Coffee time. A scene depciting how Emiratis used to gather over coffee Image Credit: ABDUL RAHMAN /XPRESS

ABU DHABI The 2016 Qasr Al Hosn Festival has opened in Abu Dhabi retelling the story of the birth of the emirate and its enduring legacy of heritage and culture.

Running from February 3 to 13, the festival offers residents a glimpse of a bygone era together with an immersive experience that chronicles the Qasr Al Hosn fort’s ongoing conservation process.

As you walk through the festival ground soaking up the sights and sounds of Bedouin life, you feel you are caught in a time warp. The skyscraping towers overlooking the historic fort on the other side and the whirring noise of vehicles passing by seem like an anomaly.

The desert-like festival ground is peppered with tents and souqs selling trinkets and pots. The unmistakable beats of a Bedouin song and the strong smell of gahwa (Arabic coffee) permeate the air. Moving in synchronised steps, a group of men performs a traditional dance while young girls swing their flowing black locks from side to side.

Women in traditional attire huddle around fires where coffee is in the making. Some are preparing to make chami, an Emirati delicacy made by churning milk inside a leather sack.

Past perfect

The kaleidoscope of Emirati culture continues with a camel caravan passing by traditional shops where men are seen making pottery and a blacksmith beating his iron into knives. A few metres away, an Emirati wedding is being celebrated where young girls are dancing around a coy bride in black abaya.

The five festival zones – Qasr Al Hosn, Marine, Desert and Abu Dhabi Island – that recreate the desert life of Bedouins are packed with activities, re-enactments and workshops for visitors. The newly introduced Qasr Al Hosn zone showcases traditional Emirati architecture and archaeology through live activities (see box).

An entire fishing village is recreated in the Marine zone, complete with a real dhow. The sight of fishermen mending their nets and fixing their sails transports you to a different world. At a storytelling corner, a fisherman enthrals children with adventures of seafarers.

Visitors can also get a glimpse of the ongoing conservation works of the Qasr Al Hosn fort that stands as the symbolic birthplace of Abu Dhabi. Renovation work is also being carried out at the Cultural Foundation Building in the same compound.

Mark Kyffin, head of Architecture for TCA (Tourism Control Authority) said, “Significant conservation works are being undertaken by a multidisciplinary team of experts. The aim is to balance traditional materials and modern technologies to reinstate the 1939 to 1945 appearance of the palace.”

The festival also features workshops, exhibitions, and cultural and interactive programmes by leading curators, artisans and experts.


Unmissable exhibitions

Festival goers can also enjoy a number of new exhibitions held in the Cultural Foundation Building.

These include:

Archives and Memories: Contributions from The National Archives, Abu Dhabi Media, Adnoc, Adco, Baynounah TV and the Crown Prince’s Court come together to tell the history of the nation.


The Anatomy of a Photograph: Iconic images from the past guide visitors through an immersive deconstruction of five iconic photographs of Abu Dhabi and an exploration of the hidden narratives that exist within them.


Recollections of the Cultural Foundation: Highlights the significance of the Cultural Foundation Building to the community through the memories of the people of Abu Dhabi. Visitors are able to listen to the contributions of people who have witnessed or lived important moments in this building.


Five zones in spotlight

The festival is divided into five zones. Here’s a low-down of what awaits you at each of these places.

Qasr Al Hosn Zone: Here you will get a fascinating insight into traditional Emirati architecture and learn about archaeology through workshops and demonstrations including an activity that requires you to dig for relics. Your kids will just love it.

Marine Zone: Learn about the UAE’s seafaring heritage from boat makers, sailors and pearl divers as they share their stories and show their skills.

Desert Zone: Experience the food, crafts and animals that helped people in the past to survive in the arid UAE desert environment.

Abu Dhabi Island: This place takes you back in time to show life within a nascent settlement that later became a modern city. From crafts and cooking to schooling and policing, it captures every aspect of life in the minutest detail.

Oasis Zone: Here you learn about how communities harvested food, built houses and created a variety of products

from the palm tree. Highlights include tree climbing, date tasting and a botany class on the uses of indigenous plants in traditional medicine and cuisine.


Qasr Al Hosn Festival

Date: Until February 13

Ticket price: Dh10 (children under 5 for free)

Timings: 4pm to 11pm

Ladies Day on February 7

Tickets must be purchased at the festival entrance