5 things not to miss at the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival

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The sixth edition of the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival is set to be bigger and busier than ever. The event, which opens on Thursday November 19 and continues until December 12, will feature 10,000 camels, thousands of performers, hundreds of horses, falcons, sheep and Salukis, dozens of exhibitions and 35 interactive areas.

“This festival reflects the extent of the people’s loyalty to this great leader, God rest his soul, Sheikh Zayed,” says Humaid Saeed Al Neyadi, vice chairman of the festival’s higher organising committee.

“Sheikh Zayed’s interest in heritage and in our cultural roots and in everything that is related to the UAE’s heritage is something we will always continue to honour.”

Here are our top five picks of what not to miss at Al Wathba, the site of the festival.

The Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival opens today and continues until December 12 at Al Wathba, a 40-minute drive from Abu Dhabi. Entry is free. For more information, call 800 555 or visit www.zayedfestival.com

Heritage squares

The artefacts, handicrafts, cuisines, costumes, folk crafts, traditions and customs of nine countries will be showcased at the festival this year.

“We wanted to be really varied this year, so besides the heritage of the UAE we chose eight other countries of the world to increase international attention,” says Al Neyadi. “We will have souqs of these countries, as well as cultural events and a cultural exchange between them and the UAE.”

Each square is built in the style of historical landmarks that represent each nation’s identity.

In addition to the Emirati Square, look out for squares representing Morocco, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

“These squares are a treasure to the festival,” says Al Neyadi.

Dhow building

“The ancestors of the UAE were skilled craftsmen when it came to making dhows,” says Al Neyadi. Dhows played an integral part in the development of the UAE during the nation’s early years, and there is a dedicated section of the festival highlighting that aspect of history. Visitors can watch the construction of authentic dhows, using traditional methods and material, and have the chance to try their hand at it.

Adjacent to the dhow-building area of the festival is the sailing corner, which presents an impressive showcase of the country’s varied traditional boating and rowing sports.

Exhibitions galore

There is the Presidential Camel Exhibition as well as Traditional Customs; Our Dates, Our Heritage; Martyrs of the Nation; Zayed and the Horse; and Memories of a Nation. Keep an eye out for the Falcons Exhibition, where visitors can learn about the legacy of falconry as a sport, falcons of the world, hunting and training falcons, the Falcon Club's activities and its falconry paraphernalia, not to mention the importance of falcons to the UAE's heritage. Also check out the Arabian Saluki Exhibition. For thousands of years, Arab Bedouin have raised Salukis because of their exceptional abilities, intelligence and loyalty. They have been used for hunting, travelling, escorting and guarding.

Historic mosque

Built around 1446, Al Bidya Mosque is an archaeological monument in the village of Al Bidya in Fujairah. It is the UAE’s oldest mosque and is still in use – prayers continue to be held there and have been uninterrupted since the mosque’s construction. A replica of Al Bidya, using the same materials used to build the original mosque, has been constructed for the festival and is open to visitors. Burnt clay is used as a binding material in the replica to ensure it identically matches the historical mosque in its architectural details, decoration and even its unique internal aroma. “This mosque is a source of pride for us as a nation,” says Al Neyadi. “Now, everyone can marvel at this wonder.”

Zaman Awal Play Area

Children have plenty to enjoy at the festival. “We planned it as a fun, family day out, with something for all ages,” says Al Neyadi. “We are celebrating the UAE’s cultural inheritance, showcasing the rich diversity of our traditions and at the same time, this is educational for every visitor, but in a fun and interactive way.”

A funfair has been installed on the sidelines of the festival, and fireworks are planned for each night. The Zaman Awal Play Area will be stocked with toys and games of the types enjoyed for decades in the UAE. Children can sign up for workshops that teach them about building boats, taming falcons or riding camels and horses. There is also a craft corner, with activities such as clay moulding, working with a millstone and applying henna.