x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Old Al Ain souq returns to its glorious past

Al Ain market set to also become heritage tourist attraction.

An Emirati vendor awaits customers in her market stall at Souq Al Qattara.
An Emirati vendor awaits customers in her market stall at Souq Al Qattara.

AL AIN // Abdullah Al Darmaki was excited about the reopening of the Souq Al Qattara, where his father used to run a small grocery shop.

"If my father would have been alive he would cry to see all this," said Mr Al Darmaki, 36.

A resident of Al Qattara, he recalls sitting in his father's shop when he was only four years old.

Yesterday, when the souq reopened after its renovation by the Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism Authority, he visited it with his children.

Mr Al Darmaki pointed out the particular place where he used to sit. The grocery is now a traditional clothing shop, one of 19 retailers in the new souq.

"We used to play along with my brother and sisters and loved to come every day along with my father. I have lived since then in the same locality," he said.

"We used to come here on donkeys and camels. I remember that there were around three to four shops here."

Al Ain's historic mid-20th century souq opened in time for revellers to celebrate National Day on Sunday.

The souq is typical of the traditional markets found at the heart of every Arab city.

Besides being a centre of trade, it was also an important meeting point for the local community.

It was founded by the late Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan, former Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and is now hoped to become a cultural destination for tourists.

"Some 30 years back I remember that the rooftop of the market was well covered with leaves of palm trees so that we were not able to see the sun," Mr Al Darmaki said.

"The entire populace of Al Qattara area, especially the old people, when I told them about the opening were highly delighted.

"If we needed a farmer, worker for anything, we rushed to this place to find them. At that time we hired a worker to cut a palm tree and clean the leaves for different use for only Dh3 to Dh5."

Mohammed Al Baloushi, 45, from Al Hili, talked about the souq as a meeting place.

"All people from Buraimi, Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other emirates used to come and sit here and chat," Mr Al Baloushi said.

"Today I've brought my camera to capture images because it reminds me of our history and days our forefathers lived."

Umm Thamer was at the souq demonstrating how to prepare khobuz, a traditional bread.

"I am going to stay here until the end of the National Day. One khobuz is priced Dh5," she said.

Saeed Saif, a potter in his 40s from the tourism authority, was busy making vessels from white mud dug out from deep sand.

"I am here for two months to teach children about the techniques of preparation of earthen pots," said Mr Saif, who has been in the business since he was 12.

"We can prepare 400 kinds of pots from it."

Souq Al Qattara is open to the public daily from 9am until 8pm throughout December and January.

anwar@thenational.ae