Emirati town once invaded by the Portuguese opens up to tourism

The Sharjah enclave, nestled in Fujairah, has restored historic sites and built tunnels through the mountains to cut journey times

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It is the industrialised deep-sea port that rarely features in the holiday brochures.

But Khor Fakkan is undergoing a facelift to bring new life to the town, restoring historic buildings and sprucing up its public areas.

An enclave of Sharjah - tucked away on the Fujairah coast - it will soon be more accessible due to a major road project.

The city used to be a 108-minute drive from Sharjah city. But on Saturday, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, will formally open five tunnels running through surrounding mountains along the Sharjah-Khor Fakkan road that will cut the journey time between the two cities to 45 minutes.

The 87km road includes the longest covered tunnel in the Middle East, the 2.7km Al Sidra tunnel, along with the other tunnels: Al Saqab at 1.4km, Al Rogh at 1.3km, Al Ghazeer at 0.9km, and Al Sahah at 0.3km.

Work on the project to build the road began in 2004.

“More than 55 per cent of the road is through the mountains and includes five tunnels. Altogether there are 6.5km of tunnels,” said Abu Suseelan, transport adviser at the Sharjah Government's town planning and survey department.

More than 55 per cent of the road to Khor Fakkan is through the mountains and includes five tunnels - altogether there are 6.5km of tunnels

“Obviously that took a lot of planning and studies, because when you start boring through a mountain you need to see the geological characteristics of the mountain.

"That took a bit of time initially. But the pace has increased over the last two years, when more than 50 per cent of the work was completed.”

The new road could help boost the numbers of tourists visiting the city, which has undergone an extensive restoration project recently under the directive of Sheikh Sultan.

Khor Fakkan, home to many fishermen and port workers, has some of the most affordable hotels in the country, from about Dh160 a night, and a beach front on the Indian Ocean.

A number of sites in the city – including Khor Fakkan Fort – were restored as a result.

“The department began its work based on historical information from Sheikh Sultan, which highlighted the presence of the demolished wall of the Khor Fakkan Fort, the Al Adwani Tower and other historic landmarks,” said Sultan Al Hammadi, a director at the Sharjah Government's planning department.

The project team used old photos and plans, in addition to gathering information from elderly residents who saw them before they were destroyed.

“The department also reviewed restoration projects by specialists in urban heritage, signed memorandums of understanding with relevant government authorities, and hosted specialist antiquities missions,” Mr Al Hammadi said.

The sites, which also include the city’s historical wall, the old market, Al Adwani Historical Tower, Shis, as well as the defence towers and mountain houses in Wadi Shie, will be formally inaugurated next week.

One of the oldest sites, Al Adwani Tower, dated back to the 15th century and was once used as a lighthouse to guide ships entering Khor Fakkan Port and was destroyed in 1985.

Another site that had to be completely rebuilt was Khor Fakkan Fort, which was originally built in the 1940s but demolished in 1985 to make way for the city’s expansion. As part of its work to rebuild the fort, the department researched photos, documents and historical maps to pinpoint its exact location.

The city has been home to people for centuries, with the first evidence of human settlement dating back to around the 2nd millennium BC.

In 1500, a Portuguese explorer, Duarte Barbosa, described it as a village “around which gardens and farms in plenty”.

The Portuguese later built a fort there, which had become a ruin by 1666, as well as a Customs office before they were driven out of the area.