Renovation work in progress at the archaeological site at Jazirat Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah. Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

Ras Al Khaimah: A centuries-old traditional souq in the fabled Jazirat Al Hamra (Red Island) town of Ras Al Khaimah will be brought back to life in two years or less, a senior official said on Tuesday.

The souq is part of restoration and conservation works in Jazirat Al Hamra — once a thriving fishing and pearl-trading island of the 1600s that was abandoned in the 1960s as most residents left for Abu Dhabi for better housing and income.

Today, Jazirat Al Hamra resembles a ghost town, with traditional homes, mosques and forts left in relatively good condition.

Ahmad Hilal, director of archaeology in the emirate, said as part of a phased “revitalisation” of the settlement, the souq will again teem with shoppers and visitors “in a year-and-a-half to two years”.

His comments came during a brief tour of Jazirat Al Hamra held on the sidelines of Tuesday’s launch of a new “knowledge transfer” programme connecting students and academic establishments with the emirate’s history and heritage, through school visits to Jazirat Al Hamra.

Master plan

Hilal said that opening to the public, alongside the souq, will be a restored mosque, two dedicated access points to Jazirat Al Hamra, open community spaces, parking lots and washrooms. He added that the development is included in a master plan for the whole settlement that will feature museums, galleries, arts and crafts, a “boutique” hotel, restaurants, and shops, among other attractions.

Led by Hilal, the Jazirat Al Hamra restoration and revitalisation project began in 2015. It is a joint project of the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Ministry of Infrastructure Development and Ras Al Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities and Museums.

Hilal said completion would take “many years” and described it as a “very expensive” project. He added that revenues from the envisioned hotel or businesses would support a dedicated team entrusted to maintain the restored Jazirat Al Hamra.

Community outreach

On Tuesday, the first school to visit Jazirat Al Hamra as part of the new educational and community outreach programme was RAK Academy. Over the coming days, through a guided tour, a simulated archaeological excavation, and the chance to build a wall using traditional building materials and methods, the students will learn about the archaeology of Ras Al Khaimah, the different elements of traditional life at Jazirat Al Hamra and the traditional building materials and types of houses.

The programme is a joint venture between the emirate’s archaeology section, the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah (Department of Antiquities and Museums), and RAK Academy.

Kate Ayres, director of the National Museum, said, “We have a plan derived from the vision of His Highness Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi [Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah], for the National Museum to be at the heart of the community, with a vibrant education department bringing the history of Ras Al Khaimah to life. This project is the first step in achieving this goal, and is intended to focus on knowledge transfer. It’s important that children learn to understand the significance of their heritage and culture.”

This programme is unique in the UAE in that the students not only get the opportunity to visit an actual archaeological site that is in the process of being excavated, but they can also take part and work alongside the archaeologists. The plan is that each year, a different school will visit and the pupils will learn something new, eventually building up a full picture of the site and the various archaeological techniques used.