x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

City retains essence of centuries-old culture

The "Garden City of the Arabian Gulf" is today also an oasis of Emirati culture among the urban centres of the UAE.

AL AIN // The "Garden City of the Arabian Gulf" is today also an oasis of Emirati culture among the urban centres of the UAE. The wave of development and immigration that has engulfed and transformed Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah has yet to sweep the country's fourth largest city. The traditions of the Gulf are more visible in Al Ain, and the higher proportion of nationals living here gives it a more authentic Emirati look and feel.

The city is rich in historical sites, since the area, known as the Buraimi Oasis, has been inhabited for almost 5,000 years. There are the remains of several villages dating back to the Iron Age, many forts, including Al Jahili and Muraba'a, and a still functioning irrigation system of underground tunnels known as "aflaj". Al Ain is also a date growing centre and produces more than 100 varieties. There is a large plantation in the centre of the city, close to the Al Ain National Museum.

The nation's founder, the late Sheikh Zayed, and his sons were born in Al Ain, and his home in the city from 1937 to 1966 is today the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum. Al Ain had the region's first hospital, which was set up in 1960 by two American doctors, Pat and Marian Kennedy, at the invitation of Sheikh Zayed. The Oasis Hospital served Bedouins for hundreds of kilometres around and is now the city's main maternity hospital.

Sheikh Zayed also set up a major university, the UAE University, in Al Ain in 1976. The city also hosts the country's most important camel market. The sand dunes around Al Ain are known for their distinctive red colour, imparted by the iron oxide content. Another nearby natural attraction is Jebel Hafeet, at 1,240m the nation's second highest peak, that straddles the border with Oman. ealghalib@thenational.ae