Category Archives: archeology

Wadi Al Helo

Wadi al Hilo is one of Sharjah’s several enclaves. Just off the old Kalba Road, the valley lies on the old caravan trade route and has applied to be listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site as part of the Gateway to the Trucial States.

One of three watchtowers up on the hilltops overlooking many of the ruins.

Helo, as you may know, means sweet, so it is called The Sweet Valley. This is mainly attributed to the sweet water in the area which has made the land very fertile and particularly good for growing fruit. Farms can still be seen in the area growing different fruits and dates as well as fodder for animals such as goats.

It is also one of the many protected areas in the Emirate of Sharjah due to its biodiversity. It is home to many species of birds, rodents and reptiles as well as fish.

But Wadi al Helo is most famous for its rich history. It has ruins, graves and other archaeological sites from several periods and evidence from digs points to it having been more or less continuously inhabited for at least 10,000 years.

Sites and relics have been carbon-dated as far back as the Neolithic Period with dates given as at least 8000 BC. Later sites indicate settled life in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pre-Islamic and Islamic Ages.

A copper mining workshop dating back to 3000 BC was discovered during one of several archaeological digs. The larger area was one of the important copper mining centres and it was exported to Mesopotamia. Some relics can be seen in Al Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan. And if you look closely at the surrounding mountains, you may still see copper veins running through them.

Copper ingot found at Wadi Al Helo, displayed at Al Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan.

Rock art of people, animals, symbols and inscriptions was also discovered in the area dating back to different periods.

Credit: Michele Ziolkowski, Rock on Art: Petrogylph sites in the UAE, 2007

The mosque, which has been restored, and the village nearby are around 120 years old. The main house had a courtyard and a staircase and was surrounded by about twenty other houses as well as stores, fields, tobacco drying rooms, cemeteries, wells and the nearby watchtower. This indicates that they were fairly well off.

On one side, on top of the hill, you can see three watchtowers in a row which safeguarded the area. If you’re fit it’s a fairly easy climb up from the road in good weather and you can enjoy the view over the valley. There are also hiking groups which run organised trips.

You might see goats on a field trip too.

Park near the fort and explore the ruins from different ages nearby and then as you drive further up, you will pass many other structures on your way. It just goes on and on! The road itself is not paved, but it is a firm surface with grit and small stones. It is also one-way so you may find yourself backing up if you meet someone en route. Watch out for goats suddenly appearing on the road. As always, make sure you’re prepared for going off the beaten track.

What could I combine it with for a day trip?

Places to visit during school breaks

Some parents have been asking for ideas for what to do with their children during the upcoming school break and so I have compiled a list and sorted it into categories and a lot of them are educational. Some are repeated as they fit in more than one category. Those that I have written blog posts about include a link. Please remember I don’t cover anywhere in Dubai or Abu Dhabi as they tend to get enough coverage already. Also as this is a general list, there are some busier places you may want to avoid at this current time.

(The prices were correct at my last visit. If you find them to be different, please let me know. )

Science-related

Transport-related

Archeology/history-related

Nature/plant-related

  • Botanical Museum, Sharjah Desert Park 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Islamic Gardens, Sharjah Desert Park 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Mangrove forests, Ajman, UAQ, RAK
  • Noor Island adults 35, child 20, butterfly house 15 dhs extra (combined ticket 2 for 1 in Entertainer)
  • Walk through Old Residential Village, Wadi Shees

Geology/natural history-related

  • Buhais Geology Park, closed Tuesday
  • Natural History Museum, Sharjah Desert Park, 5dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Discover Mleiha – Children’s workshops on fossils, paleontology – book in advance

Art

  • Sharjah Art Museum, free
  • Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Bait al Naboodah, free
  • Calligraphy Museum, Heart of Sharjah
  • The Rain Room art installation Adults 25dhs Children 6-12 15dhs, under 5s go free.
  • Arabic Architecture – Sharjah government buildings in Al Khan, Government House Roundabout, Quran Roundabout, University City, Sharjah, Sharjah Municipality Building, Sharjah Mosque.

Just for fun!

