Monday , February 19 2018

UAE: vibrant heart of cultures and genuine partner in world heritage

The United Arab Emirates enjoys a unique privilege of encompassing more than 200 islands of precious historical and traditional values

The country’s natural reserves and mountain ranges are not less important than the mountainous regions spreading around the world

The UAE celebrates the International Heritage Festival, including more than 3100 historical buildings

The castles, forts, towers, and walls embody an aspect of the Emirati people’s greatness and their contribution to human civilization

Various civilizations has sprouted and flourished on the Emirati soil for more than seven thousand years and that has persisted until the present time


Celebrating the International Heritage Festival

The UAE participates, along with other world countries, in celebrating the International Heritage Day that falls on the April 18 each year. The festival has been observed by the United Nations International Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) since 1983 with the purpose increasing awareness on international cultural variety and the efforts required to protect and maintain it. Hence, an international movement was initiated to conserve international heritage during WWI which results in massive world-level destruction that augmented in the wake of WWII.

Then, meetings and agreements aiming at conserving the world monuments and heritage against human and natural threats were held, being crowned in 1978 with the inclusion of the first 12 world sites in the “UNESCO” list of World Heritage Sites. Day by day, the list kept expanding to shed light on and maintain international responsibility for sites that represent the history and heritage of human civilization on earth. The UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites now encompasses 1011 sites, classified into 782 cultural sites and 229 natural or mixed (natural/human combined) sites. It also encompasses 70 sites located in the Arab world.

Celebrating this festival, the UAE draws on two essential bases; first is its nature, geographic location and atmosphere, and second its citizens who, since they first inhabited it, we open towards all civilizations and cultures and enjoyed a love for life and peace. Both characteristics fall in line with the UNESCO definition of natural and cultural heritage.

Preservation of natural and cultural heritage

“Natural heritage” as defined in the International Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, signed in 1972, is the natural features consisting of physical and biological formations, which are precisely delineated, and which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants.

In this sense, the UAE enjoys a manifest privilege as it owns more than 200 islands of historical and heritage value, and it has several natural reserves and mountain ranges that are no less important than the mountainous areas scattering all over the world. Such sites deserve to be registered on the list of world heritage.

World Heritage Festival

This year, the UAE celebrates the World Heritage Festival with its historical constructions that are over 3100, including 600 historical buildings in Abu Dhabi, 550 in Dubai, 600 in Sharjah, 50 in Ajman, 150 in Umm Al Quwain, 550 in Fujairah, and 600 in Ras Al Khaimah.

World Heritage Sites are those sites nominated by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to be included among the international heritage sites. Such sites could be natural, like nature reserves, cemeteries, mountains ranges, and forests; and it could be man-made, like buildings, citadels, forts and cities.

Monumental citadels, forts, towers, walls, cemeteries, houses, and mosques stand tall in all the emirates of the state as a prominent testimony to the rich Emirati history. It embodies an aspect of the Emirati people’s greatness and considerable contribution to human civilization, in light of its historical, cultural, engineering, architectural, and defense significance. It also reflects the artistic and construction engineering skills in the UAE, and its complete correspondence to the social and defense needs of the Emirati citizens, representing their experience in architectural arts since early stage of history.

The sites included on the list of World Heritage Sites are maintained by the international organization (UNESCO) that contributes to the restoration of it when need be, not to mention the international status such sites enjoy when they are listed.

Al Ain on the list of World Heritage Sites

Since heritage is the ambassador of originality and its pristine mirror for the world, the UAE has been keen on being among the early GCC countries that have natural and cultural sites listed on the World Heritage Sites list. In this context, the UNESCO listed the Emirati city of Al Ain among the World Heritage Sites. Hence, this green city in the heart of sand dunes and rocky mountains has become the first Emirati site to secure a position on the list. The decision was taken during the 35th meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which was held at the organization’s headquarters during the summer of 2011.

The UNESCO included Al Ain City on this important list after six years of continuous efforts on the part of the UAE, and the organisation based its decision on the geological, archaeological and historical importance of Jebel Hafit, which is located on the outskirts of the city, as well as HiliCivilisation, and other facilities of historical significance, such as the ‘BidaaBint Saud,’ oases areas and Falaj system, which was used for water management and conservation.

The organization considered the Falaj system, which consists of long underground water canals that extend through an aperture within a rocky high land toward a cultivable land. It represents a way for the development of inhabited villages and towns, besides being a skilled engineering achievement. In addition, the Hili Civilization that bloomed in Al Ain was known for its sophisticated water management system, fortified residential buildings and burial traditions. As for Jebel Hafit, it encompasses burial areas that date back to the fourth millennium BC.

The UAE is the focus of global attention

Indeed, the international recognition of the exceptional values for which Al Ain is marked makes the UAE the focus of world heritage family’s attention. Hence, thisposes considerable challenges before those in charge of it on their ways toward caring for and maintaining all the constituents of Emirati archeological heritage, qualifying that which is available of it to be added to the local reservoir that wins international recognition, and making our country a destination approached for our experience and expertise in qualifying the givens of our national heritage to be on the list of international heritage sites.

Excavations, researches and monuments affirm that the UAE is the fount of civilization and the heart of the east that vibrates with culture, and a key participant in world heritage. It has a long history and a rich civilizational heritage that abounds with heritage and traditional treasures traced back to various civilizations, which prospered on the Emirati land more than seven thousand years ago. Such treasures have persisted until the present time, and thus the sites encompassing it are endowed with internationally exceptional value that helped in nominating and listing them among world heritage sites.

