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Watchtower over History

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This iconic fort tells the story of more than 250 years of leadership of the ruling Al Nahyan family
What began in the late 18th century as a coral and sea stone fort to guard a valuable natural water source is today Qasr Al Hosn, the oldest standing building in Abu Dhabi and a physical manifestation of more than 250 years of the Al Nahyan family’s leadership in the emirate. 
The watchtower and fort, originally built by Sheikh Dhiyab bin Isa, Sheikh of the Bani Yas tribe from the inland Liwa Oasis, was expanded, and later transformed into a palace. The complex is being conserved as a national monument that narrates the interconnected story of the Al Nahyan ruling family, the city of Abu Dhabi and its people. 
Qasr Al Hosn is part of a larger historic complex that also includes the National Consultative Council building and the Cultural Foundation.
 
Qasr al hosn

History

Soon after the original watchtower and fort were built, the small seasonal settlement already located there began to grow. 
Beginning in approximately 1795, during the reign of Sheikh Shakhbout bin Dhiyab (r. 1793-1816) and his immediate successors, work on the fortress as we see it today took place. Two more towers were built and the whole compound was linked with walls to create an imposing defensive enclosure. 

It was during this time that Sheikh Shakhbout moved the seat of power from Liwa to Abu Dhabi Island, using the fort as his seat of government, his military headquarters and his home. From then until 1966, Qasr Al Hosn was continuously occupied by the ruling family.

Additional buildings were added to the complex during the 19th century. In the early 1940s, with income earned from the granting of oil concessions, Sheikh Shakhbout bin Sultan Al Nahyan (r. 1928-1966) built the Outer Palace to surround the old fort. In addition to private rooms for the ruling family, the palace added decorative features such as towers, arcades and a courtyard.

In 1966, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (r. 1966-2004) moved his family to Al Manhal Palace and used the fort as an administrative building and the original location for the National Archives.

Timeline

1760s - Today

1760s

The first settlement on Abu Dhabi Island emerges alongside a series of shallow ‘scrapes’ that expose fresh water found just below the surface in this area.

1760s

Late 18th Century

Sheikh Dhiyab Bin Isa, Sheikh of the Bani Yas tribe from the inland Liwa Oasis orders a watchtower and fort to be built to protect the fresh water resources.

Late 18th Century

1815

First naval accounts mention the Qasr Al Hosn fortress.

1815

First half of 19th Century

Over several decades, the fort is expanded by Sheikh Shakhbout Bin Dhiyab and his immediate successors. Two more towers and walls linking the new towers and original fort are added to create an imposing defensive enclosure.

First half of 19th Century

Second half of the 19th Century

Additional buildings are added, as seen in historic photographs of the period. As well the community surrounding the fort continues to grow.

Second half of the 19th Century

Early 1940s

Sheikh Shakhbout Bin Sultan Al Nahyan uses revenue from oil exploration concessions to build a palace that encloses the earlier fort.

Early 1940s

Late 1960s

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan shifts the royal residence from the fort, and for a time continues to use it as an office. He also orders a major restoration of the fort and establishes the National Archives in the complex.

Late 1960s

1970s-1980s

Qasr Al Hosn houses the National Archives.

1970s-1980s

2010s

Qasr Al Hosn undergoes a major restoration of the historic fabric of the original structure, alongside development of interpretive and exhibition spaces. 

2010s

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Did You Know?

Covered in a plaster made from lime, sand and crushed sea shells that sparkled in the sun, the fort served as a navigational point for ships and was nicknamed the ‘White Fort’.

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Qasr Al Hosn

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Location Details

address

Between Al Nasr Street, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street, And Sheikh Zayed the First Street

open hours

Daily 4pm-11pm

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