Tag Archives: uae 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?

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.

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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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