x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Keep heritage alive before it's too late

There's hidden history in older neighbourhoods, and it's well worth tracking down while it's still there.

These days it is known for being home to one of Abu Dhabi's favourite destinations. Every day, the Marina Al Bateen resort welcomes vistitors to its swimming pool, restaurants and shisha cafes well into the early hours of the morning.

The Al Bateen area may not seem like it has long had such a bustling lifestyle, but a closer look at history reveals the rich legacy that has accumulated in one of Abu Dhabi's landmark districts.

As The National reported yesterday, Al Bateen is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited areas of Abu Dhabi island. According to the historian Frauke Heard-Bey, the area was probably settled after the central village near Qasr Al Hosn, as far back as 1760.

From a humble fishing village, separated from the main area of Abu Dhabi by a large sand dune, Al Bateen has seen a remarkable transformation during the past 50 years.

Where residents, mostly from the Sweidan tribe, once lived in barastis, or traditional palm frond homes, and coral stone houses, Al Bateen is now home to luxury villas and modern, state-of-the-art residential and business towers. Future developments already planned will also include a high-end hotel. Not to mention the Marina Al Bateen area.

And yet Al Bateen's old culture endures to this day in small pockets, especially the area's tradition of fishing. Some senior residents can still recall the congregations of fisherman at the local majlis.

"What work would you do?" says Saleh Farah Abdulrahman, 82, who built one of the first modern homes in the area. "You were either an earthman or a fisherman."

It is an unfortunate symptom of progress that many old features of the urban landscape remain unappreciated, even unheard of in many cases, until they are lost, or about to be lost. Not long ago, for example, Al Bateen's dhow yard was closed to make way for the marina. And how many people are aware of how long Al Bateen has been a neighbourhood?

As the tower cranes moved in all those years ago, Al Bateen slowly began to change. The area, like the rest of the UAE, has seen astonishing and welcome changes, but at the same time it is heartening to know that its history is being belatedly acknowledged.

Let's hope that 50 years from now, Al Bateen's centuries-old heritage will still be fondly remembered, by residents and visitors alike.