ABU DHABI // Almost two decades since its discovery, and more than a thousand years since it was built, the UAE's only known Christian archaeological site is set to open to the public.
The Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas island, believed to have been built about 600 AD, was discovered on the 87 square kilometre island of Sir Bani Yas during excavations in 1992.
A new phase of work is underway by archaeologists, and treasures are still being unearthed, making the site a significant focal point for history enthusiasts worldwide.
Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), said, "We are delighted to be opening this ancient site to the public, which gives visitors an insight into the rich history of Sir Bani Yas Island and the UAE. We are proud of our heritage and are therefore focused on creating a multi-experience tourism destination where guests are able to enjoy a variety of activities, while protecting and preserving the history and culture of our country, as well as the natural environment of the island."
The team of archaeologists excavating the site, which is believed to have been built by the Church of the East (also known as the East Syrian Church), was led by the archaeological director Dr Joseph Elders. Dr Elders oversaw the initial surveys of the site in the 1990s. He is currently the chief archeologist for the Church of England, responsible for the preservation of thousands of English churches.
"Opening the site to visitors marks an exciting tourism development for the island as we seek to discover and share more about the past lives and human stories that have played their part in creating its fascinating history. We look forward to welcoming visitors to experience this precious asset on Sir Bani Yas," said Dr Elders.
Artifacts unearthed so far include more than 15 types of pottery, glass vessels, ceremonial vases and richly decorated elaborate plasterwork stucco. The decorative designs that adorn them provide great insight into how the 7th Century inhabitants of the island led their lives.
Sir Bani Yas Island has been inhabited for more than 7,500 years, and more than 36 archaeological sites have been found on the island since surveys and excavations began. These include a circular tomb thought to be 4,000 years old, a fortified watchtower, a mosque and evidence of the ancient pearling industry. In the future it is hoped that these sites will be opened to the public also.
See tomorrow's edition of The National for a special report on Sir Bani Yas island.