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Designs on the past

If you want to understand a nation's culture, you have to examine its heritage and traditions.

Gulf News

Al Bidya Mosque is a vivid example of the history of the UAE's East Coast

If you want to understand a nation's culture, you have to examine its heritage and traditions. The UAE is a country with a varied heritage, and the Ottoman Mosque in Al Bidya village - one of the oldest places of worship for Muslims in the UAE - is a vivid example of the history of the country's East Coast.

A trip to view the Ottoman Mosque of Al Bidya is a must for visitors to Fujairah and the East Coast for its importance in the region's history.

When you approach Masafi from Sharjah, you can approach Al Bidya through two routes. One takes you to Fujairah city and then heads north towards Khor Fakkan, while the second route takes you to Dibba before heading south towards Al Bidya village.

Although Al Bidya Mosque is also known as the 'Ottoman Mosque', the name has nothing to do with the Ottomans. The name is thought to have been derived from the name of the man reputed to have built the mosque.

The mosque is unique in its design, with four small cone-like domes held up by a massive central pillar. It is made of stone and baked mud which were plentiful in the area.

"No one knows how old this mosque is, but it is very old. My grandfather, who is over 75, says that he remembers seeing the mosque when he was a child," said Abdul Rahman Haroun, one of the national residents of Al Bidya village.

Ahmed Khalifa Al Shamsi, Director of the Fujairah Archaeology and Heritage Department, said the Ottoman Mosque of Al Bidya was believed to be built in 1446 along with the two watch towers overlooking the mosque and the village, according to the Carbon 14 tests carried out by several local and foreign excavators on some relics which were unearthed near the mosque.

"Elsewhere in the village of Al Bidya, which lies around 30 kilometres north of Fujairah city, more finds have been discovered that underline the importance of the area which was known to be occupied by the Portuguese," noted Al Shamsi.

He explained that Al Bidya village has very valuable treasures of archaeological and historical sites which contain lots of relics which prove that the area was inhabited earlier. "Excavations carried out at Al Bidya village reveal that the site sits on an area inhabited by different nations over the last 4,000 years," he added.

The two watch towers were a part of the Old Al Bidya Fort which was located near the mosque. The 550-year-old mosque of Al Bidya was built during the Ottoman era, and it reflects the Islamic architecture of that period. The mosque was built on a very small area of seven square metres with four domes but no minarets.

"The amazing feature of the mosque is the roof. It was built with four domes based on only one pillar without any wooden or iron bars. There are also some small ornate windows and built in sections in the walls to keep the Holy Quran," noted Al Shamsi.

Recently, Dubai Municipality, in co-operation with the Fujairah Archaeology and Heritage Department, started a joint project to restore the Ottoman Mosque of Al Bidya to preserve one of the most important heritage features on the East Coast and in the UAE.

Several Arab archaeological experts are handling the restoration work of the mosque. They are using stones which are found in plenty in the surrounding mountains, in addition to mud, gypsum and sarouj (a sort of mud), which were used to build the mosque in 1446.

"The renovation work of the Ottoman Mosque is expected to be complete in 10 months or a year. Once this project is complete, we'll start renovating Al Hail and Al Bithan old forts which are as famous as Al Bidya mosque, and the Old Fort of Fujairah which has already been refurbished," he added. At the centre of Al Bidya village, there is a large Islamic graveyard which contained a 30-metre-long tomb dating back to the Iron Age.

The tomb contained skeletons, fragments of pottery, metal arrowheads and other artefacts dating back to at least 1000 B.C. Other Hellenic pieces of pottery were also discovered in the tomb at Al Bidya, as well as in the smaller round tombs in the village.