Heritage and cultural sites



Al Jahili Fort


Cultural and heritage sites in the United Arab Emirates

One of the distinctive forts of the city of Al Ain, which was used for defense, surveillance, and general supervision, and was the seat of the ruler and his administrative body.

  1. In the book, ‘Studies on the Archaeology and Heritage of the United Arab Emirates’ - Nasser Hussein Al Abboudi - Edition 1 - 1990 - the author states:

    In the past, the idea of constructing forts and castles for military and defense purposes preoccupied the rulers and the people, in light of the UAE's exposure to colonial conquests, including the Portuguese invasion and the ambitions of British colonialism. In addition, these forts were built for surveillance and control. The fort was often the seat of the ruler from which he directed all administrative affairs. Usually, there were craters and small openings at the top of the towers from which defense weapons could be launched. The fort also contained many vital facilities necessary to withstand long periods of siege in which ammunition and supplies were stored.

    Most of the time, the ruler lived with his family in the fort, which was also equipped with a mosque to hold prayers, and sometimes contained a detention center or what is now known as prisons for offenders and criminals.
  2. As mentioned in the book, ‘Forts and Castles of the UAE’ - Ali Muhammad Rashid - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Publishing House, Cultural Department, Ministry of Information - 1st Edition – 1992:

    The “Al Jahili Fort” is one of the largest forts in Al Ain, where the art of Islamic architecture is clearly manifested. It was built by Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Zayed the First in 1898 AD, who held power from 1855 to 1909. He was keen to strengthen his widespread influence in the region, and was interested in building and construction, establishing irrigation networks for farms, not to mention his interest in administrative and political affairs. This fort was built on a site that overlooks the surrounding areas, and a plaque was placed on its door with two verses of poetry written on it:

    The door of benevolence from above opens Bringing great happiness and pride, Praised be for all prosperity The house of the forefather Zayed bin Khalifa

  3. As mentioned in the book, ‘Architectural Culture’ - Dr. Ahmed Yahya Aqeel and Dr. Ahmed Yahya Rashid - 2003:

    Brief description of the fort:

    The fort building is described as being comprised of a square-shaped hall, with three circular towers. It is surrounded by a 6.5-meter-high wall and spans a distance of 122 meters by a width of 88 meters. It has a huge gate that leads to two main buildings, one of which is square-shaped, while the other is circular and detached. The fort also contains a large number of rooms and seating areas. There are stairs that lead to the towers and a number of other rooms for guards and servants, as well as a number of other "rozana" which are cavities in the walls in which some of the necessary items were placed.

    The fort's upper roofs are slightly inclined inwards to allow rainwater to escape through wooden gutters. They also have wooden openings in the form of windows for ventilation and the entry of sunlight, and are guarded by iron bars. There are various forms of plaster openings in the balconies that overlook the courtyard of the inner building of the fort, whose function is to freshen up the air of the balconies over which the rooms overlook. Its weight-bearing walls were built of clay and stone, and plaster was used to connect them together.

    The ceilings are comprised of layers, the lowest of which is made of a type of wood covered with dried palm leaves "dauns" and mats made from palm fronds. This is followed by a layer of plaster or clay for the upper surface of the roof. The fort has a main public square where celebrations and folk dances were usually held, and there is another square surrounding the fort that used to witness important events such as speeches or political statements. It was also used to implement the punishments established by Islamic law.

    The architectural construction features of the Al Jahili Fort

    • Adopting a single method of construction: The inner walls of the building with its four towers, the separate circular tower, the fence and the annexes of the fort were all built with the same building material, "madder", which consists of stone, plaster and clay.
    • Symmetry of the elements of the fort and their cohesiveness with each other.
    • Complete harmony in materials, color and texture.
    1. The religious character that reflected the creed of the people as Muslims who believed in Allah and demonstrated the purity of their faith and their commitment to the rituals of their religion. This reflection was represented in:
    1. Building mosques within forts to hold prayers.
    2. Using ornaments derived from their surroundings and Islamic heritage.The architectural construction of this fort was characterized by simplicity and utilization of the available local materials

    Importance of the fort:

    The fort is regarded as a monument of heritage, history and civilization. It now acts a cultural centre and landmark in the city of Al Ain that visitors go to, in order to view the heritage sites. It is also a centre for historical information.


