x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UAE forts' proud histories are a heritage well worth preserving

UAE watchtowers are a crucial part of local architectural heritage that must be preserved and retained in its finest shape, wriites Dr Hassan Al Naboodah, dean of libraries at UAE University in Al Ain.

Hassan Al Naboodah

Over the next week the UAE will pay tribute to Qasr Al Hosn, once the bedrock of culture and power on the island that would become Abu Dhabi.

But the capital's fort is not the only treasure hewn from coral and stone dotting the Emirates. From Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain to Al Hisn in Sharjah, the UAE has numerous examples of this early architecture.

Builders used a variety of materials to erect their castles.

In coastal areas they were built from sea stones, sandstone and locally grown palm tree wood, as well as certain kinds of wood imported from India and Africa, such as Rhizophora, known for its strength and durability.

In the mountains, stones, mud and local timber were used (though these forts were smaller than those in coastal areas).

In oases and desert areas, the constructing materials were mudstone and palm.

Each fort was unique in its layout and design, but they all consisted of similar features: an external wall that is relatively high, with cylindrical or square towers in some of its corners. The towers were given small loops at the top for gun use and surveillance.

In some castles, towers were two storeys with a circular ladder inside, more robust than other parts of the castle, as this was the first line of defence against attack.

Major castles often consisted of a large garden used for preparation for various events including weddings and celebrations.

There was often a well for water, and a majlis overlooking the yard, where the ruler received guests and delegations.

On the opposite side there would be a building surrounded by a wall less thick than the castle wall, containing a number of medium-sized rooms inhabited by the members of the Ruler's family. Each had simple openings to allow air and sunlight in.

Built using local materials these rooms were uniquely suited to stay cool in summer, warm in winter.

Castles and fortresses had a major role in various aspects of life.

They were places for social and political interaction; the Ruler would meet members of the community to check on and consult with them. They were also used as rest houses for travelling dignitaries and tribal sheikhs.

Many watchtowers were located on the coast overlooking the Arabian Gulf, especially in the Northern Emirates.

Circular or square-shaped, these structures were constructed to keep a watch for coming ships, to provide protection for cities and prevent an enemy advance during a war.

Each of these edifices has its own story proudly recounted by one generation to the next.

Thus, they have a vital role today in promoting UAE civilisation. They are, like Qasr Al Hosn, a crucial part of local architectural heritage. Each must be preserved and retained in its finest shape.


Dr Hassan Al Naboodah is the dean of libraries at UAE University in Al Ain