Historical value of the UAE

Undoubtedly, the large diversity of historical and archeological sites extending all over the Emirati land reflect its historical value and its emblematic significance as a confluence of human civilizations over ages. It also affirms that the Emirati traditional and civilizational richness is no less than its economic richness, for which it is known in the international circles.

The Emirati archeological sites attract the interest of those working to qualify, restore and protect it against extinction. On top of these archeological sites in the UAE are Umm AlNar, Al Qattarah, Al Hili, Hafit, BidaaBint Saud, in Al Ain; Al Qusais, in Dubai; Mulaihah, in Sharjah; Al Zaba Palace, in Ras Al Khaimah; Al Dur, in Umm Al Quwain; Al Zawraa and Manama Cemeteries, in Ajman; and Maqbarat Al Juyush (Cemetery of Armies), Bidya and Qadfa’a, in Fujairah.

In completion of the rich Emirati heritage system, the Emirati museums, with its diverse rare acquisitions, represent a remarkable page of the Emirati history, which embodies the civilization of the Emirati people and their considerable contribution to human civilization over ages.

Emirati Museums

Among the major museums in the UAE are Abu Dhabi Museum, Al Ain Museum, Dubai Museum, Ajman Museum, Umm Al Quwain Museum, and Al Hisn (Fort) Museum, Islamic Museum, Art Museum and Science Museum in Sharjah. The UAE develops strategies that ensure full and constant cooperation among the local authorities in charge of archeology, museums and natural reserves in the different emirates of the state, besides cooperation with specialized international organizations in the field, including World Heritage Committee, World Heritage Centre, and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), especially with the opening of its new branch in Sharjah under the graceful auspices and direct support of H.H. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

Nomination of seven sites

Such constant efforts and cooperation resulted in the shortlisting of seven Emirati sites for world heritage sites, knowing that three of these sites are located in Sharjah (namely Sir Bunair, Al Mashhad Al Thaqafi (cultural panorama) that is located in the middle region “Mulaiha” and is the heart of Sharjah, as well as Umm Al Nar Island in Abu Dhabi, Khor Dubai, Al Dur Site at Umm Al Quwain, and Bidya Mosque in Fujairah). The inclusion of these shortlisted sites among the World Heritage Sites shall contribute in highlighting the Emirati rich heritage that dates back to hundreds of years ago.

The UNESCO, in 2011, agreed to study of an application file submitted for acknowledging ancient Sharjah as an intangible cultural heritage site and listing it among world heritage shortlist. Sharjah Centre is located at the ancient part of the Emirate, and according to historical sources, the region played a prominent role in developing trade. The 11th century Arab geographer, Al Idrisi maintained the existence of the port at the location of the Emirate’s current center. Besides, Sharjah is historically marked for two factors that contributed to the occurrence of human habitats in the Arab Gulf region; first is that it is located at a protected sea entrance, which is locally khor (inlet), and second is the existence of fresh water at relatively shallow depths.

By corollary and in conjunction with the World Heritage Day festival, the events of the 14thedition of Sharjah Heritage Days, through which Sharjah entrenched its status, not only because it drew on ancient tradition, but also because it invested such occasion in probing for its peculiar identity in the routes of history.

The International Organization of Folk Art (IOV), which affiliates with the UNESCO, had already granted a Certificate of Appreciation to the Heritage Administration in Sharjah Culture and Information Department in recognition of its role in protecting cultural heritages that is threatened with extinction.

UAE local cultural heritage registered as world and human heritage

Hitching its heritage wagon to the stars of world heritage, the UAE never lagged in working towards registration of its local cultural heritage as a UNESCO world and human heritage, investing its cooperation with the international organization for the preservation of the heritage inventory in the state in a manner that benefits UAE citizens and future generations.

The UAE believes that care for intangible cultural heritage, including folk arts, dances, songs, chants and lyrics, and ancient crafts is considerably important, being an intangible cultural heritage. This involves crafts like pottery, traditions like hospitable entertainment of guests, and traditional cuisine. While participating in the World Heritage Day today, the UAE celebrates seven Emirati heritage sites that are shortlisted by the UNESCO among world intangible cultural heritage sites. This reflects the tremendous efforts exerts for the preservation of the Emirati pristine traditions and age-old culture.

In its 10th meeting, held in Namibian Capital, Windhoek (November 29 to December 4, 2015)  , the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for theSafeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage approved the inclusion of three files submitted by the UAE for the registration of Al-Majlis, Arabic coffee and Al-Razfa among the representative list of UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. This took place in the presence of representatives of 175 countries.

World top-ranking UAE in the number of UNESCO’s joint international files

By registering these three files, the UAE ranks first in the world concerning the number of internationally joint files registered in the UNESCO list. This would be the seventh file that follows registration of the falconry file along with 18 countries, along with Sadu (traditional weaving), Iyala (folk dance) and Taghruda (lyrical narration of Nabati poetry) files.

Registering such pristine heritage elements on the representative UNESCO list crowns a long Emirati course of labor and achievement in the field of registering the constituents of the Emirati heritage, reviving, documenting and sustaining such cultural and civilizational heritage for the coming generations, besides highlighting and introducing it to the world.

The UAE initiated its heritage activity with a special interest in preserving falconry as a human heritage since 1976, when Abu Dhabi organized the first international conference for the preservation of falconry, in accordance with the directives of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the State (may Allah shower his soul with mercy), whose interest in our pristine Arab heritage, representing our national identity and traditions, had been internationally recognized.