AN ANCIENT PAST. A VIBRANT FUTURE
We have a shared vision for bringing the beautiful and ancient 16th century pearling village of Al Jazeera Al Hamra to life once again,
and we warmly invite you to join us on this journey.
Follow us through the meandering pathways of this unique and culturally historic village – and into its open communal shared spaces with our planned series of seasonal events and immersive experiences.
These include, a Pearl Diving Festival in September; artisanal markets as well as unique workshop, travel and dining experiences in the balmy autumn and winter months; a UAE Cultural Heritage Festival in December; and the annual Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival in February.
You can also visit us throughout the year to explore the original and heritage buildings on guided heritage walks through the village.
Ramble through Al Jazeera Al Hamra’s unparalled historic wind tower and courtyard houses, the fort, the souq and three mosques –
including Ras al Khaimah’s very first mosque built more than 300 years ago.
Step back into the ancient past and life in a 16th century UAE pearling village
and join us as we take inspiration from our heritage to create a vibrant and sustainable future together.
ABOUT AL JAZEERA AL HAMRA
Between the mountains, desert and coastline.
As the UAE's last remaining intact Emirati pearling village, Al Jazeera Al Hamra heritage village in Ras al Khaimah provides a deeply resonant connection to the legacy of the pearl diving history and cultural heritage of the United Arab Emirates.
The immediate surroundings have been occupied since Neolithic times with the location being the ideal convergence between the desert, mountains and coastline.
The settlement of Al Jazeera Al Hamra (Al Jazīrat al-Ḥamrā) was established in the late 16th century by the Za'ab tribe,
within the lands of the Āl Qāsimī ruling dynasty of Ras Al Khaimah.
It was named ‘the red island’ to reflect the rich colour of the sands of the tidal island the settlement was based on and Al Jazeera Al Hamra remained an island surrounded by a shallow lagoon/marshland (Sabka) until the late 1970s when it was infilled and connected to the mainland.
The prosperous coastal settlement thrived for hundreds of years through its pearl-diving, fishing, boat-building and ceramic industries, as well as cattle and sheep husbandry and date farming. By the early 20th century, the village boasted around 500 houses and between 2,500-3,000 residents.
It was divided into several quarters devoted to family groups - the main southern quarter of Al Manakh and the smaller northern quarter of Umm Awaimir - as well as Al Sharqi, Al Mayan, Al Gharbi, Al Bateh and Al Buloosh from oral history. Additionally, Bedouin tribes camped outside the village walls.
The souq of Al Jazeera Al Hamra was renowned in the region for being a bustling and lively commercial trading centre, with a caravan fleet of 100 camels and 100 donkeys used to transport goods from the port to the interior through the established wadi routes.
With the decline of the global pearl industry from the 1920s and with the discovery of oil in the region from the 1950s,
Al Jazeera Al Hamra was ultimately abandoned by its inhabitants in their search for new opportunities in the newly-established UAE capital of Abu Dhabi in the early 1970s.
What they left behind was a completely intact traditional Emirati pearling village, which has been perfectly preserved and frozen in time. An incredible gift to future generations - and one which we intend to honour.
AL ZA'AB TRIBE
A prominent tribe indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula, the Za'ab are renowned for their strong sense of tradition and for their reputation as skilled warriors, pearl fishers and traders, artisans and poets - with a rich cultural heritage.
The Za'ab established the coastal settlement of Al Jazeera Al Hamra (also known in Arabic as Jazeerat Al Za'ab) in the late 16th century and also settled inland in Kalba on the Jiri plain where they tended a series of date orchards.
They would decamp from Al Jazeera Al Hamra to Kalba annually to escape the humidity and heat of the coast for the summer date harvest.
The first written description of the Al Jazeera Al Hamra settlement was by Baron von Kniphousen (director of the Dutch East India Company) in 1756:
“A great piece of land, which near Zur [Ras al-Khaimah] protrudes into the sea and which becomes an island with high tide and which therefore is called the Red Island [Jazirat al-Hamrah] by the Arabs is inhabited by a caste [tribe] who carry the name of saabs [Za'ab], who live from pearl-diving. They are numerous and have many small vessels.”
In 1820, the Sheikh of Al Jazeerah Al Hamra, Rajib bin Ahmed Al Za'ab, was one of the four independent signatories to the original 1820 treaty between the Trucial States and the British, following the 1819 punitive expedition mounted against Ras Al Khaimah by the British.
