Nestled in the Hajar mountains, al Hayl Fort is often missed by tourists and residents alike. The fortified courtyard house was originally built in the time of Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al Sharqi, who ruled Fujairah from 1876 to 1936. Chemical analysis shows it was built around 1930. It was renovated by Fujairah Department of Heritage and Archaeology in 2006-2008.
The buildings on al Hayl Square were built for Shaikh Abdullah bin Hamdan al Sharqi. The main building has two floors, with bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting rooms, a kitchen and stores.
Al Hayl Fort
One separate room in the corner of the courtyard (see photo above) was used as a shop and it sold items such as rice, sugar, sorghum, coffee, clothes, perfumes, rose water and jasmine oil. (Ziolowski and al Sharqi). It also contained a madbasa, a place for pressing dates to collect the syrup.
The madbasa (see below) was where dates where piled up and stones placed on top of them so that the syrup would be pressed out. It would trickle into the hole from where it would be collected. Date syrup is called dhibs.
Outside there was a mosque (still in use) and a majlis. The external watchtower on the hill was built at the same time as the main house. The watchtower was used as a residence for some time by the sheikh’s younger brother. It contains a fireplace, washing area and a madbasa (which was added later.)
There were other stores, houses and animal pens, tobacco drying rooms, and a yanoor, a room for drying henna and threshing sorghum completing the village (Ziolowski and al Sharqi). Most of these, but not all, are still standing and there has been some restoration. On the other side, you will see a walled graveyard.
Further down the road stand the remains of an abandoned village and hillfort, which has been carbon-dated to a time between 1470 and 1705 AD. Remnants of pottery have also been discovered in this area dated back to the first and second millennia BC and the Bronze and Iron Ages. The hillfort dates back to somewhere between 1470 and 1705 AD (Ziolowski and al Sharqi). Notice the walled terraces in the second photo.
Wadi al Hayl is also home to many petroglyphs which you might be lucky enough to see. Here you can see an example.
Read more about the petroglyphs here. Race Against Time to Save Rock Art (The National)
Although the last villager left in the late 1970s, there are still many working farms in the area and old stone fences can still be seen in the terraces down in the valley.
To get there, take either the Kalba or Fujairah (Sheikh Khalifa Highway) from the west or drive down the east coast from the north-east and look at for signs once you near Fujairah. Once you come off the main road, there is a paved road most of the way although some parts have been destroyed by rainfall. It does turn to a narrow road further up at the edge of the mountain but only the very faint-hearted might need to look the other way. On the way up, you’ll pass through a small village and then al Hayl Dam which is also a great picnic spot and a farming area. Watch out for the donkeys on the way.
You don’t really need a 4WD to get to Al Hayl Fort but if you have one, you can venture further into the valleys but make sure you’re prepared as there will be no phone signal further down. (The road to Al Hayl is paved but it has been damaged in a couple of short stretches and is just very small rocks.)
Al Hayl Fort and Square is definitely a place not to be missed for those interested in the history of the region.
Ziolkowski, M. C. (1998). A study of the petroglyphs from Wadi al-Hayl, Fujairah, United Arab Emirates (1). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 9A Study of Petroglyphs from Wadi al Hayl, Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. Michele C. Ziolkowski. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.
What else to see nearby?