x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Visitors will find a 'spot of heaven in the desert'

A look at what the Unesco recognition means for the UAE's tourism industry.

AL AIN // Although Unesco's decision to make Al Ain a world heritage site is not yet a week old, those who work in tourism are already looking forward to a boost.

"It will really help reach a more global market," said Kasper Wigen, the marketing officer at the Hilton Al Ain hotel.

"I don't think it will have much of an impact on local or Middle Eastern market, as most don't know what Unesco is."

In the past year, the hotel has noticed a 10 per cent increase in foreign tourists, mainly from Germany.

"Abu Dhabi has been recently promoting Al Ain a lot as a spot of heaven in the middle of the desert," he said.

Visitors can go now to the Hili Archaeological Park, and get a sneak peek into life and death in the Bronze age, where tombs were built better than homes as a testament to the belief in the afterlife.

The sites at the park date to the Umm An-Nar period, considered the peak of the Bronze Age civilization, and lasted from around 2700 BC to 2000 BC. The people of that time were copper miners, farmers and merchants.

One of the striking features at this park are the carvings on one of the tombs, the Grand Tomb of Hili, 12 meters in diameters and at least four meters high.

The carvings offer a rare look into the lives of the previous inhabitants. One, above the tomb's southern entrance, shows two human figure between two Arabian oryxes, capturing the close bond that once existed between man and nature - and was adapted by Al Ain's official institutes as their logo.

The essence of what made Al Ain a site of refuge for travellers for thousands of years is captured in a stroll in its oases, which are open with special passages built to allow for walking.

Besides the 100-year-old mud brick homes, the influence of the irrigation falaj system can be seen at work as it waters the tens of thousands of date palm trees.

Shams Al Dhaheri, whose family owns most of the farms at Al Jimi Oasis, cannot wait to welcome international guests.

She cried tears of joy upon learning the oases had earned the Unesco designation.

"When you come here, you will see what makes our oases heaven on Earth," she said.

Translating a popular poem about her oasis, Ms Al Dhaheri says: "With a home in Jimi oasis and another in Mutaredh oasis, you keep coming back to Jimi to walk around it in the hopes of meeting that beauty that stole your heart."

"The beauty could be a bird, a date, or even a woman. It doesn't matter, everything in Jimi is beautiful," she said.