
From December 7, visitors can explore the site and find out how the UAE’s capital has transformed over the years.

The Cultural Foundation, which was founded in 1981 by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, will also be back in business while the House of Artisans will open its doors for the first time. In March 2019, two more buildings fantastic will open: the pioneering Abu Dhabi Children’s Library and a new 900-seat amphitheatre.

We’re told the permanent exhibition in the Fort will offer a multi-layered visitor experience that will shed light on the lives of the past rulers of Abu Dhabi and the people who lived in the palace.

HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCTA) says: “This landmark is our greatest historical and cultural symbol, the witness to our remarkable history – in just two and half centuries, from a humble coastal settlement to the global metropolis of today.

“Most importantly, it is the cherished cultural heart of Abu Dhabi. Many have longed for its reopening and we hope our people and all residents feel a sense of homecoming as much as we do.”

HE Saif Ghobash, undersecretary of DCTA adds: “From innovative installations, rare and important artefacts, to archival documents and everyday objects, the displays in Qasr al Hosn’s renovated fort truly bring our past to life, documenting how our ancestors lived through the centuries.

“Equally fascinating is the archaeological and conservation work that has been done to restore the fort to its full glory. We look forward to visitors learning the story of Qasr Al Hosn, and by extension, that of Abu Dhabi and its people.”

The story
Find out how the fort evolved from a late 18th century defensive structure into the home of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, and from a place where the community would gather to a centre of government. In recent years, it became the cultural heart of the city. As work was carried out to restore the building, archaeologists found that each ruler left his mark on the fort, building new structures and adding pieces to what was there already.

The move to the island
See how the Bani Yas tribes migrated from their ancestral home in the Liwa desert oasis to the coast. After decades of nomadic seasonal movements, some of which brought them to Abu Dhabi island to fish, dive for pearls and collect salt, the tribe set up a permanent settlement in the 1760s.

The early years
The sea provided a great livelihood for fishermen and pearl divers and the community started to grow. To protect the new-found wealth of the tribe and the people, a small fort was built in 1795. The area grew from a tiny village with houses made from palm fronds to a settlement with permanent structures.

A foundation for culture
In the 1800s, Sheikh Zayed the First began steering Abu Dhabi towards becoming the power it is today. See how he established a majlis where he’d discuss how to keep his people safe and prosperous and learn how, from that setting, a dialogue for cultural expression was born.

The oil years
When Sheikh Zayed the First died in 1909, Abu Dhabi’s fortunes were fluctuating – Japan had created new cultured pearls and the economy suffered. However, his successor Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan granted the first oil concessions from his majlis in Qasr Al Hosn in 1939. He also started to build a large palace around the old fort, a sign of confidence in the economy.

Father of the Nation
When Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the father of the nation, came to power in 1966, Abu Dhabi set out on its transformation into a global city. Roads stretched into the desert, new buildings started to appear around Qasr Al Hosn and the fort became a cultural and political symbol of the emirate.

Step back in time
By walking around the corridors and courtyards of Qasr Al Hosn, you can step back in time and learn about the men, women and children that lived and worked there. Since the late 1930s, it was both a workplace and family home and the new museum offers the chance to explore what that life was like.

The union
In 1968 the National Consultative Council (NCC) was built on the site where Sheikh Zayed the First held his majlis. The NCC was essential in the unification of the seven emirates on December 2, 1971 and early meetings of Federal national Council were held there.

As well as the permanent displays in Qasr Al Hosn, there will be a full calendar of public events, including archaeological and architectural tours, re-enactments of life in the past, a majlis programme to show how important it was to the history of Abu Dhabi and activities for children and teenagers.

The structure
Qasr Al Hosn includes two invaluable structures – the inner fort, parts of which date back to around 1795, and the outer palace, built in the 1940s. They will form the main part of the new Al Hosn cultural area based in the city’s original urban block.

Qasr Al Hosn, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street,  www.alhosn.ae.

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