  • Al Rafisah Dam – lake, play areas, picnic areas, nature, ducks, pedalos, kayaks, etc starting from 30 dhs.
  • Khor Fakkan Corniche
  • Kalba Corniche Park
  • Kayaking – Ajman Marina, RAK, KIte Beach UAQ, Khor Kalba
  • Al Majaz Waterfront – restaurants and cafes, more happening 4pm onwards – mini golf, splash park, boats, car rides (pretend old style cars), multiple play areas, jogging track, park
  • Al Qasba Canal – restaurants and cafes, paid play areas, occasional festivals
  • Ajman Marina – play areas, boat rides, restaurants and cafes, beach, caravan site, birdwatching, golf
  • Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm with boat trip, Al Rams, Ras al Khaimah 300 dhs, children 200 (?) dhs
  • Discover Mleiha – dune-bashing, horse-riding, UniMog tour, workshops, stargazing and more (all need to be booked in advance)

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Al Tawyeen Heritage Village

Al Tawyeen Heritage Village in northwest Fujairah is a nice little stop on the way to or from Dibba if you’re taking Shohada Rd. It has several small buildings of different olden styles and small play areas.

One of the buildings houses a collection of artefacts and more recent items like old telephones, televisionss and radios.

Entrance is free and is from 8 to 8.

What else to do around Tawyeen

If you take the road to the right of the heritage village, you will find remains of a number of old buildings along the way.

If you have an interest in rock formations, on the other side of Shohada Rd, there are some great ones there. Click here to see more.

Visit Dibba al Hisn

Kalba

Kalba is the furthest south of Sharjah’s five Eastern Region enclaves and has very diverse habitats for its size – mountains, plains with acacia forests, mangroves, beaches, marshes and palm groves. It is home to the Al Hafaiya Protected Area and Mountain Conservation Centre and Bird of Prey Centre as well as a lovely park with a hide overlooking the protected area and a great play area.

Al Hafiya Picnic Park is open from 9-9 weekdays and till midnight at weekends. Entrance is 5 dhs. The last two photos show the hide and the view over the protected areas from the hide.

Kalba also has several other parks including the Corniche park and Al Sidra Ladies and Children’s park, both of which have play areas, facilities, etc,. The Corniche park lies between the road and the beach. On the beach there are amusements for children such as bouncy castles, trampolines and go karts. The sand on the beach is the same as that of its neighbour Fujairah, so a darkish rougher sand. You can camp at the beach and also fish during certain times of the year.

Corniche Walk is further south opposite the government buildings and on Kalba Lake. There are plenty grassy areas to sit on with a view of the lake, mangroves and mountains. Pedal boats are available for hire here.

Qurm Mangroves are not as accessible as they used to be but you can still visit by booking a kayaking or paddling trip (in advance). Absolute Adventures do Kayak Kalba, Sunset Paddle, Sunrise Paddle and Full Moon Paddle. They do go in the mangroves, but not the inner channels which are now closed off.

You could also treat yourself to a stay at the Kingfisher Retreat, the first eco-retreat in Sharjah. Activities are also available from there.

The bridge to the boats to the Kingfisher Lodge. In the background are the luxury tents.

(Photo credit for last photos – Kingfisher Retreat)

Whilst Kalba has a rich history, the fort and Bait Sheikh Saaed bin Hammad al Qasimi are currently undergoing restoration but should reopen soon. The fort will house a museum. Al Ghail Fort is open and situated inside the Bird of Prey Centre.

There are also archeological sites dating back to the Bronze Age around Kalba which are fenced off but some can be seen easily. A new site was recently discovered in Khor Kalba which is thought to be remains of a Portuguese castle.

For more on Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservation Centre and the Bird of Prey Centre, see the related post here. In the meantime, here’s a taster.

Finally a selection of photos around Kalba – a beautiful new mosque in white and gold, Sharjah government buildings in Arabic architecture styles, fish laid out to dry and the harbour.

Other places to visit nearby – Al Hayl Fort

Dibba al Hisn

Dibba al Hisn is a small enclave of Sharjah nestled between Dibba Fujairah and Dibba Oman on the north eastern coast. It has a very small population and has two main roads, one of which you usually enter on. One side of the road consists solely of government buildings, in traditional Sharjah style of Arabic architecture. You might be surprised at how many there are for such a small place but Sharjah government has provided everything necessary for local inhabitants without having to make trips to other parts of the country. The other side has restaurants, shops and apartments with a small mall at the end.