By the time of the Perpetual Maritime Truce in May 1853, Al Jazeera Al Hamra had become part of Ras Al Khaimah emirate and the treaty was signed by Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi.
At the time, the Za'ab maintained a fleet of 25 pearling boats and husbanded around 500 sheep and 150 cattle on the island.
The tribe continued to flourish at Al Jazeera Al Hamra until the 1920s when the pearling industry across the Gulf plummeted due to the introduction of artificial pearls globally, depreciating pearling beds and the Great Depression.
In 1971 with the formation of the United Arab Emirates, the Za'ab tribe and residents of Al Jazeera Al Hamra village were offered the opportunity to relocate to the nation’s capital Abu Dhabi in search of greater opportunities for their future.
CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION
Originally established between the late 16th to early 17th centuries, Al Jazeera Al Hamra has withstood the test of time as one of the only historical, coastal villages to remain standing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Following the initial abandonment of the village, which began in 1969, the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure (formerly called the Ministry of Public Works) and the Department of Antiquities and Museums, Ras Al Khaimah, have stewarded the preservation of the village after 2010 with the support of a team of local and international experts. As with many ancient sites, various kinds of building materials were used to construct Al Jazeera Al Hamra, thereby representing different periods of time in the village’s history. On the one hand, the stone buildings represent the early settlement period in the area, where coral stone and beach rock served as the primary construction materials used. According to archaeologists, such buildings were considerably durable and likely endured due to regular maintenance and repair work, as the average lifespan of a stone building was over 100 years. On the other hand, sand brick buildings are reminiscent of the late period of the village, used after 1955, shortly before its abandonment. To preserve the village’s over 550 buildings, a new campaign was launched to design and test new materials for the conservation and restoration work. Conservation pertains to preserving an object in its current condition and stabilizing existing structures, as shown in the pre-conservation (left-hand images) and post-conservation (right-hand images) of the house shown below:
However, restoration involves the process of returning a structure to its original condition, which may involve significant modifications, as shown in the pre-restoration (left-hand image) and post-restoration (right-hand image) of the Bin Dulum compound below:
Some of the restoration work undertaken thus far includes treating the foundation of some stone walls, blowing away dust and debris, cleaning wall surfaces with fresh water, and some general repair work. In addition, grouting pipes were installed during the repair and repointing process to help fill empty spaces in some walls. Such techniques have helped preserve the traditional architecture and integrity of the village, while further communicating its intangible value as an emblem of Emirati heritage. Moving forward, the complete restoration of six additional houses is planned for 2023-2024, helping to further add value to the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah as a cultural and historical tourist destination.
The Oral History of Al Jazeera Al Hamra
The documentary series ‘The Oral History of Al Jazeera Al Hamra’ consists of five video interviews with individuals of the Za’ab tribe who grew up in Al Jazeera Al Hamra when it was still a living and breathing village – and is now available to view on the Al Qasimi Foundation YouTube Channel.
This provides an unparalleled opportunity to gain a true understanding of the communal and joyous life of a traditional Emirati village.
“Living in Al Jazeera Al Hamra was a blessing. Its people were very close with each other.”
– Hasan Jamal Bin Aljmal Al Ahmed.
The Oral History project uncovers the traditional lifestyle of pearlers, fishermen, traders, and residents of the village.
“It was a beautiful life across the different neighbourhoods…Al Jazeera was famous for its diverse and prospering economy…the most famous artists (in the region) were from Al Jazeera and many poets were from here too.”
– Obaid Hamad Al Zaabi.
By documenting the former residents’ recollection of daily life and economic livelihoods in the village, this series aims to preserve the history of Al Jazeera Al Hamra and Ras Al Khaimah's cultural heritage.
“I advise young people to learn about their fathers’ and grandfathers’ past…to pass on to the next generation.”
– Ibrahim Mousa Al Zaabi.
“Who does not have a past, does not have a future. This heritage needs to be taken care of by this generation, otherwise they will lose a rich and important culture.”
– Obaid Hamad Al Zaabi.
To hear the oral history and recounts from members of the Za'ab tribe, click here.
Pictured: Sultan Mohamed Ibrahim Al Ramsi Al Zaabi.