Over the centuries, Qasr Al Hosn has been home to the ruling family, acted as the seat of government, housed the National Consultative Council founded by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founder of the UAE, as well as being a national archive. Today it stands as the nation's living memorial and a narrator of Abu Dhabi's history.
The oldest standing structure in Abu Dhabi, the picturesque Qasr Al Hosn is home to an original watchtower that makes for incredible photographs. Built around the 1790s, this commanding structure overlooked the coastal trade routes and protected the growing settlement established on the island. Qasr Al Hosn comprises two major iconic buildings: the Inner Fort (originally constructed in 1795) and the Outer Palace (1939-45). Transformed into a museum in 2018 following over a decade of intensive conservation and restoration work, Qasr Al Hosn is a national monument that encapsulates the development of Abu Dhabi from a settlement reliant on fishing and pearling in the 18th century, to a modern, global metropolis, displaying artefacts and archival materials dating back to as far as 6000BC. Today, the beautiful Al Hosn site, which has seen immaculate renovations, is a wonderful place at which to while away a few hours and soak up the fascinating history of the UAE capital. Children, too, will love exploring its beautiful structure and nooks and crannies.
Fans of culture and craft, and those looking for unique mementoes, will love the site's House of Artisans, an incredible centre that promotes the preservation of the UAE's intangible heritage. A coordinated effort to protect and bring the traditional Emirati crafts of the past to the heart of contemporary culture, the centre offers training courses, educational workshops and other public events open to residents and travellers.
Here, local artisans create beautiful artworks on-site, with pieces available to purchase.
Works on show, and available to buy, vary. Sadu is a traditional form of weaving practised by Bedouin (nomadic Arab people) women using sheep, camel and goat wool to create distinctive designs rich in geometric patterns that reflect social identity and the surrounding environment. Traditionally used to create bait al-shaar (tents), tent dividers, ataad (camel accessories), saddles, straps and more, in recognition of its importance, in 2011 Sadu was inscribed onto the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Khoos sees male and female artists using date palm leaves to weave or braid functional objects, like surood (circular placemats), mahafah (fans used to cool oneself or fan flames), makabah (food covers), and jefeer (baskets to carry dates), with the techniques and colours used offering elements of personal artistry.
Talli, a traditional form of decorative embroidery practised by Emirati women, sees cotton or silk threads intertwined with gold and silver threads to decorate collars, sleeves and hems of the kandoora and thawb (traditional women's robes), with intricate designs and vibrant colours adding personality. Creating this beautiful embroidery is a time-consuming and complex process that requires patience and concentration. Accomplished, professional seamstresses are sought out for their unique and outstanding creations.
Being an archipelago with hundreds of islands, Abu Dhabi has a deep and rich connection with the sea, with the House of Artisans showcasing some of the intricate sea craft created by local craftsmen. For thousands of years, the people of the UAE have found ingenious ways to both understand and benefit from the richness of the ocean. The boat-building industry also helped develop trade relationships across the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, with boats made for pearling and fishing significantly contributing to the local economy. In coastal communities, the thriving fishing industry used local materials to create unique designs for fishing nets and traps, improving the catch of different types of sea life in the Arabian Gulf.
The heritage and works showcased at the House of Artisans are so beautiful and well respected that, in 2019, Comité Colbert, the French luxury association made up of prestigious brands including Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and more, collaborated with the centre's local artisans to promote cross-cultural dialogue between France and the UAE.
The nearby Cultural Foundation is also a fantastic place to visit, especially with children. Having gained regional and international acclaim as a world-renowned venue for culture and the arts, the building itself has gained prominence as a modern heritage landmark, registered as one of Abu Dhabi's cherished cultural heritage resources. Featuring workshops, classes, exhibitions and more, travellers who love creativity and culture will be in their element here, with the family-friendly site offering activities for all ages. Children will adore the Abu Dhabi Children's Library, home to soft faux sand dunes for kids to read on, an oasis landscape with a falaj water channel (ancient irrigation system) flowing with books, and a Book Mountain at its heart.
From its opening in 1981 to the time of its extensive renovation and beyond, the Cultural Foundation has remained true to the original aspirations of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founder of the UAE, fulfilling one of his ambitious and far-reaching visions for the UAE and its people: to share the nation's timeless, inestimable endowment of cultural heritage and art with the world.