Under the directives of H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) has embarked on a major project to develop Heart of Sharjah as part of its efforts to protect the emirate’s valuable cultural heritage.
Scheduled for completion in 2025, the 15-year restoration project is the first of its kind in Sharjah and the largest heritage project in the region. It aims to restore and revitalise the traditional areas of Sharjah to create a tourist and trade destination with contemporary artistic touches, yet ensure that it retains the feel of the 1950s to reflect what Sharjah was like over half a century ago. Destined to become a vibrant cultural destination, the new Heart of Sharjah will feature hotels, restaurants, cafes, retail outlets, art galleries, traditional and contemporary markets, archeological sites, museums, play areas and commercial offices.
The story begins in a small region in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, where the first nucleus of Sharjah started to take shape. Now many centuries later, the ‘heart’ of Sharjah is still beating strongly, with the sounds of traditional traders and workers still emanating from every corner of the emirate’s old areas.
A visit to Heart of Sharjah is a journey through history, with its souqs, forts and traditional buildings that feature authentic architectural styles all representing the emirate’s unique character. An excursion to the Heart of Sharjah is a trip to the glorious past, a past that has shaped the Sharjah of today.
Heart of Sharjah is a destination rich in evocative memories and stirring tales of its founding fathers. Its traditional buildings and facilities are part of the emirate’s authentic history and its priceless social, cultural and political lifestyle. Heart of Sharjah is home to treasures and artworks left by the UAE’s ancestors to remain as iconic monuments and to stand as testimony of the emirate’s incredible cultural legacy.
Heart of Sharjah is situated in the old part of the city of Sharjah in the northern UAE and, according to historical sources, its location contributed to the development of the country’s trade. Al Sharif Al Idrisi, an 11th century Arab geographer, recorded that there was an early port in the existing location of Sharjah, and in the 18th century it was one of three main ports on the coast between Qatif in Saudi Arabia and Sir in Ras al-Khaimah, facilitating the trade of rice, dates and pearls with the Iraqi city of Basra.
Sharjah’s port remained the most important one in the Arabian Gulf region until 1820, when it was completely destroyed by colonialists. It was subsequently re-established, becoming a focal point of intercultural communication and contributing to significant trade in the region. This commercial activity helped Sharjah’s inhabitants build houses, markets and mosques, many of which remain as a testament to the city’s growth and development throughout the ages.
Since the mid-1950s, Heart of Sharjah has been excluded in urban development plans in order to preserve its important heritage and landmarks. In 2014, the Heart of Sharjah was registered on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, thus stressing the need to preserve its rich cultural legacy.
Having Heart of Sharjah on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites’ tentative list is an official acknowledgement of the archaeological and historical richness of the UAE. It also contributes to preserving, safeguarding and restoring the area as per the international standards determined by UNESCO. The inclusion of Heart of Sharjah on the final list will be an opportunity to promote the site on an international scale, ensuring its placement on the global tourist map.
The success of the project lies in preserving the historical value of Sharjah’s old area and in highlighting its fundamental significance in the emirate’s rich cultural development. The old area is home to traditional houses that were used by Sharjah’s ancestors and founding fathers, as well as the first schools in the emirate, making it a link between Sharjah’s prestigious past and its bright future.
“Heart of Sharjah is the cultural, social and commercial heart of Sharjah and has an invaluable historical legacy. With the continuous development of all aspects of the emirate, including its tourism sector, we felt that it was vital to embark on the development of this area to preserve its heritage landmarks, not only for our generation, but also for future generations. We want it to serve as a living memory of the UAE nationals who have lived on this good land for hundreds of years,” said Yousif Al Mutawa, Manager of the Heart of Sharjah.
Heart of Sharjah also houses the Bait Al Naboodah museum. A fascinating feature of this traditional Sharjah dwelling is its large courtyard surrounded by walls built through the inventive use of coral. The museum reveals to visitors traditional methods of air conditioning and decorative carvings in both plaster and wood. It also highlights the daily family life of a pearl trader through displayed works from Arabian craftsmen from a bygone era. The museum is currently closed, but will reopen as soon as essential maintenance and renovation work has been completed.
Not far from Al Eslah School Museum, visitors can explore the lifestyle in old Sharjah and find out more about its traditional celebrations, local cultural works and spoken historical tales, by visiting the Sharjah Heritage Museum and its six distinctive galleries.
Source: WAM (Hazem/Moran)