Qasr Al Hosn: the historic Abu Dhabi landmark will reopen after a decade on December 7

The site of the popular Qasr Al Hosn heritage festival will now be open year-round and the venerable Cultural Foundation is reopening

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Abu Dhabi’s historic landmark Qasr al Hosn will open on Friday, December 7 as a dedicated cultural and heritage site.

Qasr Al Hosn is the city’s oldest standing structure, and while it has been open for a few weeks a year since the Qasr Al Hosn Festival began in 2013, it will reopen permanently in December (it closed for renovation in 2008). The coral-and-sea-stone Inner Fort – or “Hosn” – was built around 1795 as a watchtower for the settlement that established itself on Abu Dhabi island in the 1760s. The Outer Palace was built in 1939 by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan, and served as his Majlis as well as the Al Nahyan family home during the winter months.

The north facade in the 1960s - taken by Prof John Wilkinson. Photo / Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Shakhbut's successor, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, added to the building with the construction of the National Consultative Council between 1968 and 1970. It was there that major debates occurred, leading to the union of the emirates in 1971, and that is when the UAE's modern system of governance, with the concepts of the Majlis and "Shura" (or consultation) was developed. Here is a full timeline of the fort.

What visitors will find there: The heritage elements 

Al Hosn site has been closed for about a decade so extensive repairs could be carried out, and it is now opening as a museum. Archival material, interactive audio-visual experiences and archaeological objects will chronicle the city’s transformation from a fishing and pearl-diving economy to the current glass-and-steel metropolis.

The reopening of the Qasr Al Hosn fort is accompanied by a full-scale redevelopment of the city block, which was recently used to host an annual heritage festival. That immensely popular event will now essentially be year-round.

The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan attending the first session of the National Consultative Council in Abu Dhabi, October 3, 1971. Photo / Al Ittihad 

A new House of Artisans will host workshops and demonstrations by traditional Emirati craftsmen, such as Al Sadu weaving, which was recently put on Unesco's List of Intangible Cultural Elements for Urgent Safeguarding. The House of Artisans will also host the UAE's first Bait Al Gahwa, an initiative to enable visitors to experience the Unesco-protected beverage of Arabian coffee, served in traditional fashion.

A visual arts centre and children's library 

Perhaps most excitingly for the city's cultural scene, the Cultural Foundation is to reopen. It will have several new dedicated strands: a Visual Arts Centre comprising art studios, exhibition galleries, screening rooms and lecture halls.In 2019, a 900-seat theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre will be added, along with the region's first children's library, of three themed floors designed to encourage young readers.

The Visual Arts Centre will launch with an exhibition of contemporary Emirati art. It builds on an august pedigree. The Cultural Foundation was established by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1981, and was an important community space for the emirates’ intelligentsia, hosting a number of early exhibitions for Emirati art and readings for the emirate’s vital poetry scene. It hosted lectures and screenings, and housed the National Library, and is remembered fondly by those involved through the 1980s and '90s.

"Qasr Al Hosn retraces the history of the city of Abu Dhabi, our very first building. It stands as a constant in our evolving city," said Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism. "In addition, we are thrilled to reopen the Cultural Foundation, which has always played an integral role in the cultural scene."

Opening hours will be 9am to 7pm from Saturday to Thursday and 12pm to 10pm on Friday. The landscape area and the prayer rooms will always be open. Prices and ticketing will be announced soon.


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