Al Ain inscribed on World Heritage list

(Staff Reporter)
Filed on June 29, 2011

AL AIN - On June 27, in Paris, during the 35th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the city of Al Ain was inscribed on the World Heritage list, meaning that its historical and cultural buildings and sites such as old tombs and the falaj water channelling system will be under UNESCO scrutiny for their restoration, conservation and protection.

Additional funding and expertise from the international organisation is also in the pipeline to help authorities here to better keep the rich heritage of historical Al Ain.

“The city of Al Ain still maintains its local characteristics from an urban perspective, and this is principally thanks to the vision of late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, who passed a set of laws and statutes that ensured the city would maintain its original construction, perfection and heritage,” said Shaikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH). One such rule still followed today, with the exception of the city’s top hotels, is that no building higher than four floors may be erected in Al Ain, in order to preserve the beautiful sight of the surrounding Hafeet mountains.

ADACH had nominated Al Ain to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list back in 2005, and apart from preparing a good case for it, proving the city’s valuable cultural and historical assets to the world, the local authorities also had to show dedication to the city’s restoration and preservation sites.

Hence the relatively recent restorations of mud walls, Bin Hadi Al Darmaki House and all other archaeological projects around Hili and the Jebel Hafeet. “At the social level, Al Ain is an area where residents maintain, to a great extent, old social customs and traditions. Examples of these practices include wedding celebrations, Bedouin hospitality, falconry, camel races, handicrafts and others,” said Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, advisor for Culture and Heritage in the Court of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and director general of ADACH.

After deliberation of Al Ain file, UNESCO declared upon accepting the city on its list: “The Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafeet, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas, United Arab Emirates) constitute a serial property that testifies to sedentary human occupation of a desert region since the Neolithic period with vestiges of many prehistoric cultures.”

“Remarkable vestiges in the property include circular stone tombs (ca 2500 BC), wells and a wide range of adobe constructions: residential buildings, towers, palaces and administrative buildings. Hili moreover features one of the oldest examples of the sophisticated aflaj irrigation system, which dates back to the Iron Age.”

Some 40 ancient villages from northern Syria and the Wadi Rum of Jordan were the only other Middle Eastern sites to be inscribed on the list. The historical city of Jeddah and Bahrain’s pearling tradition, the only other nominations from the region, have not yet been accepted on the list. The Paris meeting, which will continue until June 29, is assessing 42 sites from 40 countries.

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