UAE festival brought stories of leadership and generosity to life

Imagining the past 250 years is easy with Qasr Al Hosn as the backdrop, writes Sheikha Alyazia bint Nahyan Al Nahyan.

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Imagining the past 250 years is easy with Qasr Al Hosn as the backdrop. Add some colour and drama and one could create marvellous fiction. But imagining and hearing and reading about it is not enough.

Thanks to the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, which ended yesterday, we not only saw the place but lived it, too.

I first visited Qasr Al Hosn with my grandmother, Sheikha Osha bint Shakhbut. I already knew that it had been the residence of leaders such as Khalifa bin Shakhbut, Zayed The Great and Sultan bin Zayed and his sons, including Zayed bin Sultan. It was surreal to think my close relatives lived there. My father was born there.

As she led me through the inviting entrance, the originally sand-floored hallways and old rooms, I found it difficult to imagine her there. It seemed so distantly ancient, this majestic fort that had stood proud for all these years, unwilling to fade away.

Now Abu Dhabi will never let Qasr Al Hosn fade away.

Today, it is an icon. In the past it was a home, with many good days, a few not-so-good days and lasting memories.

A century ago, the guests arriving at the gates were not so different from those of today, in awe of the structure, as are we; dazzled by the place and people. Visitors of the past, whether local or foreign, were also part of this historic Abu Dhabi icon, together creating all the memorable tales.

The word "fort" suggests a defensive stronghold but that was an unneeded part of the place. The tribes of Abu Dhabi and their rulers understood each other. A form of stability survived even in times of disagreement. Instead, Qasr Al Hosn operated as an open majlis where countless people gathered.

In an old family portrait, Zayed the First stands with his sons and other notables. In a corner, two young men sit, dressed differently. They were refugees from a troubled place who had searched for sanctuary, and found it.

When Qasr Al Hosn lacked a steady flow of visitors, the rulers took it as an ominous sign. Saeed bin Tahnoon was at the beginning of his rule, when the sheikh of the Al Marar family said to him: "This land of obscure comers within,

Like a handless ship soon will spin."

He responded: Proceeding with proper ropes, unbroken, Staying convinced in a placement uncertain, Will keep true thoughts tentatively hidden."

Saeed instantly won them over, only later leaving the fort because of an unfavourable incident. One morning, the majlis was empty - a clear message from the tribes - and so he left Abu Dhabi, being succeeded by Zayed the Great.

Among the tales are those of Hamdan bin Zayed, son of Zayed the First, and of his generosity. A messenger arrived, bringing gifts from the Sultan of Oman. The messenger then took his place in the majlis, and was stunned when a man in need approached Sheikh Hamdan, who promptly gave him all that he had just received.

Those are just a couple of the pieces of real drama, comedy and action I heard when I was growing up.

As we enter the fort again, it has been unreal to see new visitors in the same old setting, giving us a constant to which we can return and will always find standing.

Sheikha Alyazia bint Nahyan Al Nahyan is a documentary filmmaker and painter