Sheikh Zayed’s vision for Qasr Al Hosn

Former archivist Frauke Heard-Bey says she remembers the day in December 1980 like it was yesterday.

Frauke Heard-Bey stands behind Sheikh Zayed in 1980. Her husband, David, is on the left, along with her two kids. Photo courtesy of Frauke Heard-Bey.
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I remember the day in December 1980 like it was yesterday. What began as a normal morning in my office at Qasr Al Hosn, where the Centre for Documentation and Research occupied the entire upper floor of the eastern wing, quickly became a major event.

In walked the director of the research centre, Mohammed Morsi Abdullah, who announced that Sheikh Zayed would be coming by that afternoon to see for himself the project of refurbishing the ancestral home and seat of government.

Dr Abdullah wanted to know if my husband David and I could be on hand to help to receive him.

Sheikh Zayed's plans led to a minor mutiny at my house. This was the same day as the school bazaar - the first since our son Nicolas had joined the British school Al Khubairat that September. And needless to say, he didn't want to miss it.

To cajole Nicolas and his sister Miriam to come along with the least amount of fuss, we told them we would combine the two events. They would not have to miss the fun at school, as long as they behaved themselves at the fort first.

We arrived together in good time outside the building site, where work on the various buildings, dating from different eras, had already been in progress for weeks.

On hand were some architects and engineers from the public works department, Belgium-Arab consultants, Dr Abdullah and two colleagues from the centre - Fawaz Kudsi, later the head of protocol at the Foreign Office, and Id Dardisi, a young geographer.

We were joined by Ahmed Khalifa Al Suwaidi, the President's trusted adviser, first Foreign Minister and founding patron of the centre.

When Sheikh Zayed's car came into view, we realised that he was driving himself and had as a passenger Salem bin Ham, the sheikh of the important Awamir tribe. He had probably been at lunch with the President and was invited to come along.

Sheikh Zayed sat down on one of the four chairs, followed the architect's explanation and, using a camel stick, pointed to the various buildings represented on the model. We all watched and listened intently.

Then he jumped up and led the procession around the extensive building site, first to the area of the oldest part, an enclosed space overlooked by the tower dating to 1761. The adjacent large courtyard formed by the white palace, which surrounded the old fort on three sides, had already been cleared of the two modern villas from the early 1960s.

The centre where I worked was established in 1968 on the ground floor of one of these buildings; the other one had housed the diwan until everyone in this inner circle of the Abu Dhabi Government moved into new offices in the Manhal palace on Airport Road.

Sheikh Zayed must have been stunned by the now uninhibited view of rows and rows of graceful white arches framing this large space on two sides. We all followed him beyond these arches into the east wing corridor, looked at the ceiling made of chandel wood and palm frond, and probed one or another of the wooden doors leading to windowless rooms.

When the going became tough along the building site, Sheikh Zayed helped to carry little Miriam.

Needless to say my children were fascinated by what they saw and experienced that day. When we eventually arrived at the school bazaar it was a poor second to the events at Qasr Al Hosn that morning.

Dr Frauke Heard-Bey is the former archivist at the National Centre for Documentation and Research