This year’s second edition of the Qasr Al Hosn Festival is different, not because of the newly introduced heritage workshops, but because it will be the first time visitors will have the opportunity to enter the historic fort and explore the symbolic birthplace of Abu Dhabi. Guests will also be able to visit the historic National Consultative Council chamber located just outside of the fort’s walls, a building that hosted several key meetings in the decisive months leading up to the birth of the UAE itself in 1971.
The experience won’t stop there. Those who attend the festival will also have the chance to experience the modern heritage building, the Cultural Foundation, to learn, among other things, about gahwa – traditional Arabic coffee – and its history and taste. There will also be a series of workshops, live performances and poetry recitals taking place, and visitors can also watch films produced by young Emirati artists. Other activities will include guided tours, interactive exhibitions and traditional performances.
Events like this are critical to raising awareness of the UAE’s history before 1971 and keeping traditions alive. Qasr Al Hosn, which translates as “the fort palace”, is the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi and was the place of residency for many generations of rulers. It started as just a watchtower but was transformed first by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab, who ruled from 1795 to 1816, and later by succeeding generations of rulers until Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father. He turned it into a museum and a repository for books about the Emirates and the Gulf states. Many residents, however, remain largely unaware of its true significance.
The festival will throw light on Abu Dhabi’s history and the collective heritage of the UAE and its people. It will also host the international show, Cavalia, featuring 41 magnificent horses and 36 riders, aerialists, acrobats and international performers and musicians, all delivered with an Emirati touch. Today, it will be open for women and children only. From tomorrow, all are welcome.
Those who attended the festival last year will also know that there is something special about the setting. It is a pocket of heritage amid the emerging skyline of the city centre, an historic gem to juxtapose with the modern glass structures that cluster around it.
Enjoy the festival and remember that those footprints in the fort’s sand mark the history of Abu Dhabi’s most precious and magical cultural space.