  4. In a bulletin about the Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage in 2008:

    The authority overseeing the fort:The Al Jahili Fort is overseen by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, which pays great attention to it. In 2007, a massive program was established to revamp and renovate the fort. The authority is headed by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, who is keen on creating a qualitative leap that includes the establishment and launch of many distinct cultural and heritage projects. In light of this interest, the Al Jahili Fort has become of great importance, and its sections have been developed to include:

Visitor Centre: where visitors are received by educated employees with extensive knowledge that can provide all tourist information. The centre also has a gift shop, which offers souvenirs, maps and guides. In addition, a coffeeshop is available for rest.

As for when to visit, the fort is open to all tourists and visitors from 8am to 6pm on weekdays. The museum also receives visitors on public holidays and closes its doors on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha holidays. In addition, a statement is issued annually to outline the working hours during the holy month of Ramadan. Entrance to the fort is free of charge, and the number of visitors ranges from 50 to 100 daily. This number increases during official and cultural events.

  • The temporary exhibition hall: provides a variety of activities and hosts events throughout the year.
  • The permanent exhibition: bears the name of ‘Mubarak bin London’, "Wilfred Thesiger," an explorer who traversed the Empty Quarter Desert twice in the 1940's.
  • The old fort: contains three towers representing the three pillars of the fort, while the fourth pillar was designated as a hall for Sheikh Zayed the First, where he would conduct his daily work and receive guests.
  • The Circular Tower: is considered one of the most important landmarks of the United Arab Emirates.
  • Al Jahili Mosque: An archaeological mosque located near the Al Jahili Fort.
  • In addition, the Al Jahili Fort hosts an audiovisual exhibition that narrates the historical and cultural heritage of the city of Al Ain through multimedia programs in each of the rooms of the circular tower and relies on special effects, music and poetry to tell the story of a city in the desert. It also encompasses an exhibition which showcases photos captured by the explorer, ‘Wilfred Thesiger’ during his travels.

An architectural design that follows the historical pattern of the fort’s floors is also being implemented and aims to highlight the niche lighting and the vents located throughout the historic building. As for the old hallways, they will be surrounded by glass, thus making it necessary to incorporate modern technologies along with the use of clay as a building material to maintain the internal climate of the fort at a moderate temperature. The cold-water pipes situated in the mud layer help keep the building cool in the summer. Work has also been done on a number of other modifications to the building, including handling and reinstalling palm trunks on the roofs, rebuilding the inner mud-brick layer as part of the building's cooling system, and providing more space for use by expanding the rooms in order to create the information centre, the Council and the library.

Al Jahili Fort is the largest of the forts in the city of Al Ain and is an important part of our heritage and history. It represents the steadfastness of our ancestors and their tireless work in construction for future generations, to which everyone bows their head in reverence and acknowledgment of those who withstood challenges and difficulties in the face of invasions, and were able to make the desert environment a model for resilience and life in difficult climatic and economic conditions. We have a patriotic duty to preserve this heritage and make it a beacon for us in our lives going forward, in order to continue building, giving back and modernizing, while also highlighting our efforts and our contributions to global civilization.


5. In a field interview with Mr. Ahmed Yousef Al Hashimi on 20/05/2013 regarding the fort, he informed us that the Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had lived in the Al Jahili Fort in the 1940s for a short period of time, until the Al Jahili Falaj dried up, after which he moved to another palace, and the Al Jahili Fort became a place to host for foreign guests, including members of the British Army and employees of foreign companies.


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