Dr Abdullah Al Raisi | Director-general of the UAE National Archives Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A new storage and restoration facility for manuscripts and historical documents will be opened in Abu Dhabi next year, and it is expected to initially house 20 million boxes of documents, a top official said here on Friday.

The 40,000-square-metre facility in Mafraq area will have a capacity for 100 million boxes of manuscripts stored in microfilm format, Dr Abdullah Al Raisi, director-general of the UAE National Archives and chairman of the Unesco Memory of the World Programme, told Gulf News.

“We have already begun collecting microfilm copies of historical documents from the international archives of states that have had relationships with the UAE’s communities, like Britain, Portugal, Germany and France. And a second project is working on organising documents from the nation’s government organisations,” Dr Al Raisi said.

“We must all preserve our history and be prepared [even in times of supposed peace], because we never know what will happen next. After all, in these times, we are all in conflict zones; no one is out of it,” he added.

The official was speaking on the sidelines of the Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage Conference, which kicked off in Abu Dhabi on Friday. The meet is seeing contributions from international cultural experts in a bid to devise strategies for the preservation of items that are records of cultural traditions and legacies.

According to Dr Al Raisi, nearly 3.5 million documents, dating from 1507 to 1991, have already been copied by the UAE’s National Archives from international records. These are now being translated so that the contents can be used and disseminated.

In additional, about 1,000 oral interviews have also been conducted with residents aged 70 years and older in an attempt to preserve the country’s oral history.

“The project started six years ago, and we are now archiving and digitising these oral histories, as well as grouping them by subject matter,” Dr Al Raisi said.

According to the expert, it is important to preserve documents and manuscripts because they act as safeguards against the destruction of monuments and tangible heritage.

“For example, without documentary evidence, records and blueprints, it would never have been possible to attempt the reconstruction of the destroyed temples and other structures in Palmyra in Syria,” he said.

He also said that the UAE has just begun its journey of preserving the national cultural heritage.

“We need to safeguard our heritage so that we can learn from the past and develop on our future. Moreover, only by protecting it can we promote loyalty and national identity among our coming generations,” he said.

3.5 million documents, dating from 1507 to 1991, already been copied by UAE’s National Archives from international records

These are now being translated so the contents can disseminated.

1,000 oral interviews conducted with elderly residents aged 70 years and older to preserve country’s oral history.