There is an old saying that 'walls have ears'. Imagine what stories the walls of Qasr Al Muwaiji would tell, if they could, from more than 100 years ago. Add this historical stop to your itinerary for a deeper insight into the UAE's intriguing past. Situated in Al Ain, a lush garden city just an hour and a half away from Abu Dhabi, you will be amazed as you enter this simple yet striking structure at how the country has evolved from its humble beginnings.
Built in the time of Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa the First (r. 1855-1909) and his son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan; generations of the ruling Al Nahyan family's voices once echoed across the long hallways of Qasr Al Muwaiji Al Ain. The square enclosure, projecting corner towers and the grand entrance made the structure stand out during those times, and that impact remains to date.
The palace eventually coexisted as a home and administrative base for the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE, when he became the Ruler's Representative in the Al Ain Region in 1946. His eldest son, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the late President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, was born at Qasr Al Muwaiji two years later and spent much of his youth there, learning from his father.
During his impressive tenure, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan made many beautiful additions to the fort as it became an even more important place for government discussions, greeting visitors and decision-making. From adding new diwan (a council or seat of governance) buildings and kitchens to expanding the guest accommodations, he even increased the space of the fort's mosque. Why? Because Qasr Al Muwaiji's significance was growing in the community as a place to gather, pray and celebrate. His efforts to take care of the fort led it to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
Changes over time
Eventually, when Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, both he and his son, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the late President of the UAE, moved their base to Abu Dhabi. From the 1970s, several phases of restoration work began on the compound of Qasr Al Muwaiji to secure its heritage. This became a significant regeneration project that only further cemented the palace’s position as a public space in Al Ain. In a beautiful fusion of old and new, start your tour with the modern exhibition hall housed inside a glass-walled area within the courtyard of the Qasr Al Muwaiji museum. Here, you can see the chronological order of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family members, all connected to Qasr Al Muwaiji.
The fort is free to enter and you are welcome to book a free guided tour. For your knowledge, the guides would be happy to point out which elements are relatively newer than the rest.
Take in the variety of historical and traditional information available, including oral narrations of Sheikh Khalifa's life, from his childhood stories to his national achievements as a leader. You can also see how the history of Qasr Al Muwaiji has been retained from early archaeological discoveries to modern-day features today. These gems have kept the UAE's culture and history alive for global travellers and residents.
Occasionally, the now-museum also features interactive activities and performances that celebrate the overall spirit of this cultural site. This solidifies Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's vision of making Qasr Al Muwaiji a wonderful place to gather and celebrate with the community for decades.
Al Muwaiji Oasis
As one of the smallest oases in Al Ain, the Al Muwaiji Oasis nearby consists of 21,000 palm trees and even has the traditional falaj (ancient irrigation system) still in works. The falaj uses ground-level and underground canals to carry water from the nearby mountains and irrigate the oasis. On your tour, you can also learn why this system, which has stood the test of time, is important to Al Ain and its oases.