Abu Dhabi’s single most important historic and cultural landmark, Al Hosn, is to reopen on 7 December. “Days of celebrations and public events” are promised.
This is genuinely a big deal. Al Hosn includes the city’s first built-to-last building (in the 1790s it was a single watchtower of defending the only freshwater well on Abu Dhabi island – ‘hosn’ means ‘fort’) and subsequently a palace (in the 1940s), government offices and the national archives (1970s), and a cultural centre (1980s).
It’s been mostly out of commission since 2008 for a substantial redevelopment that in the event has produced a well-designed and good-looking focus for Abu Dhabi’s heritage. On its reopening Al Hosn will have four elements: the original Qasr Al Hosn fort, the Cultural Foundation, the National Consultative Council building, and the House of Artisans.
Qasr Al Hosn has two buildings, the Inner Fort (the orginal tower) and the Outer Palace (the walls and living spaces built in the 1940s). Now transformed into a museum following several years of rigorous and ambitious conservation work, Qasr Al Hosn traces the city’s development from a modest fishing and pearling outpost into the modern global city that has grown up around it. Public programming in the Qasr Al Hosn Fort area will emphasise the historical – archaeological and architectural tours, re-enactments of daily life at the fort, a programme that will introduce visitors to the history and significance of the Majlis.
The Cultural Foundation was the region’s first dedicated multipurpose non-profit cultural centre, established in 1981 as the embodiment of Sheikh Zayed’s desire to nurture the cultural consciousness of the newly formed nation. This has been renovated too, with the first phase being a Visual Arts Centre with exhibition space, learning and workshop facilities, and studios; the outdoor amphitheatre and the inevitable food and beverage areas should also be available at the reopening. We’re promised a diverse visual and performing arts programme here. Two other components – a 900-seat theatre and a modern Children’s Library – will open in 2019.
The House of Artisans will provide a focal point for the promotion and preservation of the UAE’s intangible heritage – specifically to protect, support and promote traditional Emirati crafts and those who practice them. They include weaving, palm braiding, and embroidery (especially the al sadu handwoven Bedu style that UNESCO has included on its list of Intangible Cultural Elements for Urgent Safeguarding.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, said the Qasr Al Hosn complex would be “a place to both reflect on our past and embrace the present, as we look to shape Abu Dhabi’s future”.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”We wish to create once again a true home for creativity and learning, dialogue and debate[/perfectpullquote]The goal is a year-round cultural centre that covers the obligatory requirement to show citizens their heritage but goes further – Saif Saeed Ghobash, DCT Abu Dhabi’s Undersecretary (effectively its CEO) said it would be open to the wider community “including … art-lovers and intellectuals exchanging ideas and engaging in the active cultural scene”. Specifically, he indicated that the new could be reflected alongside the traditional: “We wish to create once again a true home for creativity and learning, dialogue and debate, a space which celebrates not just our past but our contemporary Emirati culture as well”.
The Al Hosn site sits right in the heart of Abu Dhabi, a couple of blocks from the Corniche and surrounded by medium- and high-rise buildings. The developers respected its past, however, and the extensive plot has been designed to reinstate Qasr Al Hosn fort in an open coastal desert (ok, it’s benefitted from some clever landscaping) with the Cultural Foundation as a demonstrably more modern structure that echoes a man-made urban city grid layout.
More information is at www.alhosn.ae.