The other main road is Corniche Street. The new canal runs the length of the road starting at the harbour and coming out into the sea before the Oman border. There are several shaded play areas for children on the opposite side, Hisn Island, with plenty benches for parents to sit. This area is called Palm Oasis and although it is currently sand and palms, grass will be added. On the road side, there is a jogging track from one end to the other and two outdoor gym areas, one at each end, seating along the canal and a cafe/restaurant at either end.

Beyond that is a beautiful beach with white sands, clear turquoise water, traditional swings and sheltered seating areas set in gardens and a view of the Hajar mountains on either side. From the breakwater, enjoy the view over to Musandam, Oman and look out for crabs scuttling around the rocks.

Next to the beach there is a bicycle/pedal car rental kiosk and a small paid play area for children.

At the end of the UAE stretch of road is the Heritage Village which is open at certain times of year for special events. The Oman border is directly after that. (There is another border post directly opposite the entrance to Dibba al Hisn.) Check current visa requirements beforehand if you plan to cross the border.

There is also a third main road which is the new corniche and goes in a circle around the new Hisn Island. There are benches along the corniche with great views and restaurants and other new developments are currently under construction.

Finally, Dibba al Hisn has a fort but this is currently under restoration. It can be seen from Corniche St. There are archeological sites dating back to the pre-Islamic period and the 15th century. The first is a large tomb which was discovered under a resident’s house and contained skeletons, pottery, ivory combs, etc. You can see some of the finds including Roman pottery and Greek drachmas in Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan. According to the finds, it is believed that Dibba al Hisn was a port frequented by many ships in the first century AD on a route from Eastern Europe to India and that the remains of the port lie under the modern day Dibba.

It was also the site of great battles in the 7th and 9th centuries and there is a large cemetery nearby thought to be the final resting place of those who died in the first battle so it has quite a rich history.

Dibba al HIsn is often overlooked but should be added to your list of places to visit!

Khor Fakkan

Khor Fakkan has always been a favourite place for a nice little getaway but if you haven’t been for a while, you might be surprised at what’s new and also at parts you just never knew about.

It’s also no longer that long drive to Fujairah and up the coast. The new Khor Fakkan road cuts through the desert and the Hajar Mountains and takes not more than an hour from the junction on the E611.

The second half of the new road climbs winding roads through the mountains and five tunnels, the longest of which is 3km.

The road can also be accessed at other points along the way, the last being the Masafi-Fujairah road at Al Dafta. Khor Fakkan is also accessible from Fujairah and Dibba.

If you’ve been before, you’ll be familiar with the main beach, but it has recently undergone development and is now home to sports fields which can be hired, various play parks, a small skate park, food trucks, cafes, beach library, an inflatable water play area and lots of new seating areas.

At the southern end of the Corniche you can visit the archeological site of the Portuguese Fort which was built in 1635 and an adjacent village and farming area. Further down is the Hisn Fort Museum which relates the history of all parts of Sharjah Eastern Region. Behind the Museum is the restored old souq and Al Adwani Tower stands atop a hill at the end of the Corniche.

Up on the hill behind the museum and souq stands Al Rabi Tower which dates back to 1915. These towers and forts formed the defence network of Khor Fakkan. You can climb up to Al Adwani from the road but you need to drive up to Al Rabi Tower. Both offer great views over Khor Fakkan. From Al Rabi Tower, there is a hiking trail that takes you to the top of the next hill, the tallest in the town of Khor Fakkan. (Click here for more on Al Rabi Tower.)

Another place for a good view is Flag Square. You can drive up to the top. At the bottom of the road to Flag Square, there are beautiful fountains on four sides of the large roundabout. They are set in landscaped gardens and you can sit on a bench or on the grass and enjoy watching the mesmerising fountains with the mountains as the backdrop. You will also Resistance Monument on the other side, built recently under the orders of Sheikh Sultan to honour those who resisted against the Portuguese invasion in the 16th century.

As Khor Fakkan is part of the emirate of Sharjah, you will notice the Arabic architecture of all local government buildings. The University of Sharjah has a campus there but it is soon to become The University of Khor Fakkan. A new Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport is also under construction.

Khor Fakkan always participates in Sharjah’s many events such as Sharjah Light Festival. It also has its own Khor Fakkan Festival in March.

