Dh100m collection of UAE antiques and rarities now on display at Souk Al Marfa

The 10 million pieces being exhibited represents only a fraction of founder Naser Sulaiman's items

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A collection of 10 million antiques and rarities, representing the pre-millennium lifestyle and heritage of the UAE, has gone on display at Souk Al Marfa.

The Museum Hub, which opened to the public on Wednesday, comprises 50 stalls at the waterfront marketplace on Deira Islands.

The stalls, dubbed "museums", are thematically curated. They present handmade portraits of UAE leaders, postal stamps, coins, jewellery, books and daggers, and medical and musical instruments.

The items also include decades-old mandoos chests, old licence plates from the seven emirates, rare stones, antique ice cream machines and a majlis set owned by UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

The Museum Hub comprises 50 stalls at the waterfront marketplace of Souk Al Marfa. Ruel Pableo for The National

While a few of the exhibited objects are for sale, the ones that hold the most historical value will remain part of the collection.

It is a dizzying assortment, with some items dating back centuries, but what is most impressive about the objects is that they are all owned by one man.

Naser Sulaiman has been a dedicated accumulator of antiques for 45 years.

“I collect by my heart,” he says. “I have 300,000 classifications of antiques.”

The objects that are being presented at the Museum Hub, which organisers say are worth about Dh100 million, are only a fraction of Sulaiman’s assortment.

The hub is set to expand by another 50 stalls in September, with 50 more opening every six months until all of Sulaiman’s antiques are housed at Souk Al Marfa — or at least, a lion’s share of it.

“We first made 50 museums as a way of celebrating the UAE's 50th anniversary,” he says. “It is a summary of the history of the UAE. We’re going to open another 50 soon as a signal for the next 50 years. It will be another 10 million antiques.”

Antiques from the UAE are on display. Ruel Pableo for The National

One of Sulaiman’s most prized objects from his collection are his agals. Sulaiman has dozens, if not hundreds, of variations of the black cord accessory worn by men in the region to keep their ghutra in place.

“I have four or five made out of gold,” he says. “They’re about 300 years old. I have one from leather that dates back 900 years. I even have a women’s agal. People can even wear it and take souvenir pictures.”

Museum Hub also includes a dedicated perfume and oud section, where visitors can experience different scents. They can also taste and purchase chocolate and confectionery, baked goods, a tailored collection of tea and coffee as well as hand-made ice cream that is prepared using the authentic Arabic stirring method.

While a large part of Sulaiman’s antiques focus on regional history and heritage, his full compilation includes rarities he has come across on his travels and these are housed around the world.

“I have antiques in 160 countries,” he says. “Most of them are housed with families that I trust in those countries. If I buy something I can carry back with me then I will. But storage is a big issue.”

Sulaiman says that while Museum Hub represents decades' worth of work, he is proud that his collection is now public. He says its true owners are the UAE’s leadership and people, and that he is merely its custodian.

“This museum is for everybody,” he says. “The aim is to educate and inspire tourists, expats and younger generations to learn about the heritage of our country and the advancements it has made in the past 50 years. Collectors will also have access to a rare collection that has not been tapped into before.”

More information is available at soukalmarfa.ae

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