x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Inspiration behind the forthcoming world's biggest gate in UAE

There is story behind every door, according to an Arabic proverb, and this is certainly true of the gate dedicated to Sheikh Khalifa. Inspired by traditional doors to embrace UAE heritage, it also reflects how the nation is developing.

The gate dedicated to Sheikh Khalifa will be the tallest in the world at 25 metres. Courtesy Sultan bin Zayed's Culture and Media Center
The gate dedicated to Sheikh Khalifa will be the tallest in the world at 25 metres. Courtesy Sultan bin Zayed's Culture and Media Center

It all began with an Arabic Proverb: "Behind every door, there is a story."

Saleh Al Nuaimi's inspiration for the world's biggest door, or rather a gate, came from simply walking through one at his family's house in Al Ain.

"The thick, wooden, traditional front door captures your identity, your history, the story of your home and the country you are from," says the 36-year-old Emirati artist. "It leaves an impression on whoever sees it, for it is the first and the last thing you see as you leave a house."

In an earlier age, before streets had names and buildings had numbers, the front door was the best way to identify someone's home. Each one had its own marks and designs.

Build from wood and metal and about two metres high, doors were carved with a variety of designs, some floral or geometric, some with heart-shaped figures or traditional items such as a coffee pot, or dallah.

One popular design that owes its origins to local traditions is a circle carved within a rhomboid geometric shape, known as the "Ain Al Hasoud" (eye of envy), which is said to offer protection against the evil eye.

Doors were often smaller than those of today to force people to bend in humility when entering a home. Mosques and schools had even smaller doors for this same reason.

Another important distinction in traditional doors was the presence of a "mini" door within the main door, known as Al Farkha. Instead of opening the whole door, residents would open Al Farkha, through which only a single person could squeeze or things could be passed to the residents inside without being intrusive. It was also protection against theft.

"The door is the keeper of secrets. It is the gate through which one goes from the small world into the bigger world, and vice versa," says Mr Al Nuaimi, a trained calligrapher who also likes to paint nature, in particular horses in oil.

"Our traditional doors are beautiful and you will find that many modern houses still have a traditional front door."

On December 2, to mark the UAE's 41st National Day, the world will get a chance to see a inflated version of a traditional Emirati door. It will be "opened" on Abu Dhabi's Corniche, at the end of the Breakwater beside the giant flagpole and Abu Dhabi Theatre. Naturally it will set a new Guinness World Record.

Standing 25 metres tall, more than seven metres wide and 30 centimetres thick, it will be the "biggest heritage gate" in the world, dedicated to, and bearing the name of, Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE.

"It is an acknowledgement of how the UAE opened its doors to the world, as well as the impression left by the people from across the world on the UAE," explains Mr Al Nuaimi. "It is also to signify how our Sheikhs' doors are always open for us and everyone else."

Called the Khalifa Project in World Languages, the development was launched earlier this year by The Sultan bin Zayed Culture and Media Centre, in cooperation with the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, UAE University and the Shaikh Khalifa Fund to support Youth Projects.

"It is a true team effort, and will have local and international artists leaving their mark on the door through writing 'Khalifa' in their own languages and styles," says Mr Al Nuaimi, who is also a member of the culture and media centre.

Held in place by steel, the arched shaped door will be made of teak. Imported from India, it can withstand the high temperatures and humidity of the UAE. Aside from teak, traditional doors were made from wood imported from eastern Africa and Iran, a necessity due to the lack of trees in the emirates.

Heavy iron and copper nails helped keep the wood strong. The same material was also used to make locks and knockers.

For the Khalifa Project door, the nails will be special, flat-headed and about 15cm long. More than 200 of them will be sent across the world for the name Khalifa to be inscribed in different languages. The project's organisers have contacted 45 embassies in the UAE to help them select the artists. They will then come to Abu Dhabi to hammer the nail in place, a gesture intended as a show of kinship and allegiance.

"We are in the process of looking for people to write Sheikh Khalifa's name in ancient languages, like Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumerian cuneiform," Mr Al Nuaimi says. "It will truly be unique."

Organisers are also studying the possibility of creating the largest crystal in the world, also bearing the name of Sheikh Khalifa, to be part of door.

The project will also include a website with a biography of Sheikh Khalifa in various languages, along with a history of the UAE and its relations with other countries.

Residents of the Emirates will be invited to participate in the encyclopaedia by writing Sheikh Khalifa's name and expressing their love for the President and the UAE in their own language using touch screen computers, which will be distributed by November to different centres across the country.

An operetta has also been commissioned, to be performed at Abu Dhabi Theatre beside the door.

"This project is unique, there is nothing like it in the region," says Khadija Al Shehhi, the project's supervisor. "It is the UAE's way of saying 'I love you Baba Khalifa', and showing the world their great love for him."

There will be a computerised screen near the door where visitors can "leave their finger print" and their overall impressions of the Emirates.

Mr Al Nuaimi hopes this project is just the beginning when it comes to ventures being commissioned just for their "artistic soul".

"A good example are the massive roundabouts in Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia that have magnificent artistic structures and figurines," he says.

"You always see people sitting near them just to admire and enjoy the view of the structure.

"It will be the same for the Khalifa Gate. People will come to just walk through it and admire it for what it represents."

rghazal@thenational.ae

For more information about the project, visit www.khalifa-uae.com