Sharjah has always been different from Dubai. If Dubai is based on commerce, Sharjah has at its foundations culture, and the Emirate is always keen to play an active role in its promotion.

By Peter Donnelly

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Sat 12 Nov 2005, 5:02 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:04 PM

Whereas Dubai can boast of having the world's tallest residential tower, Sharjah can boast about the Emirates’ largest heritage area.

All the municipalities are keen to play up on their heritage, and the old buildings throughout the country are being reconstructed and renovated. They now offer visitors an insight into the way Arabs, habituating these parts a long time before the country formed, lived.

Sharjah's Heritage Area is run by the Directorate of Heritage, and is part of the Department of Culture and Information of the Government of Sharjah. The site boasts no less than six museums, a souk, and a hotel. Jamal Ibraheem Al Shehhi, Assistant Director of Administration & Development Affairs laughs when I ask him about the hotel. 'We do have a hotel here,' he tells me. 'When we did the reconstruction of the area, we rebuilt the hotel in a very old style. In its history it was once an inn. The rooms are decorated in a traditional way,' he adds.

The hotel is called Dar Al Dhyafa Al Arabia, and even contains a bridal suite. Everything about the hotel has a traditional vein. One can enjoy an Arabic coffee in the Al Areesh coffee shop cum restaurant while soaking in the ambiance of lilting traditional music and scented Bukhour.

When one visits the Heritage Area, the achievement of the Directorate quickly becomes apparent. Jamal is keen to show off the area, and takes pride and great delight in talking about the site.

'We are located here, in what is called 'Old Sharjah', and this area has buildings some of which are as much as 50 years old,' he says. 'In the early '90's we started to reconstruct and preserve the heritage buildings here. We brought in experts to rebuild and reconstruct the buildings using traditional methods,' he adds.

In fact, the only modern technological appliance found in the buildings (apart from glass windows) is air conditioning. The Directorate is so determined to keep the buildings traditional that they use only the materials that would have been found in the buildings all those decades ago. 'If we don't have the materials that were originally used we import them from the countries our ancestors got them from,' Jamal says. If the structure of an original building is present on a site, the Directorate take painstaking efforts to reconstruct the building. Where a building no longer stands, the foundations are found and the process of rebuilding begins. Jamal says: 'When we rebuilt this area here, we didn't add anything new. We didn't add new buildings. We didn't even add rooms on to the buildings. Everything you see here is exactly the way it was 150 or 200 years ago.

The Heritage Area is growing all the time, and incorporates a huge slice of Arabic life in the nineteenth century. Jamal puts it best when he says: 'When you walk around the alleys here, you can feel our heritage. This is our heritage. Our grandfathers lived like this, and we're trying to deliver this message. People sometimes think we don't have a past, but we have a strong history. People didn't have money, and they lived a simple life, but it was structured.' From my visit to the Heritage Area, I can only agree with Jamal.

More news from