Abu Dhabi Tourism ‘&’ Culture Authority continues plan to document and protect ruins of old Al Ain villages

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi Tourism ‘&’ Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) has completed the first phase of archaeological excavations around the old Al Khrais village in the southern part of Al Jimi oasis in the emirate’s heritage heartland of Al Ain.

Al Khrais was home to a community that moved out of the village in the early 1970s.

Mubarak Hamad Al Muhairi, Director General, TCA Abu Dhabi, said the next move will be to devise a plan, in conjunction with various stakeholders, to preserve the village.

“This site has great significance given its historical and heritage value, which provides insight into a way of life from the pre-oil era,” said Al Muhairi. “Al Khrais gives us examples of Emirati heritage houses and is a window to the past through which future generations will be better able to understand their ancestors’ lives.” Combining oral history and archaeology, TCA Abu Dhabi is focusing on documenting and protecting the ruins of these old settlements, most of which lie in Al Ain, which was last year inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Since the 1960s, when the late UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan governed Abu Dhabi emirate, the population of the old villages around the oasis city has gradually left in a natural move from old clay houses to modern areas built near the old settlements.

Some of these settlements, like Al Hosn, Al Moatared, Al Qattara, Al Hili and Al Khrais, were gradually abandoned and began to deteriorate allowing them to slip from the collective memory, except among the few people who once called them home.

Mohammed Al Neyadi, Director of the authority’s Historic Environment Department, said the old Al Khrais area features an assortment of historic buildings, some of which date back to the mid-19th century.

“Some of these buildings include the house of Ahmed bin Hilal, the tower and the old mosque, in addition to houses in the old settlement and many palm-frond (arish) abodes,” he added. “Several of these buildings have actually been restored, while others were inhabited until the 1990s.” Some of the remaining structures include the homes of local notables Ahmed bin Barrak Al Dhaheri and Rashed Mohammed Al Haddar Al Dhaheri, which contained a madbasa, a room dedicated to storing dates and extracting date honey (dibs).

People from coastal communities used to spend the hot summer season in the Al Ain oases. Many from Abu Dhabi and Dubai spent their summers in Al Khrais with some settling down there, marrying into local families and going on to own their own palm groves.