The UAE has a rich heritage that is deeply influenced by the country’s desert, coastal and marine nature. The glorious past of the UAE has ensured present and future generations will enjoy a proud historical and cultural heritage. The monuments and historic sites of the region stand witness to that bright and deeply unique past.
The UAE is made up of seven diverse and intriguing emirates, and in recent years has become one of the world’s must-see destinations. However, culture enthusiasts seeking a deeper understanding of the civilisation of the Arab region – both traditional and contemporary – have long been drawn to the emirate of Sharjah.
Sharjah has undergone a remarkable transformation under the guidance of its sovereign ruler, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. His insightful vision has contributed to advancing the cultural progress of the emirate while preserving the values inherent in its tradition, heritage and society. Sharjah is an emirate that takes pride in its past and has based its great achievements – particularly those in the fields of trade and culture – on the solid foundations of the region’s immense history.
Scholarly thought and intellectual progress work alongside key historical events and structures in this constantly expanding location. In recent years, Sharjah has won many awards for its picturesque surroundings and the priority given to education and culture. The skills garnered from centuries of dealing with the challenges of desert living are still respected by the people of the emirate as they look towards a bright future on the global stage.
Traditional aspects of Emirati culture can be found by visiting Sharjah’s fishing ports, boat-making workshops, falconry plots, and gold and spice markets. There are many events organised within the emirate designed to promote interest in the region’s heritage and culture: these vary from exhibitions and theatre performances to sports activities and boat and horse races. Various forms of arts and crafts, as well as the key role of Islam in people’s lives, are highlighted through more than 20 museums and archaeological sites in this magnificent city. A dedication to traditional customs, culture and the higher pursuits of life permeates Sharjah’s infrastructure.
Sharjah’s pioneering role in regional cultural development and heritage preservation has led to the organisation of various cultural activities throughout the emirate. More than a decade has passed since the restoration of the ancient city of Sharjah took place, which saw the homes of the most significant families from the region’s history transformed into museums.
Sharjah’s pioneering role in heritage preservation has led to the organisation of various cultural activities throughout the emirate
Culture plays an important role in all aspects of life in the emirate, beginning with heritage buildings and ending with art galleries – a combination of the classical and the contemporary.
Sharjah is also home to a variety of educational centres, such as many of the world’s oldest archaeological sites and museums, as well as the Heart of Sharjah, a unique heritage area containing old houses, markets and art galleries. The region’s ancient past and ancestral history are relayed in these locations.
The much-lauded Museum of Islamic Civilisation, meanwhile, preserves a considerable trove of more than 5,000 precious relics and frequently holds special exhibitions displaying ancient artefacts and manuscripts detailing the history of Islam and Islamic culture over the centuries. Other aspects of Arab culture can be experienced by visiting the Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Centre for Gulf Studies, where a large number of intriguing old maps are safely guarded, or by strolling through Sharjah’s traditional markets, where all aspects of ancient life, from trade to transportation, are highlighted.
The world of Emirati art
The Emirate of Sharjah attaches great importance to the preservation of traditional and Islamic architecture. This is evidenced even in the abundance of modern architecture in the emirate, such as Sharjah University City, various government buildings and Al Qasba, one of the most popular entertainment destinations in Sharjah for art exhibitions and entertainment festivals. Respect for tradition is emphasised in these buildings as they utilise many aspects of ancient Islamic design. Al Qasba is also home to the Barjeel Art Foundation, which aims to contribute to the intellectual development of the emirate through its permanent art and library spaces.
Sharjah’s art district is located near the magnificent Sharjah Corniche. The area includes a number of restored traditional houses, as well as a mosque dating back to the 18th century. Many art establishments, including the Sharjah Art Museum, the Sharjah Art Centre, the Sharjah Art Gallery, the Emirates Fine Arts Association and the Centre for Special Arts, are also located in this area, while Al Serkal House – the home of the Art Café, which serves a selection of delicious local dishes – can also be found here. Art exhibitions are held at the Bait Obaid Al Shamsi House in the area surrounding the Sharjah Art Park. Sharjah Arena has also been transformed into a location where people with special needs can practice their art skills and exhibit artwork.
The Sharjah Art Museum, opened in 1997, is the largest art museum in the Gulf. The museum has 32 showrooms, eight of which were dedicated to the unique pieces donated by Al Qasimi himself. The Sharjah Art Fair hosts many exhibitions that include classical and contemporary works alike. The Sharjah Art Foundation is located in the historical arts district and heritage area and exhibits works by both Arab and international artists, including performances, music, film shows, artist talks and other programmes throughout the year.
Furthermore, the world-renowned Sharjah Art Biennial has long been a high point in the emirate’s calendar. The event takes place every two years in venues all over Sharjah, bringing together talented artists, both local and international, to produce delightful and often thought-provoking art installations for guests to contemplate and enjoy.
A glimpse into the past
The Heart of Sharjah is perhaps the most preeminent testimony to Sharjah’s interest in preserving the history and heritage of its ancestors. This project was one of the crucial elements behind UNESCO’s decision to name Sharjah the Arab Capital of Culture in 1998, and it remains the largest heritage project undertaken in the region to date.
In the Heart of Sharjah, insight into the time-honoured industries of the Emirati people – particularly fishing and pearling – can be gained, while the evolution of the emirate’s education, postal and currency systems can be charted. Traditional skills and handicrafts employed in the production of jewellery, clothing, traditional medicine, music and folklore are also displayed here. The Heart of Sharjah reflects what life was like in the Sharjah of 50 years ago, providing a link between the past and present while undertaking the preservation of a rich cultural history.
The Heart of Sharjah is also the main venue for Sharjah Heritage Days. This ongoing event is a huge cultural celebration, filled with activities, insights and entertainment with an emphasis on heritage practices. The event gives us a glimpse into the past, creating an evocative atmosphere for the entire family to enjoy, recalling unique handicrafts, customs and traditions rarely seen in present times. A welcoming ambience pervades this festival, with freshly prepared traditional food, collections of old tools, musical instruments and performances all on offer.
A destination that brings to the fore a reverence for culture and heritage is a joy to find and explore. Families, solo travellers, businesspeople and myriad other guests and travellers find the cultural, memorable experience of a lifetime in this gracious emirate.