x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'Qasr Al Hosn was surrounded by desert when we visited'

People who lived in the city many years ago can remember a very different scene around the iconic Qasr Al Hosn fort to what is visible today.

Saif Al Hameli, who went to the fort as child, says: “We used to live by the sea and some of the houses were made of palm fronds.” Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Saif Al Hameli, who went to the fort as child, says: “We used to live by the sea and some of the houses were made of palm fronds.” Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Bustling traffic, high-rise buildings and commuters rushing to and from work surround the capital's oldest building today - but this was not always the case.

People who lived in the city many years ago can remember a very different scene around the iconic Qasr Al Hosn fort.

Edna Green, from England, lived in Abu Dhabi between 1961 and 1967 after moving to the emirate with her husband, who was a banker.

"I visited Qasr Al Hosn several times when Sheikh Shakhbut [bin Sultan] was the Ruler. At Eid holidays I was invited with my husband to go to his majlis and have coffee along with the Bedouin, who lined the walls with their guns.

"Qasr Al Hosn was surrounded by desert when we lived there. It was a very significant place because it stood out like an old-world fort and, of course, it had police guards," said Mrs Green, who now lives in London.

Emirati Saif Al Hameli, 74, who lives in Abu Dhabi, went with his father to the fort as a child when Sheikh Shakhbut was Ruler.

"Every Eid, the Sheikh would invite the entire community to attend the Eid feast in the fort. Many people would gather in the fort, have food and leave. This cycle continued for a long time.

"I was five years old when I accompanied my father to the fort. The Sheikh was very humble. The fort was beautifully designed."

He remembered the UAE consisting of desert, palm trees and sea when he was a child.

"We used to live by the sea and some of our houses were made of palm fronds. I grew up by the sea and I used to play with boys in my neighbourhood the whole day. I started diving and fishing at the age of 10," Mr Al Hameli said.

Emirati Abu Dhabi resident Ibrahim Almazrouei, 52, remembered Qasr Al Hosn very well.

"The building was very outstanding and when we looked at it from a distance, we could feel its majestic existence," he said.

"When I was very young, I used to go there with my father and brothers to visit Sheikh Zayed in his majlis outside the fort. He used to host people, listen to them and give them whatever they needed.

"We used to live in the areas surrounding the palace, where most people in Abu Dhabi lived. There was a school where I studied and an old-style souq.

"It's important that people learn about the place, because it tells the story of Abu Dhabi and its Rulers. The place meant a big deal for us. It was the city centre and the most vital part of Abu Dhabi."

ecleland@thenational.ae

aalhameli@thenational.ae