Outside of the main city, there are many other places to visit within the municipality of Khor Fakkan. To the north lie the beautiful and quiet Loulou’a and Zobara beaches. Don’t expect facilities here, expect a quieter beach. There are also archeological sites at Zobara.

To the west on the Khor Fakkan road, you can visit Al Rafisah, and Wadi Shis. Al Miqsar Village also lies to the east but at the moment can be accessed through Wadi Shie from inside Khor Fakkan or on foot from Al Rafisa. (Click links to see more.)

Finally, south west is the tiny exclave of Nahwa which lies within the Omani enclave of Madha. The entrance to Madha is in Fujairah just over the border after Khor Fakkan Expo and Sharjah University. If you have a 4WD, you can drive from Nahwa through to Shees. There is no border control here. You can also take another road that comes out at Dafta.

You can also visit Shark Island just off Khor Fakkan either just for a boat trip or for diving. (More info to be added soon.)

Links for our blog posts on places in and around Khor Fakkan – Al Rafisah Dam, Al Rabi Tower, Al Miqsar Village, Wadi Shees

Jazeera al Hamra, the old (and allegedly haunted) village

Jazeera al Hamra, Red Island, might seem a misnomer as the land where the village lies is a few hundred feet from the coast but it was originally a tidal island and home to a pearling community. It is now an abandoned village and has been since 1968 although a few of the later houses on the periphery are still used as labour accommodation. The others are now just ruins of what were homes to families for several decades.

As you wander through the winding streets, you can start to imagine how people there used to live. The men coming back from their pearling missions exhausted to children running around and the womenfolk all working together to prepare meals, sew and embroider clothes, weave baskets and the like and chattering and singing. Some of the houses are small with families living in two rooms whilst others had bigger houses with an inner courtyard.

Although many of the house are just ruins, look carefully at the designs on the air vents, lattices on the roof, arched niches in the interior walls. Notice the sheer thickness of the walls, the large pieces of coral mixed with mud to build the walls, the roofs made out of different parts of the palm tree and mangroves. You will see different types of houses built at different times, from the 19th century, when it belonged to Sharjah, to the earlier half of the 20th century, and later additions such as telegraph/electricity poles and house numbers.

Legend has it that the village is haunted but I was fortunate enough not to encounter any spirits on my visit. I wasn’t brave enough to visit at night though! However, the village has been used as a set for numerous films including Djinn and 6 Under.

If you first arrive at the fort, don’t be put off by the construction and closed signs. Just drive around the western side or the back and you’ll find the village. The fort and some of the houses are being restored. On the opposite side of the village, restoration work is also ongoing but you can still go into most parts and look around.

Once you’ve finished your tour of the village, you can head down to Hamra Beach. This is separated by a breakwater into two parts. The northern part is much wider than the part directly behind the village, with a stretch of grassy sand to cross before reaching the broad beach. When you get to the shore, it’s worth it though for the beautiful turquoise water and clear view out to sea.

There are also lots of pretty shells to be found.

Ajman Museum

Ajman Museum is often overlooked but it is well worth a visit. The fort which is home to the museum was built in the 18th century and was the sheikh’s residence for most of that time and for some time the police station before taking on its current role.

The fort was built in the traditional courtyard style and so most of the exhibits are in individual rooms with different themes such as traditional medicine, weapons, farming, Ajman Police, Ajman’s first radio station, traditional games, documents and manuscripts and even pottery and funerary jewellery found at the archeological site in Moweihat which dates back to 3000 BC (see also the cemetery at the fort entrance). At the back of the fort is the souq depicting traders and artisans at work.

Be sure to go into the barjeel, the windtower, and feel the effect of the natural conditioning. You can also take time to relax sitting in the courtyard imagining what took place there many years ago or sit in the gardens in front of the fort. Look out for the parrots around the fort too.

Opening times: Sat-Thurs 8am-8pm, Fri 2:30pm-8pm

Entrance fee: 5dhs

(At the time of writing, the front entrance was closed. Go round the back, the entrance is next to Shk Humaid Hall, there is no sign.)

Al Hayl Fort and Square

Nestled in the Hajar mountains, al Hayl 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.

IMG_7390
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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.

Madbasa - date press
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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.

(Credit: uaeinteract.com)

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.

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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 the 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 is definitely a place not to be missed for those interested in the history of the region.

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