UAE currency: powerful symbol for powerful note

The oldest fort in Abu Dhabi and the capital's Corniche are the images found on the Dh1000 monetary note.
Qasr Al Hosn is the capital’s oldest man-made structure. Now it stands witness to how much the city has changed.
Qasr Al Hosn is the capital’s oldest man-made structure. Now it stands witness to how much the city has changed.

ABU DHABI // The Qasr Al Hosn fort is the oldest building in the capital and graces the front of the country's highest denomination banknote - the Dh1,000 bill.

Abu Dhabi's oldest man-made structure stands within the gates of the Cultural Foundation as a witness to how much the city has changed.

Built in 1760 as a watchtower to guard the water against raiders, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab transformed the tower 35 years later into a fort, which became his ruling place and residence.

During the reign of Sheikh Tahnoon bin Shakhbut from 1818-1833, Qasr Al Hosn was enlarged and fortified as Abu Dhabi grew. The building was considered a symbol of the city's power.

Following the discovery of oil, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan, who ruled from 1928 to 1966, enlarged and improved the fort once more.

Brig Gen Ishaq Suleiman said he remembers going every night to the majlis of Sheikh Shakhbut at the fort. His first visit was after he moved to Abu Dhabi from Jordan in 1963 to start the first police orchestra.

"The ruler was Sheikh Shakhbut, he asked that I go to the fort so he could meet me because I was there to form the first music band," the 74-year-old recalled. "He respected me and he asked me questions that were bigger than me. He asked how is King Hussein and how is this and that? So I said all of them are doing well, as if I were sitting with them."

Every night Brig Gen Suleiman and a number of others - including the 10 teachers who worked at the single school in Abu Dhabi at the time - would go after Maghrib prayer and sit at the majlis of the sheikh inside the fort.

"There was no AC or fan, and we would sit and talk to him and he would ask us questions.

"There were two gates to the fort: a small one and a big one," he said. "The small one was always open. We would ask one of the guards if the sheikhs were present and they would say yes and let us in. We would all greet the sheikh and kiss his head, and that was our entertainment."

A few years later, when Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, became the Ruler, the state's main offices were moved inside the fort. Sheikh Zayed lived there for some time.

The fort, which once also served as a museum, is under maintenance.

The greenish-blue Dh1,000 note was introduced in 1976, along with other denominations.

All the notes had the same front design, which was the outline of the UAE map with symbols of the country such as a caravan of camels, pearls, a dhow, a palm tree and an oil tower. The back of the notes had different national icons, with the Dh1,000 note emblazoned with the Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain, and an old fort in Dubai.

Production of the note was halted in 1982, but the denomination was later reintroduced in 1998.

On the back of the newer Dh1,000 note, there is an image of a popular area of the capital that has provided entertainment and refreshment for its inhabitants for decades.

Abdullah bin Bader remembers when the Corniche was nothing but a construction site in front of the sea back in the 1970s.

"No one could walk on it. I don't think it was considered a corniche," he said. "It was filled with excavation. Now, it is paradise compared to then."

Mr Bader is a Yemeni who moved to Abu Dhabi to open a shop that sells air-conditioning units. He later worked for the municipality as the head of revenues, then as the head of purchasing in Abu Dhabi Gas Industries.

"We would go sit and look at the sea, but there was nothing else there. Not even the Sheraton. But now, if we sit and think, it is unbelievable how the area transformed."

Sometimes, Mr Bader said, the waves would reach as far as Khalidiyah, as there was no pavement alongside the water.

Yet the Corniche was the only beach that people could access.

"It was very safe, everyone knew everyone, families would go, and even tourists," Mr Bader said. "Some would swim, some would wash their clothes, and a very few people even washed their dishes.

"It was open water. We would sit there and relax, but we got scared when the waves got high."

During the late 1970s, Sheikh Zayed ordered the construction of a street and pavement alongside the water.

He also ordered the construction of the breakwater, known as Al Kasser, to stop the waves from flooding the streets.

After 2000, the Corniche underwent another period of construction. It was expanded with parks, and the public beaches were added.

In previous weeks, we have looked at all the denominations of UAE monetary notes. Next week, we will close the series with a look at oddities surrounding banknotes and the making of them in the Emirates.

Published: August 22, 2011 04:00 AM


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