Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

The memories of the UAE's early days should not be allowed to fade

As the country's founding generation age, there will be fewer to recount its stories

Bait Al Naboodah in Sharjah's heritage area, shortly before its renovation. Satish Kumar / The National
Bait Al Naboodah in Sharjah's heritage area, shortly before its renovation. Satish Kumar / The National

They can be found in the quiet alleyways and hidden lanes that form the backbone of the seven emirates. The historic homes of the UAE are being recognised and restored for the gems they are, ones that tell a story about how far the country has come in a dizzyingly short space of time. Among them, as The National reported, is Bait Al Naboodah in Sharjah, originally built in 1845 and once again open to the public after a painstaking two-year renovation. The former home of a wealthy pearl merchant, visitors can wander through its wood and palm trunk interiors, admire its innovative cooling system and inspect the tools and coins used in the ancient pearling trade, which was replaced as the UAE’s mainstay income by oil.

While the importance and historical value of such structures is increasingly being recognised, it has not always been that way. As the UAE’s cities have striven to compete on a global platform – whether that means building dazzling world-class institutions or constructing the biggest and best – its history was left as just that. Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood in Dubai, with its century-old windtowers, was once earmarked for demolition and only just escaped the bulldozers’ curse. An older generation – those who still remember drawing water from wells and can recall a time of hardship, eking out a living in a harsh climate before the discovery of oil – will not always be here to tell their stories firsthand. As the UAE charts its way towards a futuristic new era, one where artificial intelligence and technology dominates and a younger generation will be pioneers of a different kind, it behoves us to remember how far a course has been steered in a short time. We will soon only have relics like these to remember those who sowed the seeds of the UAE’s story. We should all preserve and experience them for ourselves.