Since prehistoric times, pearls have played an essential role in people’s lives; many have been discovered in Neolithic sites across the UAE. Al Jazirah Al Hamra is the only remaining historical pearling village in the entire Gulf region; the rest were demolished with the discovery of oil. Al Jazirah Al Hamra translates from Arabic to mean Red Island.

Al Jazirah Al Hamra includes all of the traditional elements expected in such a neighbourhood, including a fort and watchtowers, mosque, souq and extensive courtyard houses of various designs. There is a mix of dwelling styles from small, simple houses, courtyard homes, two-storey buildings to a large courtyard residence that belonged to the wealthy pearl merchant. The buildings were built in a traditional manner using local materials such as coral blocks and fossilised beach rock, mangrove tree beams, date palm trunks, roofing, matting and ropes and layers of seashells for drainage.

At the turn of the century, the village comprised some 500 houses and was occupied by the Zaab tribe. Sheikh Rajib bin Ahmed Al Zaabi, the ruler of Jazirah Al Hamra in 1820, was one of four independent signatories to the original 1820 treaty between the Trucial States and the British following the battle at Dhayah Fort in 1819.

 

Al Jazirah Al Hamra was once a tidal island split into two sections, the smaller northern quarter of Umm Awaimir and the southern quarter of Manakh. The Zaab tribe maintained a fleet of 25 pearling boats and tended some 500 sheep and 150 cattle until the crash of the pearl fishing industry in the 1920s.

 

Archaeologists have recorded the discovery of Al Jazirah Al Hamra’s ancient mosque with 20-domes that is pictured on an 1820s British map. Narrow alleyways connected the houses to the souq and the village mosque. Architects combined plain and ornamental archways and other time-sensitive decorative elements in elaborate plaster screens. The wind tower residence has a textbook example of the windcatcher or barjeel, a passive ventilation and cooling system. Al Jazirah Al Hamra village is on the UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Tentative List; it represents thousands of years of classic social strata architecture and town planning in the Middle East.

 

With the discovery of oil, its inhabitants left the Al Jazirah Al Hamra village between 1968 and 1971.

The open-air museum is unmanned, so precaution is advised. Many of the buildings are in ruin or in a state of disrepair. Visitors are asked not to climb on or venture into the buildings; they may be unstable. It is prohibited to remove anything from the protected site and recommended that you only visit during daylight hours for safety reasons.

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